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Busyness is Not Good Business!

By Rebecca Staton-Reinstein

The following word-for-word conversation took place recently between the Customer Service Manager of a mid-sized manufacturer and a consultant.

Customer Service Manager:  I have two poor performers, Barry and Mary.

Consultant: How are you handling them?

CSM:  Our big customers are assigned to our good people. We route the calls from the small customers to Barry and Mary.

Cons:  What’s the reason for doing that? They can’t do too much damage?

CSM:  Oh! So they’ll stay busy! I want them to stay busy.

Cons: Who are some of the small customers?

CSM: (She rattles off several global retailers.)

Cons: Those are ‘small’ customers?

CSM: They do very little business with us.

Cons:  Let me understand this. Issues for ‘small’ customers such as (global giant) are all handled by two poor performers so they can keep busy.

CSM: (beaming) That’s right!

I did not invent this! But it’s not the first time I’ve heard it. Busyness is not good business…or related to productivity or quality…or a way to deal with customers…or a way to improve poor performance.

Managers often measure activity instead of results. It’s the tendency, especially in tough economic times, to focus on tactics rather than strategy. This tactical approach obscures results until it is too late and failure is upon you.

Busyness obscures the results from a poor performer in these situations. Barry and Mary have no idea their performance is unacceptable because they are so busy they can’t imagine doing any more, much less different.

More importantly, ‘small’ customers do not get the attention they need. In this case, some have drifted away and others refuse to increase the size or diversity of their orders because service is so poor. Some of these ‘small’ customers are huge companies with a great need for the manufacturer’s product. These customers decided to give the company a chance and, with this level of poor service, they failed. The company is well-known in the region and these experiences challenge their good reputation.

The prescription for curing this sick situation is simple. The Customer Service Manager (CSM) must:

  • Work with Barry and Mary to set clear expectations for their performance based on the customers’ needs and satisfaction

  • Train them in the fundamentals of the job, especially solving customer’s problems in a proactive and pleasant way

  • Work with them to create an improvement plan with clear measurements of results, not activity.  

When the CSM is satisfied that all that can be done has been done to improve each individual’s performance, it is time for a decision:

  • Has performance improved enough?

  • Do we need a new plan?

  • Is the person a good match for the job?

  • Do we need to move on?

How you are managing your good and poor performers? Are you tracking activitybusyness—or are you looking at employee performance and customer satisfaction strategically based on results?

If you are caught in the busyness trap, extricate yourself by creating or expanding your strategic business plan. If you do not have a strategic business plan, what are you waiting for? Employee performance should be measured based on your strategic business plan goals and objectives. Each employee has a role in fulfilling the plan. Follow the steps we suggested for the CSM above. This helps you stay focused on managing your results and your employees strategically. Focus on business not busyness.

Read other articles and learn more about Rebecca Staton-Reinstein.

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