Does Your Staff Know What Your Company Does?

by Joanna Pineda Posted on July 30, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I called Harris Teeter to order a Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cake for my soon-to-be 5 year old son. The conversation went something like this:

Me:  Good morning, I want to order a birthday cake with the Thomas design.
HT staff:  Sorry, we don’t have Thomas cakes.

Me:  But you have a Thomas cake on display in your bakery section.
HT staff:  Sorry, we don’t have Thomas cakes.  I think that display is old.
Me:  I saw Thomas cakes in your catalog.
HT staff:  I haven’t seen the catalog lately.
Me:  Okay, I guess I’ll call Costco.

Thomas the Tank Engine Lucky for Harris Teeter, I am a big fan of the store and was not to be deterred.  I went to the store, found a manager, showed him the Thomas cake on display and asked if I could please order it.  Yep, he was happy to take my order, especially since Thomas cakes are expensive!  I told him that I had called the store a few days earlier and the person said HT didn’t make Thomas cakes.  The manager apologized and said that perhaps the person I spoke with was new or didn’t know about the special order cakes.

Yikes!  How many sales has HT lost because of this bakery guy?  Could this happen in your company? I know this kind of “revenue leakage” has happened in my organization!

A few years ago, one of my Project Managers was telling me about a call she had just completed with a client.  The client wanted to know if we could help with an online voting system.  The Project Manager explained that Matrix Group did not do online voting.  You can imagine my jaw dropping at this; the conversation went something like this:

Me:  Um, why did you tell the client we don’t do online voting?
PM:  I don’t know of any voting projects we’ve done and my team hasn’t worked on any.
Me:  Uh, but you’ve only been here less than a year and you manage 1 of 4 teams.  How do you know that the other teams haven’t done online voting or that perhaps we’ve done online voting in the past?
PM:  Oh, I didn’t think of that.  Sorry.
Me:  Let me call the client and see what I can do.  (tearing my hair out)

Here were my take-aways from this exchange, reinforced every day by interactions with folks like the Harris Teeter bakery dude:

How about you?  What kind of revenue leakage is happening in your firm?  What are you doing about it?

3 replies on “Does Your Staff Know What Your Company Does?”

That anecdote illustrates the problem nicely.

On the flip side, it can also be a problem when people over-promise, such as (real life example):

Client: Do you do iPhone apps?
PM: Of course we can!
(a short while later)
PM: I promised the client an iPhone app
Dev: But I have zero experience doing that.
PM: That’s OK. You’ll learn. Oh, and we promised to deliver it by [tight deadline].
Dev: …

And no one was happy with the results — a buggy iPhone app that was clearly written by a total novice.

As you said: “know when to say yes, when to say no, and when to say “let me check.””

IMHO, in the bakery, online-voting and iPhone examples, I think that “let me check” would have been the right answer.

I love this stuff…The “Curious Incident of The Thomas Cake Conundrum,” and the employee you interacted with touches on an organization-wide issue, of, in my opinion, instilling corporate identity in every employee, especially during the on-boarding process. Harris Teeter, is a generally positive consumer experience for me (perhaps just a disenchanted bad seed), not an organizational issue.

After growing up in Maine and doing most of my grocery shopping at small, family owned businesses, after moving to VA, I was shocked at the varying consumer experiences at Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Giant, Safeway, Harris Teeter, etc. I did a bit of digging and found that the places where I experienced the most consistently good service, and product knowledge have a drastically different corporate culture, in-depth training, generally higher pay rates, and employee benefits than the ones where I received poor service. For example: Did you know at Trader Joe’s, a cashier communicates with the managers on duty by ringing a bell by the register, and the number of rings indicates the type of assistance needed?

I digress.My point is, I think when it comes to the individual attitude and knowledge of a staff member, the key is incorporating the organization’s culture, values, missions from the beginning. Much like developing an Elevator Pitch for your organization, ( it is so important to include ALL staff members in understanding the company’s “schtick.” Not only does it build continuity in the type of work produced by staff, a sense of community, but it provides scripts and guidelines for staff to respond to inquiries like “what does your company do? Do you make this Thomas cake? What do I need to make a great banana bread? Do you provide a product that I can manage my association’s membership database?”…etc.

I really appreciate how you skillfully use stories to illustrate, in emotional terms, “not workable” and “workable” scenarios. Then you help us along with the example of a solution your company created. You make it easy for us to answer the question, “what did you learn from that blog post?” The total package.

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