Community Economic Development Fund

Articles and podcasts to help plan and operate your enterprise.

One theory and five steps to improve your customer service

Early in my career I worked in the office of a specialty retailer that had an “exchange only, no refunds” policy. Without getting into the reasons for the policy – probably it was misinformed and certainly out of step with consumer expectations – one only needs to know that after every Christmas there was an inevitable deluge of phone calls from unhappy customers or gift recipients. Almost always, the local store manager had gone eleven rounds with the customer already and it fell to me to hear the appeal and then do my job by making the customer forever unhappy and unlikely to ever shop with us or recommend our business.

Occasionally, the customer was so persistent that I'd capitulate and arrange for a refund check to be sent. Or even worse, sometimes we'd direct the store managers to issue refunds, ensuring that they would lose face, having just defended, nearly to death, the company's policy.

The basic idea is that when you make people feel restricted in some way, they want to rebel against that restriction because they feel like you're threatening their freedom and autonomy.  --

How much more enlightened we all would have been if we had understood the psychological theory of reactance. This article does a nice job of explaining why people rebel when they sense they are being restricted, resulting in defensiveness.

Companies need rules and procedures to avoid chaos. Following the recommended steps in the article will help breakdown the tendencies of reactance and perhaps lead to compromise or at least better acceptance of constraints.

– Frederick Welk, CEDF business advisor

Are you looking for traits or skills?

Here’s a simple, yet misunderstood concept. Before interviewing candidates for employment be sure to evaluate which traits are important for the position. Traits by definition are particular characteristics, a fixed mindsets, or inherited patterns that are unlikely to change. Therefore, when seeking a candidate do not accept a trait that will not work in your business. It is undoubtedly preferable to continue searching for a better-fitting applicant if you cannot check off all the boxes for the traits you are looking for. If all the desirable traits are present, and only skills are absent, you may still have a promising prospect.

Skills are different. An applicant may be capable of learning a specific skill or developing a skill sets required for productive employment. If an employer is willing to access the multitude of training and educational sources available and patient enough to wait for development to occur, then new employees can be well on their way to achieving the expectations required of them.

Once, while interviewing a 16-year-old man for a busboy position with relatively little work experience, I saw he displayed traits I was seeking: determination, honesty, cooperativeness -- and everything else I was looking for in the character of a new employee. Because I saw the foundation we needed to build upon, I hired him. Knowing he had few skills for the job, I was prepared to teach him the skills he needed to be successful. Not only did he learn how to do the job, he surpassed the minimum requirements of the position he was hired for, eventually training his own replacement. For more than three years, this young man worked productively, continually learning and exceeding my expectations. All I had to provide to him were the skills to succeed.

There’s a great article here that expands on this topic, especially useful information for the interviewing process.

Inexperienced managers overlook this concept in the interviewing process. In order to avoid wasted money for the employer and disappointment and wasted time for both employer and candidates, it is worth the diligence to search for the correct candidate for your business from the beginning.

-- Jennifer Avallone, CEDF business advisor

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