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Scott M. Paton

Quality People

Good people = good service



If you haven’t read this month’s “First Word,” I encourage you to stop reading this and read Dirk Dusharme’s brilliant defense of my last column. Click here. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

In his column, Dirk responds to a cranky reader who thought I was expecting too much from a Wal-Mart greeter because he wasn’t highly paid. The reader also refers to a burger flipper at Burger King as “not exactly a rocket scientist” because he works for minimum wage. And you thought I was an elitist snob.

Dirk rightly notes that we should expect good service from everyone all the time. People should perform well no matter how much money they make. He thinks that organizations with problem employees should help them through their difficult times. He suggests that you get to know your employees so that you’re better equipped to help them solve their personal problems.

These are noble goals, and I hope every organization follows Dirk’s advice. But (you knew it was coming), although I agree that we should expect excellent service from every employee of every organization that we deal with, I don’t believe that the organization is entirely responsible for ensuring that every employee is capable of providing it. Some employees just aren’t worth saving.

Before you send me an e-mail, think about the pain-in-the-ass employee whom your boss just couldn’t fire fast enough to suit you. We’ve all worked with them, and we certainly encounter them on almost a daily basis when we shop or interact with customers, vendors, utilities, you name it.

As any dairy farmer knows, cream rises. Those who do good work rise above their situations. Those who are motivated get educations and get promotions and, while they’re in their current positions, they do great work.

My experience at Wal-Mart late one night a few months ago was miserable. (See my column last month for the gruesome details.) I was faced with employees who didn’t speak English well enough to communicate with me, employees who couldn’t be bothered to make change and inane policies that required me to fill out a form to get a 50-cent refund. Was my miserable experience Wal-Mart’s fault? Yes. Could Wal-Mart make all those employees I encountered excellent providers of customer service? No.

Having read Dirk’s column as I requested, you’ll remember that our art director, Caylen Balmain (by the way, he’s one heck of a nice guy), flipped burgers in high school. (He flips burgers at Quality Digest company lunches, too.) The reason that Caylen is now the art director for a magazine and making somewhat more money than your average burger-flipper is because he wanted something more. He’s a hard-working guy driven to do good work. It’s the same reason I’m not still washing dogs at Newport Dog Groomery. I was a damn good dog washer. I just wasn’t too fond of the smell of wet fur in the morning.

But there are those, such as the grumpy Wal-Mart greeter, who will never give good service. I don’t care how much Wal-Mart invests in him or pays him. That doesn’t mean I as a customer should have to deal with him. I don’t care if it’s 3 p.m. or 3 a.m., Wal-Mart should find someone who will provide me with excellent service no matter the time, the location, the duty or the pay.

I don’t think we should lower our expectations as consumers, employers or employees.

As a consumer, I expect and deserve excellent service every time, no matter how much the employee is being paid or how menial some may consider the service. The employee performing the work certainly doesn't consider the job menial.

As an employer, I expect my employees to deliver excellent service to their customers and co-workers. This includes delivering high-quality products, too, be it from an entry-level data entry clerk or an extremely well-paid editor in chief.

As an employee, I expect, as Dirk suggests, that my employer do its best to help me deliver that excellent product and/or service. I also expect each of my co-workers to do the same. I don’t want to work with someone who doesn’t want to do his or her best.

An excellent example of an organization that hires good people is the Walt Disney Co. Your average street sweeper at a Disney theme park isn’t exactly driving a Jaguar to work every day, but Disney hires that employee (or cast member, as Disney calls them) as carefully as any other. Disney looks for friendly, outgoing people who will meet its strict personal grooming standards and who can communicate well. Disney views the street sweeper position as a critical customer service opportunity, not as a menial position.

We can talk all day about cultural sensitivity, motivational programs, pay for performance or group hugs, but it all boils down to personal accountability and responsibility.

Smart organizations hire good people, support them and have them do great things.

About the author

Scott M. Paton is Quality Digest’s publisher.