Ah, there’s nothing quite like
that institutionalized personal feel.
In fact, there’s no such thing.
One of my clients loves the independent coffee hut he visits each morning. They know him and what he orders. They see his car and have his coffee ready when he reaches the window. He doesn’t need a membership card for the occasional free coffee; they keep track for him. He feels valued, like he has a relationship there. Which he has.
It led him to present me with this challenge: how to institutionalize that personal feel in his own company, throughout its 100-plus locations.
Alas, if I could solve that, I’d be rich. I can’t. Institutionalized and personal are mutually antithetical.
The more an organization grows, the more common sense, initiative, and judgment must give way to manuals, official policy, and training programs. You simply cannot recruit umpteen-hundred employees and count on them to think and act the way you did when the business consisted of just you, your spouse, and your kids.
Early in my career I was assigned to create customer courtesy training programs. Once I asked the HR director, “Instead of hiring people and trying to teach them courtesy, why not hire courteous people in the first place?” He told me—nicely—not to be naïve. We had 2,000 customer contact employees. We had high attrition. Sometimes, he said, we had to hire warm-and-breathing and hope we could teach them to smile. Closing a facility before settling for less than the best may appeal to the starry-eyed idealist, but it isn’t reality.
This is not to say a business shouldn’t try to institutionalize a caring customer relationship culture. Some, like Nordstrom, come arguably close.
And, of course, businesses can luck into hiring people who give a damn to an uncommon extent. Two days ago I was the beneficiary of outstanding service in a chain store location. I like to write to CEOs when that happens. In my letter, I wrote, “Kristina and Tom cared. Not ‘cared’ in the sense of some prefab training program. Training, shmaining. This was character.” You cannot give people character, much less train it into them. They either have it or not. The more you grow, the harder it gets to hold out for people who have it; but sometimes, as this chain did, you luck into them. Good luck to us all.