Everything I read and have thought about suggests that happy salespeople make happy customers. Lately I have begun to question that theory. I know this sounds strange but I have been many places, seen happy people — or happily appearing — and they don’t seem to be doing any more for their customers than unhappy ones. A study by Cornell University in conjunction with Fortune Magazine using the American Satisfaction Index measuring satisfaction indicates in "some cases" a link between happy employees and happy customers. Another study conducted by Academy of Management Journal intimated that positive employee attitudes, in "some environments" directly effect attitudes.
What bothers me is "some cases" and in "some environments."
Why not "all" cases and "all" environments? Well, because it just isn’t so all the time — and it can't be. An interesting article by Rosa Chun and Gary Davies from the Manchester Business School in the UK believes this to be the case. Actually they call the idea that happy employees always make happy customer is "wishful thinking." I knew I had a problem as do many other business owners. Most businesses would like to believe it's so but it "just ain’t necessarily so" (I think that’s the name of an old jazz tune). In fact their study showed the factors that increased customer satisfaction actually decreased employee satisfaction. So, who makes who happy and is it important?
In order to run a good business, you first have to know what "good business" is. To make money and have repeat business, customers must be satisfied. Granted some customers are a lot harder to please than others and some appear to not be interested in being satisfied, but that’s another story.
But there is plenty of data to suggest a link between happy customers and higher profits. What makes it work?
If satisfied customers are your goal then you will have to first define what satisfied means. Is a satisfied customer one who pays the bill on time, writes you a glowing testimonial or sends you a referral? It’s easy to see how these connections can make you money. Creating satisfied customers is certainly a worthwhile goal — it's doubtful that an unhappy customer will shop in your store.
Once you determine what you want you will have to teach it to your salespeople. Once you teach them, watch to see that they do it right.This is the place where many businesses fail; they fail in accountability 101– keeping track and rewarding performance. I knew a retailer — now out of business for the third time — who was never interested in making customers happy. Everyone including the salespeople knew his philosophy: get the money and get out of town. The US is a pretty big country and last I heard he was considering another journey around the perimeter.
Nordstom, on the other hand, has a long history of accountability to their customers. From the legendary story of a Nordstrom representative taking back a set of tires from a disgruntled customer (Nordstrom doesn't even sell tires), to their policy of having associates come out from behind the counter to hand you your purchase, make eye contact and thank you by name, Nordstrom continues to live a philosophy of accountability and of service.
No More Excuses Fast Company
It is appropriate to reward employees for doing a job well; in fact tying customer service to your employees' paychecks is a great way to "produce" happy customers. Too many businesses talk about providing customer service but don’t hold their employees accountable.
Salespeople are rewarded for producing sales, not necessarily happy customers. Occasionally I shop at this fancy clothing store; they really have the most interesting and unusual clothing. The salespeople are happy but that happiness never translates to how they treat me. A year ago I had an allergy attack in the store while looking at some dresses and my friend ran to the drug store to get me an antihistamine to stop the rash that suddenly was creeping from my arms to the rest of my body. It was quite obvious that I was in distress but the best they could do was offer me a cup of coffee as they went back to their chit chat.
Remember, in business as in life, you get what you reward.