CUSTOMER SERVICE

The Secret to 20% Sales and Earnings Growth

If you want to increase your profits, focus your energy on your employees. Here's what will happen next.
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I have been to 'socialist' countries where businesses--generally retail outlets--practically growl at customers and treat them shabbily. And they get away with it because customers have no alternative. But capitalism gave us competition and surly shopkeepers mended their ways as they discovered that they could not eat very well otherwise.

Canny entrepreneurs took the next step. How about treating employees very well so they would then take care of customers very well, and those satisfied customers would keep coming back and referring others? This is a concept that has been widely acknowledged and applauded, and there are many books such as The Customer Comes Second by Hal Rosenbluth that espouse the view.

Still, remarkably few companies actually follow this course, or even attempt it. So low morale and employee disengagement are the regrettable norm. Forbes reported in a recent study that more than two thirds of all employees are dissatisfied at work. 

Where Employee Success Equals Company Success 

I know a company that is doing this and prospering. Easy Living in Clearwater, Florida, which is in a low tech, unglamorous industry--home care for those with dementia or disease, and unable to care for themselves--scores in the high 9's (on a ten point scale) of virtually every component of independent research company Home Pulse's survey of factors like work ethic and compassion of caregiver. And the company is growing at better than 20 percent in revenues and earnings.

Typically caregivers are on the low end of the socio-economic scale and generally treated badly by the companies that employ them. Customers are generally at the other end of the scale and pampered--at least verbally. But Easy Living takes an approach that is different. The company vision is to "set team members up for success." Alex Chamberlain, the CEO, considers one of his primary duties to be thinking of new ways to make employees--I mean, team members--feel more valued and empowered in various ways.

And the ways he finds to do this are good for both client and caregiver. And these ways are decidedly not the norm in this industry. Here's how.

How to Really Treat Your Employees (and Customers) Well 

All Easy Living caregivers are W-2 employees with benefits in an industry that frequently tries to cut costs by labeling them 'independent contractors' and giving them 1099 income with no benefits.

Trust is important and the company delves deep into both client and caregiver backgrounds to make the match as good as possible. A devoutly religious client will not be paired with an atheist care giver or vice versa.

Caregivers are explicitly encouraged to take initiative to make patients' lives better. And this, of course, makes them feel more valued. In fact, "Mistakes are Proof that you are Trying" is emblazoned in the training room. When caregivers start using such initiative, some delight customers and some don't work out. Easy Living stands behind the caregiver in the latter instance and will work behind the scenes to make things right.

For instance, a caregiver noticed that her patient always had the Animal Planet channel on the TV, surmised that she liked animals and took her to a Pet Smart store where she happily petted dogs and fed cats and had a ball. Her daughter called up later to say Thank You and what an awesome time her mother had. In another instance a caregiver took her charge to the beach. Unfortunately, her car was not air-conditioned and the parking was some distance from the sand and the patient did not like it at all. Nor did the nearby children who were vociferous in their complaints. Easy Living apologized, promptly canceled the charges for the day, and trained the caregiver with a check list of items to consider before doing something similar, including: distance from parking lot to destination, wheelchair accessibility, restroom availability and so on. The caregiver continued with the same patient and the relationship was more than satisfactory.

Easy Living will not send a caregiver into a situation that senior staff has not thoroughly checked out. A man called and asked for an aide to 'keep an eye' on his mother who had broken her arm in a fall. A senior care consultant investigated and discovered that the mother lived on the ground floor of a two story house and slept on the sofa. She was too scared of falling to go to her bedroom on the upper floor and there were piles of unwashed laundry in the closet because she would not go down to the basement where the washer/dryer was. The son had no knowledge of this.

"Parents hide things," says CEO Chamberlain, matter-of-factly. "They will not tell children that they need help bathing or going to the toilet." He considers it his job to find out stuff like this so that the caregiver is not sent into a situation she cannot handle.

Easy Living helps caregivers find out in great detail about every client. For someone with Alzheimer's they know who the person once was and communicate that to the caregiver so she has a better sense of his history. A one time senior executive persistently lived in his corporate world and asked when his next meeting was. "Right after lunch, sir," she responded, and led him to his food.

How would your company do if you followed the same approach?

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Feb 3, 2014

SRIKUMAR RAO | Columnist | author, Happiness at Work

Srikumar Rao is the author of Happiness at Work and creator of the popular course Creativity and Personal Mastery. He helps entrepreneurs cope with internal struggles to lead them to external success. A former professor at Columbia Business School, Rao has consulted to RCA, Reuters, and Citigroup.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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