A local store close to where I live recently closed for refurbishment. I t re-opened under a different brand, however, browsing round the store and picking up a few pieces I noticed that the staff were largely the same. I went to pay for my items, smiling back at the sales assistant who I’d seen many times before under the old brand, I asked her how she was. “Fine thank you, she responded and how you?” Completing normal pleasantries, I went on to comment on the change to the store, asking her whether the change was a positive thing. Well, it’s better pay for us she responded. That’s good I said. As she checked out my items, she expanded that there was also a greater variety of items for customers and the quality was better with good prices. She went on to ask me if I had one of the brands store cards. Completing my transaction, I went away thinking positively of the store. I would be back, with a confidence about the store – their products, the way they treat their staff and their customers. She had done a great job of marketing the brand without even realising it.
The truth is employees often do. I learn a lot because I have the tendency to interact with staff because I’m interested in them as people. Recently, a friend took me out for dinner as a late birthday treat. We were served by a lovely waitress who patiently came back several times as we kept talking instead of deciding what we wanted to order from the menu. Eventually, I asked her what she would recommend and she politely made a few suggestions, demonstrating a good knowledge of the restaurant’s menu. During brief interactions as she served and cleared the table we learnt that she was moving to a new job in a different industry. We wished her well. As she thanked us, she said that she would miss working at the restaurant that we were dining at pointing out that she had worked in about 10 different eateries and that this was her favourite. I was pleased to here this, as it happens to be one of my favourite restaurants. I would have been somewhat concerned if she had spoke negatively about it. Not only did I think, that I would happily go back again. I also thought that it would be high on the list of places that I would recommend to anyone I knew looking for a waitressing job.
It’s quite different from an experience that I had, had about a month earlier at a different restaurant. The food was okay – nothing to get excited about, but it was cheap and you basically got what you paid for. The waitress who served us was just as polite and competent as the other waitress that I met a month later. Her report of the restaurant was very different. She spoke of how they had tried to pay her below the minimum wage until she had challenged them. She also mentioned how they were inflexible with her hours, constantly asking her to work late hours that meant that she had to walk home in the dark all by herself and I should say that she was only 17. Even though I had a good time with my friend and I was okay with the food, I will think twice before I go back to this restaurant.
I have the tendency to chat quite a bit with staff in restaurants, stores and wherever I go. My starting point is not you and your brand. It’s that these are people that are providing me with a service and that I’m interested in them as people and their welfare. It concerns me if I learn that they that they don’t believe that you value them and treat them well. At times, I’m amazed at how much I learn from them about you.
Maybe they say more to me about you then they say to the average customer/client that they meet, but don’t doubt that they do talk. I do have staff that volunteer information without me soliciting anything from them.
The truth is even if they don’t say anything to people like myself walking through the door of your establishment; they will go home and talk to friends and family. They may even talk to people they meet on their journey to and from work, at the doctors or when they are out shopping. So be aware ‘little sister is watching your brand and learning about it from your employees and may react for good or for bad. So do you know what your employees are saying about you?
Susan Popoola runs Conning Towers Ltd, an HR organisation focused on Talent Management and HR Transformation and Engaged For Success a Social Enterprise. She is also the published author of Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes: A Social Perspective and Consequences: Diverse to Mosaic Britain. She is also Winner Women4Africa Author of the Year 2013
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