Quick Printing
October 2006
Happy employees create sales
Build the right culture and customer satisfaction will take care of itself
Do you spend time thinking about how to make your customers happy? If you’re racking your brains about it, you’re trying to fix the wrong end of the problem. I’ve found over the years that trying to make customers hapy with value-added benefits is a costly and time-consuming process without a lot of return on investment. I think it’s best to focus in another direction.

When you build a healthy, customer-focused company culture that really, genuinely wants to please customers, your business will grow. I’ve learned that to achieve that kind of culture it’s much better to focus on making employees happy. When they’re happy, customers are happy. So, here are some specific ways for creating a company that loves its customers.

Your best bet is to start out with the right people. Stop hiring only when you need to. Instead, when an extraordinarily gifted person applies, hire her and find a place for her. Don’t worry about your payroll too much; really good people are rare. They don’t appear often. When they do, it’s a good thing.

Once you have the right employees, empower them. Herb Kelleher, chairman of Southwest Airlines, says, “The customers are not always right, but my employees are.” Southwest trusts its employees to make the right choices and do what’s best for the company.

To help your employees make the best decisions, make sure they know the company’s direction. Clear mission statements help. Avoid flowery words or phrases that are philosophical but have no real meaning. Instead, try simple, understandable statements like: “We make engines for the world” (Honda); “We dominate the world in software” (Microsoft); “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” (Ritz-Carlton); or “We specialize in impossible deadlines” (Express Press).

Next, happy employees create good customer experience. Southwest’s Kelleher says, “If they aren’t having fun, they can’t work at Southwest Airlines.” At my print shop, you’ll often find employees smiling—especially at our front counter—most likely because they are talking with a customer or giving them some free candy. (We have jars of Hershey’s Kisses, Tootsie Rolls, and an antique penny gumball machine on our front counter.) Customers want to do business with companies that have happy employees. If your employees are not having a good time, there is no way they can make it fun for your customers.

Points of contact
I have a phrase to describe my employees who come into contact with customers. I call them Points of Contact. Put your strongest employees into these positions because this small group will form an impression with your entire community about how easy it is—or isn’t—to do business with your printing firm.

I’ve had a lot of CSRs at Express Press. When I have a friendly, upbeat team that wants to help customers, sales climb easily. When we don’t have a strong CSR team, everything seems to be more difficult and sales always lose momentum. And it’s not just CSRs who can make a big difference. Don’t forget that your delivery driver, your receptionist, and your estimator should all be strong individuals. Be sure to pay good enough wages to attract strong candidates for these positions. Trust me, it will come back to you again and again in customer loyalty and climbing sales.

Every employee works in sales
How many employees work in your sales department? Hint: How many employees to you have? Every one at your printing firm is part of your sales department.
Stop leaving it up to the sales and customer service team to build relationships with the clients. For example, you could write a letter to the president of one of your client companies. Or, when a client visits for a press check or plant tour, employees can greet him by name. Your production manager should often call your clients to ask if they were pleased with the turnaround and quality of the work.
Finding really good employees who are smart and enthusiastic can be a daunting task. To help you identify the right person, I’ve included a list of questions I ask every candidate I interview. I don’t delegate this task. I do it myself. The questions provide a very revealing glimpse of the person I might be hiring. The list is unique and different, but amazing in its ability to get applicants to open up and truthfully tell you about themselves. If you use this list you’ll see exactly what I mean
Mike Stevens is one of North America’s most successful small printers. He owns Express Press in Fargo, North Dakota. Starting with sales of $10,900 a month in 1985, volume now exceeds $250,000 per month. You can reach him at mikestevens@expresspressusa.com or visit www.expresspressusa.com.
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