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Ken Keller: Front line makes bottom line

Posted: May 12, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 12, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Ken Keller

 

Once a month, like clockwork, a gentleman comes to my house in the early morning and sprays for insects and bugs. We’ve spoken a few times and he always hands me his card, telling me to let him know if he needs to come back between visits. I think I have called him once in the last decade.

Every week, on Thursday afternoon, a crew of two come from our landscape maintenance company to mow the lawn, pull weeds and trim a hedge or two. They work quickly and always take our barrels out to the curb before they depart to go to the next client. Our property always looks better as a result of their hard work.

We have a favorite restaurant. The manager gave us instructions to call before we arrive, not to make a reservation, but to let them know that we were coming. Because of our patronage for well over a decade, we are seated when we walk in. We always are assigned one of their top servers. We know these individuals by name; we tip generously.

I’ve had this newspaper delivered everyday to my house for coming up on twenty-five years. Each December the carrier slips in a holiday card with their address. Each January I send a tip with a note, thanking them for getting the paper to the middle of my driveway each morning, away from where the sprinklers might soak the paper, even though it is covered by plastic wrap. The carrier delivers as asked.

I’ve shared my experiences for a reason not often thought about or discussed. I recently watched a video from Steven Covey about the role of goals, communication and engagement of employees. In many cases, he said, “your bottom line is determined by your front line.”

The examples I provided give credence to Covey’s statement. It may not be easy to gain a client but it is easy to lose them. Your front line employees make the difference.

It’s easy to see fault and complain about companies that pay minimum-wage, or just above that amount.

Employers like these often don’t invest much in training in the key areas of client contact and assistance. Many of these companies have extremely high employee turnover which are factored into the business model. Providing the service in a very basic and utilitarian manner is considered the norm.

The front line in many other industries does impact profitability. It is a shame that many owners don’t recognize how important the role that those employees play in maintaining and building a client base.

We don’t often think of accounting as a front line department, and I am sure that employees in that function don’t see themselves as anything but the back-office. But when a client calls in about a billing question, that accounting clerk becomes a front line employee. In fact, to the client, that person is the company. The client expects an explanation, an answer, a resolution to their satisfaction.

Is the accounting clerk trained, ready and able to address the client’s issue? Do they have the telephone skills; can they speak coherently, in a pleasant tone? Do they have the authority to address and resolve the issue? Will they follow through? Can they type a letter or email to the client using proper English that will not embarrass the company? Will this individual add to your bottom line with the client in question or will they subtract from it?

As an owner, the best thing you can do for your company is to teach every employee, regardless of their job title or responsibility, is that they are a front line employee. Every employee is responsible for client acquisition, service and retention, all which impacts your company’s profitability.

Ken Keller is CEO of STAR Business Consulting Inc., a company that works with small and midsize business owners to grow top line revenue. He can be reached at KenKeller@SBCglobal.net. column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

 

 

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