Forget the Fixtures. Upgrade Your People

Delta+Flight+Attendants+3+smA regional convenience store chain with a not-so-stellar reputation recently renovated the store located a couple miles from my house. It’s actually quite beautiful as c-stores go — bright and open with new fixtures, colorful signage, and a classy stone façade.

But what happened in front of the refurbished building is what really caught my attention during my visit there last week.

While I was pumping gasoline, I heard women shouting and swearing behind me. I turned around expecting to see two patrons mixing it up, but instead saw two employees engaged in this raucous discussion.

I couldn’t hear everything they were saying, but somebody was upset about something and wasn’t going to take it anymore. Meanwhile, patrons were walking into the store, glancing at the confrontation as they opened the door.

My gas pump didn’t print a receipt (I guess that upgrade is coming later), so I needed to enter the store as well. I have to be honest — I was a little hesitant to do that. Who knows what a person’s going to do when they’re in an agitated state? I mean, I wouldn’t have been the first innocent person ever assaulted at a convenience store.

Upon entering, I saw one long line for the only open cash register and customers waiting at the sandwich counter. About a minute later, the two angry employees who had been out front came back to their posts. They took their time — first discussing the work schedule for the upcoming days before one walked to the back office while the other opened register two.

So the store was clean and new, but the customer experience was dreadful because of the people operating the facility. This convenience store chain would have been better off had it invested in hiring and management processes rather than a neon “Eat More Ding Dongs!” sign. The company would have been improved if it sought to hire employees who genuinely cared about serving the customers in line.

I have a good news story for you as well. I recently flew Delta from Cleveland to Atlanta and noticed the plane interior had been completely refurbished. The seats and overhead compartments were clean and unscratched. My past travel experiences with Delta have ranged from uneventful to unsatisfactory, so I was expecting the same this time … until an upbeat flight attendant named “Debbie” spoke into the microphone.

Instead of scolding the passengers for not sitting down or mindlessly repeating a how-to-fasten-your-seatbelt script, Debbie welcomed everyone with a big smile and started telling jokes. “What do you do if you break your arm in two places?” she asked. “You don’t go back to those places!”

After laughs (and a couple groans) from the passengers, Debbie spoke from the heart. I don’t recall everything she said, but her punch line was this: “I love my job. More importantly I want you to love flying Delta.” This time, almost every passenger responded with applause.

Throughout the flight, Debbie was engaged with the passengers and was always smiling. As the plane began to descend, she stopped by every first-class passenger to thank them and ask them if they needed anything else. (At least that’s what appeared to happen; I was six rows back in coach but I’m a pretty decent lip reader.)

When we touched down, Debbie provided the usual specifics passengers need to hear upon arrival, but added these words: “Stay safe. Be grateful. And never stop giving.”

What lessons can hiring managers like us glean from these stories?

During your interview process, ask “Why?” A lot. Why do you want this job? Why do you want this line of work? Why are you leaving your current job/line of work? Why would you leave this job? Why did you apply for this job — what aspect of the job caught your attention? What aspects of this job are least attractive to you and why?

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Hire only employees who prove to you they will genuinely enjoy the job you’re hiring for. Some people just want a job. Others have a calling. I’d rather hire someone with zero sales experience who loves people than someone with lots of experience who bristles when someone asks them for a favor. When I hire operations-side employees, I don’t look so much for experience as I do someone who will pretty much break out in hives if they don’t stay organized, work efficiently, meet deadlines, and produce quality work.

Beef up your employee training. If you are going to hire less-experienced people, you need a thorough training system to get them up to speed quickly. Without this, your emotions can take over during the interview process and cause you to hire only experienced candidates who can self-train and save you the headache of onboarding a newbie.

Make your new hiring target clear to everyone connected to your interview process. The event I was flying to via Delta was a partner conference for a multi-billion dollar technology distributor. The president of their largest division said this to the hundreds in attendance, which included customers and his own staff: “We don’t necessarily look for people who understand and know technology. When we hire salespeople, we’re looking for people who share that same kind of sense of urgency, that commitment to customer service, that desire to do what they need to do to make our customers happy. We can teach them the rest. We can teach them how to sell. We can teach them the technology — we have a great tech support team that can do that. We want to hire the right internal characteristics so they can provide you with the best customer service.”

Invest in your hiring process. If you have a choice between buying a painting for your office or spending that same money on a service that will help you hire better … print this article and cover up the spot where the artwork would have gone.