In 1907, Carnation Evaporated Milk introduced a brand-new ad to promote its product, “made from contented cows.” Since I lived on a cattle farm and milked a cow twice a day for most of my teenage years, I thought a lot about the productivity of cows with high morale. Our cows never seemed to be very anxious. They pretty much grazed all day and slept all night. When there was no grass; we put out hay. And, there was always a nearby pond for water. What a life! No wonder their milk tasted so good!!
I was in an antique store recently and spotted one of the cans with the “contented cow” tagline. It made me think about customer service…especially, the frontline folks who deliver the experiences (“milk”) to customers. Now, please don’t push this metaphor too far. People are not cows and work life is clearly more stressful than a pasture. But, the concept—happy cows make tasty milk; happy employees make happy customers—is a solid one. Quality guru Edward Deming said, “Drive fear out of the workplace.” And, a lot of writers trumpet treating employees like your most important customers.
What does contented look like? It starts with the employee who consistently delivers the customer experience that you believe will make your customers want to come back and bring their friends. I have been asking frontline employees at good and not-so-good establishments: What turns you on about this job? It is a backdoor way of asking: “What does ‘contented’ mean to you?” It also provides a recipe for finding and keeping the best people.
The frontline folks from poor service providers give me answers like: “I get off early,” “I have a boss who doesn’t ride me all day,” “The work is easy,” “I can work without a lot of interruption,” or “The tips are good.” But, the great service provider frontline answers are completely different.
Here are some I most frequently hear from the best in class: “I am not satisfied until my customers are satisfied?” “I get a kick out of solving customer problems.” “I like it when customers say ‘thank you,’ and really mean it.” “It makes my day when a customer comes in and asks for me.” I also heard, “I really get excited when I can take the toughest customer—the one who comes in here with a bad attitude—and I have them happy, even laughing, by the time they leave.”
And, interesting side-note to this bit of informal research. I also asked front line employees, “Did your leader give you a crystal-clear picture of what good service looks like for this organization?” You can guess the answers. Not one poor service providing front liner said “yes” and not one great service providing front liner said “no!”
When I asked my cow-growing dad how to get productive milk cows he told me, “Start with good stock.” Great service starts with knowing what greatness looks like up close and personal. Then, it means finding, developing, and keeping the people who can consistently deliver that model of excellence and love doing it.