Your employees want to be cross-trained

How do I know your employees want to be cross-trained?

They’ve told me.

In my work with Yastrow & Company, we do extensive, in-depth employee research, and cross-training is the most universal request we hear. Practically every group of employees, in every industry and every job role tells us, “I wish I knew what everyone else in the company did everyday. It would help me do my job better if I understood where my coworkers are coming from.”

Restaurants can schedule back-of-house staff to individually work the front of the house for a shift. Companies with IT departments can have IT staff rotate through the various departments they support– and show the other employees the demands of the IT department. A retail store can ask their purchasers to work a few hours on the floor.

Sometimes management gives pushback to the idea of cross-training, and their reluctance is understandable. It’s a cost, and it takes valuable employees away from their work for a time. But the investment in cross-training helps build teams and breaks down barriers across departments. When employees understand what their coworkers do in the course of their jobs, they will be more helpful to requests. Asking back-of-house employees to work with customers for a day will make them realize the importance of the customer experience.

Offer some cross-training. I guarantee your employees will find it valuable, and it will help unify your business.

Customer Service: Trust Your Employees

Customer service interactions are a big part of marketing for most companies. Customer service employees are often the face or voice of a company when customers have problems, whether it be to accept a return, resolve a billing issue or answer questions. Before a customer service interaction, customers may be frustrated or confused, leading to a lack of patience.

Many of the biggest problems in customer service occur when a company’s process or policy doesn’t apply to the situation a customer is experiencing, furthering their impatience, frustration and confusion. Being told, “I’m not allowed to do that.” or “This is company policy.” doesn’t resolve a customer’s problem, and all too often customer service employees are put in the position of angering customers.

For instance, last week FedEx delivered a package of mine to the wrong address, so I needed to pick it up at their warehouse. Their process states that anyone picking up a package must show government-issued ID with the same address as the ship-to address on the package. However, the whole reason I was at the warehouse was because the ship-to address was the wrong address. This policy clearly didn’t account for my situation, creating a bad customer service experience.

What can companies do to prevent policies from getting in the way of good customer service? They can trust their employees to make the right decision and allow them to bend policies for unusual situations.

Many managers out there may be gasping in horror, exclaiming, “We have the policies to prevent people from doing stupid things!” We only need to look to Nordstrom, one of the most successful retailers, for a counter-example.

For many years, the Nordstrom Employee Handbook was simply a single, 5″x8″ grey postcard reading:

Welcome to Nordstrom

We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.

Len Brzozowski, of the Xavier Leadership Center, wrote a very interesting piece on customer service culture and Nordstrom. He states, “Nordstrom boasts the highest sales per square foot performance in the retail industry – by almost double.” And they do it by trusting their employees.

Stop micro-managing. Start empowering.

Micro-managing is the pitfall of too many small businesses. It may be counter-intuitive that you must let go a little for your business to grow. After all, perfection can only be achieved if you manage it, right? If your team has the power to make decisions, won’t they only screw things up?

Wrong. If your team feels empowered, they will think of ideas you never dreamed of.

Your small business will never grow unless you develop a team who share the same business vision and are empowered to make the vision a reality. I’ve seen many small businesses stagnate because their owners weren’t able to communicate, delegate and relinquish authority to their teams. Your team can consist of employees, independent contractors and vendors.

Micro-managing means managing the small stuff. As a small business owner, you should be concerned with things such as the company vision or strategies for the upcoming year. Here are some ways to avoid micro-managing. They may not seem like large infractions, but think of the time wasted that could be put towards valuable business growth activities.

  • Always think, “Is this the most important thing I could be doing right now?” Management expert Peter Drucker wrote, “Doing the right things is more important than doing things right.”
  • Unless you own a graphic design firm, don’t ever question a font again. Instead, employ designers who have the freedom to design what your customers want- not what you want.
  • Don’t spend an hour on the phone with an accounting software vendor when you will never use the software. Let your bookkeeper make these decisions. The same rule applies to any kind of purchase.
  • If your sales team has a bold new idea to reach customers, let them try it out on a limited scale. Avoid “talking it to death” at all costs.