This weeks Idea: “You don’t want the girls involved, do you?”

with Neil Godin 

I’m preparing. To conduct a workshop on customer service telephone skills. For the good people who staff the registrar’s office at a local college. And I’m puzzled.

I’m puzzled because I still don’t understand a mindset – among both front line staff – and among management at all levels – that mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially – places receptionists at the bottom of the pecking order in so many organizations.

Here’s an example. Working with a major national bank, I was conducting a pilot project in a program that we called “Relationship Banking.” The idea was to drop the “mechanical” way customers were greeted and treated, and really make an effort to get to know customers – and make them feel welcomed, wanted and cared about. I met with the manager of one of the pilot branches who asked me how I planned to approach the training program. My response: “Let’s invite people to stay after hours; bring in dinner and refreshments; cover the windows with flip chart paper – and brainstorm all the things we could do to really warm things up with customers.” “Great idea,” he replied, “but you don’t want the girls involved, do you?”

“The girls” at work. Hmm. (Photo credit: SBA)

“The girls” at work. Hmm. (Photo credit: SBA)

How could we do this “without” the girls?

I was stunned. I stared at this man incredulously (for just a moment), thinking “how could we do this without the girls?” but somehow I managed not to let my incredulosity (is that a word?) show. Instead I responded, “well, your front line CSR’s will have to own and implement anything we decide to do, so it may be best to have them involved, don’t you think?” “Hmm, you’re probably right,” he replied (thank goodness). This was a major development, because unless the manager gets it, a program like this goes nowhere. And what do I mean by the phrase “gets it?” I mean getting it that the people at the front line of any organization are the face and voice of that organization (as well as its eyes and ears), and need to be fully engaged, thoroughly trained – and properly compensated – for the vitally important work they do. Instead, in general, they tend to be disrespected, unengaged, and poorly trained. They even tend to suffer lower self-respect in terms of their position and their role – and all too often this condition is reflected in less than enthusiastic handling of customers. You know this is true, because of all the ways that “you” are mistreated when dealing with customer service people. What a shame.

Your call to action:

Unless you’re a solopreneur, you have “people.” Others who work with you who make up your “front line.” Don’t make the mistake of mistaking the importance of these “key” people. They can make a huge difference to both your top and bottom line – if they are properly equipped. In many cases, they need to be given authority to make decisions and even spend money to ensure that customers are totally satisfied. They need training in communication skills – particularly the skills needed to work with customers who are angry. And they need to be well respected financially – as well as treated with human respect. In its most basic form, respect means  always advising them of your whereabouts so they have answers when customers want to know when and how they can reach you. This is the most common form of abuse out there. Eliminate it. “The girls” (meaning front line staff of “any” gender), will thank you for it with super service that keeps your customers coming back, while attracting new customers to you.

See you next week.


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  1. I could not agree with you more, Neil! Years ago, I was on the receiving end of this type of training, where only upper management had participated and then were tasked with training us “little people”. It was a disaster. In order for “the girls” to fully understand the training, they need to be part of it. The brainstorming, the exercises, all of it. Question: what would you have done if he had said no to having the girls there? Curious to see how you would have handled that. Thanks! P.S. I have followed your blog for years and love it!

    • Hi Debbie. I just came across your reply…my apologies for not replying “way back then.” If he had resisted involving “the girls” I would have empathized (I hope), and gently steered him into some quiet place where I could help him understand that “the girls” were infinitely more important to the success of the branch (and to his success as branch manager) that he was. And I wouldn’t have stopped the re-education process until he got it. (I can be a bit pushy). Thanks again for commenting. Neil

  2. Doreen Brown says:

    How right you are with your comments, Neil. I am often called on the telephone from the Bank of Nova Scotia, with whom I have my accounts, asking me to participate in a survey. My first comment usually is – I bank where I do because I know the tellers and the financial advisors and they know me and my banking situation and make helpful suggestions and comments as their programs change. I have yet to transfer to doing my banking online or by telephone. If I was not getting such good service, I would probably not be at that bank. I think in this age of such impersonal media services that people really like the “human” touch.

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