How to Empower Your Employees

Remember when you used to get love letters in the fourth grade?

They were the best! They made you feel great for days and weeks afterwards … until you got another note saying she just “wants to be friends.” But just the idea of getting a love note was special. Someone was telling you that she appreciates you.

Now imagine getting love letters every day – from your customers! That’s what’s worked for Michelle Newberry, owner of Care Courses School Inc. Care Courses School is an online, distance-learning company that provides training and state-mandated continuing educational courses for day care providers. What’s amazing is that she and her 12 employees have created a powerful bond between her company and 40,000 customers, even though they never meet face-to-face. More than 75 percent of her business is done entirely online, which has been growing 10-15 percent every year. But here’s the most amazing part: She and her employees receive more than 700 love notes every year! How many do you get?

One woman wrote to say that she’s making her a hand-made quilt to show her gratitude. Another woman sent everyone on staff a birthday card even though she had no idea when their birthdays were. Several sent drawings from their children. Most e-mails they receive say, “I love you guys … Everything went so smoothly … I will never use anyone else … Way to go! … I spoke with Emilia and she helped me get the courses I needed so I could keep my business open.”

“We hear a lot of sad stories,” Newberry says. Ninety percent of her customers are women. Michelle realized early on that most day care providers are underpaid and under appreciated. Imagine, she says, caring all day for kids who really don’t appreciate the work you’re doing and then dealing with stressed out, overworked parents in the evening who are usually late picking up their kids – and then trying to care for your own family.

“They don’t get a lot in return,” she says. “They give all day long and they aren’t getting anything back. We may be only the supportive adult they speak to all day long.” (Your customers want and need your support!)

But Newberry is not a pushover. “We’re in this business to make money, but we also care about our customers.”

There’s one message. It begins with the #1 value, “We care a lot.” Followed by, “We always make things right.” Here’s where the rubber meets the road.

You see the values sound simple enough but the key is how Newberry and her staff exhibit those values every day. For example, a series of e-mails to customers over 14 days are written by Newberry herself and include e-mails and phone numbers of whom to contact if customers have questions. Although they are automated her personality and caring attitude come through and every e-mail ends with “Love to hear from you. Michelle.”

“We may be selling a $40 course but we understand that their entire livelihood depends on it,” Michelle says.

Pay attention to this one idea, it’s worth reading this story just for this: Do you have employees who regularly talk with customers? Consider giving each of your employees a sack of “gold coins” worth $1 each they can use to help a customer who might need help covering some of the costs. It’s a great way to empower your employees to help make a difference in the lives of your customers.

Here’s how to put core values into play. Each of the 10 employees who work with customers gets $60 worth of gold coins every month to help “make things right” on behalf of customers. That’s $600 per month for employees to spend however as they wish!

In the case of Care Courses School the coins can cover the $10-$20 overnight shipping charges for a customer. They can replace training materials lost in a fire. They can expedite a letter to the state confirming they’ve met the continuing education requirements. Employees don’t need approval – and they don’t have to justify why they spent the money to help a customer. They’re free to make the decisions on their own. Note, autonomy here is the key. Disney, hospitals and hotels all give discretionary “gold” to make people happy. It’s just a budget item.

Here’s one last idea that needs to be learned. Most leaders make a mistake and lose touch with their actual customers. Newberry makes it a point to personally handle five calls or e-mails a week so she understands what her customers are wrestling with. Steve Jobs used to work in customer service and take customer complaint calls himself.

If you want to grow you really have to be close to your customer.

Jon Goldman is President of Brand Launcher, a business and marketing firm that specializes in small-to-midsized companies. Jon presented at National Pavement Expo in Memphis in February 2012 and will present two sessions at NPE, Jan. 23-26 in Nashville. Find out more about Brand Launcher at http://www.brandlauncher.com. You can also get Jon’s e-book “The Secret of the Watermelon” for FREE at http://watermelonsecret.com

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