Great Employees Make a Great Business

Providing service with a smile never goes out of style. Here's why it's so important to hire the best workers you can find

Which people are more valuable -- good employees or good customers? While some might think this is a rhetorical "chicken-or-egg" question, it isn't. The answer is -- envelope please -- good employees. This may surprise you, since this column focuses on how to increase your sales, but a successful business starts with good employees who then attract good customers, not the other way around.

Employees are like a fulcrum -- they can have a tremendous effect on sales and profitability, both positive and negative. One good employee can draw in 100 customers. On the flip side, one bad employee can drive away 100 customers. If that happens, it can take 10 good employees to replace or restore all those lost customers.


  I started thinking about this question of employees vs. customers recently after I received terrible service from a salesperson. Not only will I not return to this establishment, I will tell others about my bad experience, and they may not buy from the offending vendor either. That's an example of how one bad employee can lose many customers.

However, when I get great selling service, I return to that outfit to buy again and again. I also refer my friends, and they may buy from this company. That's the fulcrum effect in action. In addition, those customers who are in the store and see people making purchases are more likely to feel the momentum and open their wallets too.

For instance, I do most of my printing at a particular local copy shop because of a great employee there named Steve. He always greets me with "Hi Michelle" and a smile. Then he quickly gets me started on my project. I know Steve doesn't give this special treatment just to me. He treats most customers that way.


  Steve makes that copy shop feel like a business version of Cheers, where "everybody knows your name." I bet first-time visitors to the shop notice that Steve knows almost everyone else's name. They'll also notice that customers are anxious for him to learn their names and copy preferences too.

I know that Steve makes a personal difference because when I go to that copy shop and he's not there, if I don't need the job right away I come back another day when he is there to greet and help me.

If you hire employees, imagine how your sales would rocket if you hired a team of "Steves." Hiring is a lot like sales -- the same three basic steps to having more and better customers apply to getting better employees too: Attract them to your company, hire them, and retain them. Here are some tips to improve for each phase.

1. Attract good employees. As businesses are waking up to the huge impact good employees can have on the bottom line, the competition for good employees is becoming as fierce as it is for good customers. Just as you have to market to get new customers, you also have to market your organization as a place where great employees want to work.

Discover which benefits are most coveted by the good employees in your industry and community. If you can provide some or all of these, you'll generate a buzz among the community that your outfit is a cool place to work. Good employees may inquire about openings and might even leave their names with your human-resources staff to be notified when openings do come up. Your current good employees may also refer their friends. who will probably be good employees too.

2. Hire good employees. Hiring a good employee is like closing a sale. Just as you qualify your customers throughout the sales process, you must qualify top employee candidates throughout the hiring process. When there's a general agreement from both sides that it's a good match, it's time to pop the question and sign them up.

3. Retain good employees. In sales, the profit on the first sale is usually smaller than that of repeat orders. It's the same with hiring good employees -- if they only stay a short while, you won't get a good return on all your effort and money.

However, for those good employees who stay with you as they hit their five-, 10-, and even 20-year company anniversaries, everyone wins. As the years accrue, there's more stability, knowledge, flexibility, and deeper connection both between the employee and the company and the employee and his or her customers.

In addition, as a team of good employees bonds, turnover will reduce because they won't want to leave. They'll enjoy the work, camaraderie, and rewards too much where they are to leave for greener pastures.


  Good employees also want to work with other good employees. That's why one bad apple really can spoil the whole basket. So if an employee loses his or her attitude of being on fire for your customers, have a heart-to-heart talk right away. If the situation can't be turned around, do your sales team a favor and let the person go.

I had a sales manager call me about an employee who didn't smile or project warmly to his customers. "Should I lower my expectations?" he asked me. The answer, of course is, "No." To lower your standards for one is to lower them for the whole sales team.

Once you hire good employees, don't stop. To maximize your sales, continually train them so they have the sharpest sales skills and latest industry knowledge. That's the only way they can keep offering top-selling service to your customers.

With the resulting increase in sales, you may soon need more employees, and the process will begin all over again. Happy hiring -- and selling!

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.