A common story
There was an 18-year-old retail sales assistant, let’s call her ‘Clare’.
…. eyes wide open and full of curiosity
…. she wanted to be a leader, feel important, do great things and help people
…. she truly believed that she would learn all she needed from the people that were her leaders and trusted that they would guide her, develop her and show her how to lead.
….at work, her boss didn’t take any interest in her development or learning. He wanted her to just show up on time and do the job, make good sales and make customers happy consistently every day. No talk of progression, no talk of future opportunities. Stay doing what you’re doing. We don’t want to have to replace you. We don’t have time to train you. You are not ready to be a leader. You have the skill to do the job so just keep doing that.
Days and weeks turned into monotonous months. Clare was good at her job. Making sales, counting stock, talking to customers. Occasionally she was left to open or close the store when the manager needed her to. She knew her products and was the fastest, consistent employee on the shop floor. She could do this job with her eyes closed.
Then one-day Clare was given a pay rise and a new name badge. It read; Team Leader. She felt happy that she was given this role but did not know what would be different for her. She continued doing her work as the fastest most consistent employee on the shop floor but it started to feel like more effort. She had acquired a team of casual staff. They looked to her for direction. She was now dealing with their issues. It felt like a distraction. She couldn’t understand why her days suddenly were consumed with people issues.
…… at home, Clare would say to her parents that she was no longer enjoying her work. She could not understand why her staff didn’t think like her. Why they didn’t work like her, or why she was always repeating herself and asking them to do the same things over again. She started to question the value she was now bringing to her work. She felt that the things she knew to do well were being neglected and all her time was now consumed by her staff.   She felt disengaged and ineffective. The staff around her could see she was unhappy. They began to lose trust in her decision making and rarely listened to her instructions.
Customers were continually disappointed with the level of service being provided. Sales decreased.
Clare started looking for new jobs in retail. She didn’t want to leave the business that she had become so loyal to but she felt she was failing and performing poorly. She felt she was letting everyone down.   Then one day, a new leader joined the business. This boss was different. They took immediate interest in Clare and could see obvious potential in her.
They asked her questions that made her feel valued. They asked her what she wanted to do with her career, her life. They listened. It was decided that she needed some leadership training. They committed to exactly that.
Fast forward seven years. Clare is now 25 years of age, running a retail store that is turning over $90,000 per week. She has 4 supervisors that report into her. Her reputation in the company is that she is a star performer. She is motivated and happy. She keeps her staff motivated and focussed. She seems to have a great flare with people and knows how to get the best out of them. Her customers are happy and her store is the highest performing store in sales across the region
The moral to the story
Companies are good at hiring leaders and promoting them for their skill, but not for their social intelligence and strong interpersonal skills which is impacting the workforce closest to the customer, often in a negative way.
Clare’s Story is a familiar one. Too many times we promote staff and recruit people with technical capability to do a job yet they are required to hold a leadership role and engage a team of people.
A leader is responsible for the people who are responsible to achieve the results. Evolving from a retail sales assistant to a Team Leader and Store Manager is evolving from being externally focussed on the customer only to internally focussed on the staff that are closest to the customers.
Senior leaders who I speak with say;
“We promoted her because she is always on time and we can rely on her”
“We made him supervisor because he is the one that the customers like the most”
“We hired her because she had 6 years in retail and knows how to use our point of sale terminal”
“We hired him because he has worked in similar stores and knows the products very well”
I empathise. We are time poor, focussed on being compliant, have little or no budget for training or lengthy recruitment processes, disappointed by the talent pool available, and need someone to fill a gap immediately. The result is; we end up putting leaders in roles where they have little or no experiential knowledge in how to influence and inspire people to perform in their roles at their optimum level.
The impact on the frontline staff
The end of ‘Clare’s story’ was a happy one. However, there was a period before her leadership training and development of her awareness where much damage was done. In the service industry, the common belief is that a customer service job stands for an entry level, low-skilled position. But is that true? Quite the other way around! Your customer service team is the first point of contact for your customers, and often the only contact they have with your company.
The frontline staff are reliant on leaders to motivate and inspire them daily. Not once a month, not only in a weekly team meeting. But daily.
The most effective leaders who gain 20% greater performance from their teams are the leaders who are taking the time to encourage positive performances and, whenever possible, emphasise how important their job is to the business. 
The impact on the customer
The extra engagement that we know results when people feel recognised and valued for what they bring to the table. According to a Gallup meta-analysis survey; employees whose strengths were called on every day were 38% more likely to be on high-performing teams, 44% more likely to have top customer satisfaction scores.
Create a Culture of Customer Inspiration Leaders
Anyone can be a leader. Leadership is a practical, learnable skill. Leadership is accepting responsibility for the growth of another human being.
When things go right you should give credit to others.
When things go wrong you must shoulder the responsibility.
Leaders earn the right to be a leader in the eyes of employees when they BELIEVE that you genuinely care about them as humans and when they BELIEVE that you will value their personal growth over the company’s growth – that is when people will do anything for you, because they want to make you proud of them.
Customer Inspiration Leaders focus internally on a team of employees, ensuring they feel valued. This will create an emotional contagion which will spread towards the customer increasing the customers life time value which results in Customer Contagion™
A fairy tale story that is in reach
Maybe the time to train and develop people is not as big an investment as you think. Maybe the talent is out there, eager and determined to make a positive impact on others; they are just needing some guidance and a helping hand from conscious leaders. Maybe the cost of developing someone is more of an investment of time and a reshuffle of priorities.
To begin;
Take a good look at the people who are leading your frontline.
Eyes wide open and full of curiosity.
Ask questions. Seek to understand their needs and where they are wanting further development.
Are their teams happy? Are the results of the staff consistent?
Do the staff feel valued and engaged?
Start there to create your fairy tale story.
Jaquie Scammell
‘Why serve when you can inspire’