Refocusing legacy staff


Share on LinkedIn

behind register_00086[1]I often encounter managers who rightly cite the importance of selection in building a staff of exceptional customer service providers. But many of these same managers bemoan the difficulty of motivating those tenured employees whom they inherited to provide the same quality of customer service.

These managers often describe certain legacy employees as apathetic, resistant to change, listless, or cynical. (Do these describe any members of your current staff whom you inherited upon accepting you current managerial position?) When they approach these employees about elevating the quality of their personal customer service, they’re met with folded arms, rolling eyes, and heavy sighs…

“Steve,” they lament, “I never would have hired these employees, but now I don’t have a choice. I’m stuck with them.”

So what’s a manager to do?

While it’s ill-advised to attempt to change another person (changing our own behavior is difficult enough), there are aspects of an employee’s job performance that are within the control of the manager. For instance, establishing, communicating, modeling, and enforcing performance standards and other aspects of an employee’s job role.

When I’m asked for the very first thing I would do or say to address this particular group of legacy employees, my answer is always the same: I would individually ask each employee, “Would you describe for me, from your perspective, what you do—what your job entails?”

Although their responses will vary depending on their particular job role, one thing their responses will have in common is this: They will all (or nearly all) pertain to job function (the duties or tasks associated with their job role). Very rarely will these employees cite anything relating to job essence (their highest priority at work, which, for most service industry employees is to create delighted customers).

For example, a supermarket employee might say that he stocks shelves, bags groceries, sweeps the floor, and collects shopping carts from the parking lot, but it’s unlikely that he’ll reference acknowledging customers, soliciting customer feedback, or recalling customer preferences—all of which relate to job essence.

You see, job function consists of whatever an employee is paid to do—usually a series of algorithmic tasks (the bullet points that make up so many job descriptions), while job essence consists of whatever an employee elects to do—the heuristic actions (opportunities to “perform” beyond the confines of one’s job description) that are necessary if employees are going to thrive at work and contribute to the organization’s purpose—its highest priority.

Posing the above question to employees gives managers the opportunity to reveal the TWO dimensions of every employee’s job role (job function AND job essence). The discussion that follows will reinforce the key to increased job satisfaction and to creating delighted customers is to recognize the totality of one’s job role and consistently perform well in BOTH dimensions.

It’s important to remember that most of the seemingly disengaged legacy staff you inherited in your present managerial role, at one time, were enthusiastic, eager, and impressionable newly-hired employees who were champing at the bit to learn new skills, serve customers, and begin a new chapter in their vocational lives.

And now, you, as their manager, have the opportunity to rekindle that flame. You can’t change them, but you can refocus them by asking a single question.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary (AMACOM Books) by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here