Sunday, September 30, 2012

Service with a smile

How many times have I said it? Public relations isn't just the responsibility of the people who have that term in their job title. Everyone in your organization plays a role in managing the organization's reputation.

Consider this guest post at the Rep Man's blog, written by a woman whose reflexively anti-Walmart views were softened by the company's steps toward sustainability and the pleasant appearance of its  new store in her town. But then she encountered a friend who got a job at said store, and she ended up right back where she started:

We asked how it was going, and initially she raved about the quality and prices of the merchandise.  Then, her smile faltered and she admitted that the store’s move from being open for 18 hours to 24 took her and her fellow employees by surprise.  They had already accepted the fact that they wouldn’t be scheduled for more than 25 hours to avoid eligibility for health care under the current law.  But when she and others signed on, they were told they would be working a daytime shift almost exclusively, and never later than 11.  She showed us the schedule that she had just received, which included a shift for the next day that would run until 1:30 a.m.  She was sad that she was being asked to work so late and nervous considering that her husband was out of town and her two children would be alone.  She initially felt a little better that at least her pay would be higher during overnight hours, but then she learned that this increase only applied if the employee starts work at 10 pm or later.  Guess how many employees do that?

Your employees may come to work with a great attitude. They may smile at customers and answer all their questions in a friendly manner. They may work hard, because they are conscientious and have a work ethic instilled in them long ago.

But what do they say about your company when they are chatting with a friend over coffee? When they bump into an acquaintance they haven't seen in a while, and are asked, So how do you like that job? Does their smile freeze in place, or do they tell the truth?

Walmart's treatment of its rank-and-file workers and its ruthless purchasing policies have earned it condemnation, but those practices are what allow it to offer the low prices that are at the heart of its brand. Millions of consumers are loyal, and Walmart no doubt decided long ago the rewards are worth the risks.

But not every organization may be so comfortable with that bargain. Their margin of error may be much smaller than that of the world's largest retailer. They may need to be well-regarded by the public. Have they considered that how they treat their employees may be nearly as important as how they treat their customers?

It may be one of the great tragedies of organizational life in America that public relations and human resources don't work more closely together. Folks who work in HR have a tough job and deal with headaches that I would not have the first clue how to cure. But I think they would be well served by taking our counsel on how the interests of the organization and the interests of the people who make it run often overlap, and that the former cannot be served at the expense of the latter.

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