Three contrarian tips about people and customers

This is a slightly longer post than usual, but if you stick with me the rewards are great, because ‘people’ is the ultimate competitive advantage and avoiding these common pitfalls will save you money and bring great happiness to your staff.

Tip #1: Don’t (just) train your staff, train your customers

Train your customers to make them better customers.

  • How good is your product literature?
  • Are your customers conditioned to purchase or conditioned to kick the tires?
  • How good is your POP signage?
  • How effective is your shopper marketing?

Customers don’t know how to be customers. They learn ‘on the job’ and they learn from watching other bad customers, and they take their cues from poor sales people.

Train your customers to complain. (If they don’t complain to you, they will to someone else and you lose both customers.

Train your customers to come back. Loyalty systems are often misguided, ‘me too’ attempts that does not teach the customer the value of loyalty.

Train your customers to do some more of the work so that your staff can be more productive. Aldi did a great job of that – and it does not only apply to supermarkets. (This is very tricky of course, you need to go through a proper customer experience design process.)

Tip #2: Training is a corporate game designed to pull you down, not build you up

Typically, most training that happens in the workplace is misguided.

 (And not just training, also performance appraisals.)

 Too many HR departments justify their existence by indentifying:

  • need for change
  • performance gaps
  • blind spots
  • weakness
  • sub-optimal performance…

and blah-de-blah.

A sure-fire way of making yourself indispensable is to get the organisation to believe that certain people/ departments are not performing up to the benchmark. It is easy to justify why the ‘training’ should happen, but guess what? The training outcomes are never actually benchmarked!

I have heard people say – 2 weeks after going on a course – that it was really interesting but they haven’t had the time to implement it.

Have you ever received a performance review and walked away thinking – ‘who the hell give him the right to criticise me, when he is … (fill in your favourite shortcoming).

Good training (and performance appraisal systems) are built on the strengths of the individuals. ‘Skills improvement’ – specifically soft skills are incredibly hard to train. Unless an individual is personally focused on it and motivated to make those changes themselves it aint gonna happen.

Just like an obese person or an alcoholic must take personal ownership of the status quo and then make a personal commitment to dealing with it – no amount of chalk & talk is going to cure it. And here is a little inside-tip to the HR professionals:

Despite what the delegates ‘say’ in those little breakaway groups, the reality is, and always will be very different. Nobody is going to make life-affirming, or identity-shattering confessions to a guy he met last night at the bar before the leadership seminar.

What does have to do with running a dynamic business?

I don’t advocate ‘no training’ – but fundamentally, more important than the training is the raw material that you are working with. That means training is the LAST intervention after you have fixed your strategy, systems, staffing etc.


Tip #3: Recruit well and 90% of your training ‘problems’ go away.

If you want to save thousands and even millions in some cases – here is a recipe for you:

Cancel all leadership training, and employ people who:

  • have common decency and you would actually like to work with, and
  • are passionate about their jobs.

Give them an opportunity to excel. (And if they don’t, demote them to their previous level of competence and apologise for your poor judgement.)

If they are not passionate or nice any longer fire them for lying to you about who they really were.

If you are working with nice people who are passionate about their jobs, then you can roll skills improvement training IF it meets this very important criterion:

It must be based on improving their natural strengths – and not be designed to spend a ½ day analysing, identifying and admitting the weakness.

Like the biblical seeds that are sown on the different types of soil, so training success only on the fertile soil and never on the field of weeds where they get strangled by politics and pretence.

(BTW, the same applies to your customers.) ‘Recruit’ well because the high maintenance, demanding client who wants the world but does not want to pay accordingly, should be fired. They can’t be ‘trained’ – they are just victims of their organisational culture and you should focus your energy on finding and retaining the good ones – not fixing the broken ones. (Those who continue to do so are suffering from a Messiah complex, thinking they can fix everything.)


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