Thursday, January 17, 2008

Make 2008 the Year of the Toot!

I just had a fantastic experience with a call center rep! I had to call American Express this morning, and after going through the dreaded automated menu of multiple options, I heard a cheerful voice saying, “May I help you?”

I could go on forever about how fabulous this person was. No script, patient listening while I ranted in a somewhat disorganized way, she gave me more information than I thought I wanted. When I thanked her profusely for her wonderful service, she rhapsodized about how much she loves taking care of customers’ needs.

But she didn’t want anyone to know about what a great job she does. When I asked her her name (which she shyly gave me one piece at a time), I then asked her, “Who do I talk to about how wonderful you are?” After putting me on hold for half a heartbeat she came back with an audible sigh of relief to report that they have a “compliment line,” but it’s broken, she said. Which was just fine by her, she said, because she feels really uncomfortable being in the limelight of praise.

So, I did want anyone would do: I took the proverbial bull by the horns (probably the only bull available on Wall Street these days) and wrote a letter directly to AmEx’s chairman, Ken Chenault. (Won’t she be surprised if this little piece of news gets back to her.)

My point here is this: When employees are reluctant to haul their lights out from under the proverbial bushel, more than just themselves and their careers suffer. The entire company culture suffers, and, by extension, perhaps its bottom line. Here we have an employee who is positively over the moon about her job. And she does it so well that a fanatical customer blogs about it that very night, naming the company and everything!

How contagious could that enthusiasm be if she were encouraged to toot her horn – perhaps beyond her own limits of what she would consider appropriate? (I’m thinking that somewhere in her past an influential person told her that it is unladylike to seek attention and claim credit for a job well done.)

Some people just don’t like to brag or rhapsodize. And it’s easy for managers to overlook those quiet people in the corner. But a culture-wide emphasis on encouraging people to tell their stories of how they delivered over-the-top service to their customers will encourage these people to speak up. And when the chorus of joy grow and grows, so will what I call the passion literacy of your company culture.

When you encourage your people to brag, you’re discovering which employees are high-potential talent who deserve to be cultivated. You will find out what specific skills and passions solidify that bond between your company and your customers. And you’ll create a positive culture that celebrates high service and high passion.

If I were queen of the world, or at least the head of a large organization, I’d hand out little toy horns to everyone in my group, announcing that “This is the year of the toot!” And I would begin every meeting – preferably a weekly group meeting – with the question: “What great thing happened in your job this week?”

The change may be a little slow to take hold. But, boy, once those horns start blowing, you may be surprised who will step out of the shadows and let ‘er rip!

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