Some Will Get It... Some Never Will

It all began with a search for a simple gift box in the shape of a small suitcase, in which I could put various books and DVDs for our clients and delegates. I’d already seen a similar but much larger model in which Waltons put all the kid’s stationery we had purchased into this brightly coloured suitcase-like box and delivered it to the school.

Apart from the dimensions, it was almost exactly what I was looking for, so I began with an internet search. I typed in all combinations of “gift-box-with-handle” that I could think of, and eventually found 14 suppliers who looked like they could help. One by one, I either called their offices, or sent an email via their “Contact Us” button. I even managed to persuade one reluctant young man to meet with me at his shop, (he didn’t pitch,) and another young lady in Centurion invited me to the company showroom. That’s it. Two out of fourteen.

Now I don’t know if the packaging industry is experiencing some kind of a financial boom, but I don’t know too many businesses that can afford to give up easy business. And then, out of my disappointment and frustration, I had an idea: Why not call Waltons and see if they could put me in touch with their supplier?

I called the call centre, and spoke to customer care manager Lesley Kurucz. She couldn’t have been more helpful and friendly. She immediately knew exactly what I was talking about. (Remember that Waltons probably sells about a million stationery products, so that was already impressive.) Within a few hours she had sent me the details of their supplier, and even told me to delay calling them because the lady who dealt with these things was on leave. Then she wrote back to thank me for contacting them, and made some additional suggestions about what else I could do to enhance my clients’ experiences.

She was truly an oasis in a desert of really poor service, and I am not surprised that this company is so successful. But even though inspiring leaders do make a difference, (and I know that Waltons has a great management team, and is also a Bidvest company,) it is people like Lesley who make a difference.

What makes some individuals better than others when it comes to giving great service? Of course, we can list many management actions that make a difference in motivating staff. But it is also about individual “attitude.” What is this nebulous quality that some people have and others never will?

  • Accept that customers are sometimes quite bizarre and absurd – but love, care and respect people anyway, rather than be sarcastic and cynical.
  • They are able to be resilient and thick-skinned, but still be warm and caring.
  • They know that caring for others and being generous makes them feel good about themselves, and gives them inner peace.
  • Don’t need to control everything, and are flexible. They accept that they can’t change others – but they also know that their own courtesy determines how people will react. In their confidence, they are comfortable with customers challenging them.
  • They are great listeners, and show empathy. They see and hear far more than what the customer says, and use this to connect
  • They are inspired and excited by the fact that people are different, and never judge others.
  • They display a high sense of ownership and teamwork, and follow through on promises. They are proactive and one step ahead of customers, sharing ideas to improve customers’ lives.
  • They use every opportunity and problem to unceasingly learn and quickly apply new insight.

But can a positive attitude be coached into negative individuals? When I was younger I was always very optimistic about human beings and their ability to change, but right now I am more realistic about the prospects. People who make the choice to display how unmotivated they are, who rarely offer to help others, who are persistently negative, who talk but never deliver, and who refuse to work with necessary constraints just can’t change, no matter what you do.

I always say that a bad attitude is like a flat tyre: you can’t move forward unless you fix it, and sometimes you have to express that to them. It requires too much wasted energy without their active choice and a sense of ownership of the problem. They will not become more positive if you give them enough time, nor will they eventually come around. Only they can lose their bitterness. Your job is to make them aware of how they are perceived, and to communicate clearly that they affect the morale of everyone else around them.

Rather spend your time and energy on the people who want to do well. Tell your team that you expect a positive attitude, and explain what you want from them. Use the list above, and give examples. Create an active learning culture, and instead of telling people how to deal with problems, ask them to tell you about their ideas. Recognise, celebrate and show appreciation when you see success, innovation, outstanding work, individual commitment, a happy demeanour, and customer-delighting actions.

Not everyone that you hire will be like Lesley from Waltons. People like that are rare. But once you have re-deployed or rid yourself of the truly negative people, you can create an environment where “normal” people can be inspired and motivated – and have some fun to boot.

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