Kitchen & Bath Design News

JUN 2018

Kitchen & Bath Design News is the industry's leading business, design and product resource for the kitchen and bath trade.

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Page 23 of 83

THE LONG-TERM HEALTH of a business, particularly a small kitchen and bath firm such as most of us have, is especially dependent on customer satisfaction. Lessons in customer satisfaction can be found in many places, particularly in places where upscale clientele gather. My wife and I recently were able to enjoy an ocean cruise aboard a Viking Cruise Lines ship. Just about every aspect of this experience reinforced our perception that Viking runs a first-class operation. This cruise line is one of the more expensive options, so our expectations were high. From the time we boarded the ship, every encounter we had with a member of the crew or staff was friendly, pleasant and helpful. So, our question was, how does this company maintain this level of service among the 400+ staff members who are with each other for days on end? Our discussions with the staff, at all levels within the organization, led to the conclusion that it was not accidental. SCREENING & HIRING The crew and staff came from all over the world and were recruited carefully by trained human resources people. Obviously, since security is critical, a careful screening process is essential. Additionally, this company has a rigorous training program for all new hires, ensuring that these new employees understand not only the job they have been hired for, but what the company's philosophy and mission are all about. COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS Interestingly, there is no tipping on Viking cruises, but rather a general gratuity is added at the end and distributed fairly among all crew members. Every crew member we encountered told us what a great company they were work- ing for and how much they enjoyed what they were doing. The company provided extensive benefits, including savings plans, medical cov- erage and vacations. While we did not get into actual monetary compensation, we continually heard that Viking was a really good company to work for. CONTRACTS Each and every employee is working under a limited duration (six months to one year) con- tract, which means that they are committed to stay with the company for that period, but also means that they will need to be rehired under a new contract at the end of that time. This system forces a performance review at the end of each contract period. The passengers are asked to evaluate all as- pects of their experience, particularly with regard to interactions with the crew and staff. This gives the company's management continuous feedback as to how things are going and whether there are any personnel issues that need to be dealt with. There seemed little doubt that the company was good at keeping their word and commit- ments to its employees. MUTUALITY OF INTEREST We were struck by how each employee we interacted with took real pride in the ship and their ability to provide us with the kind of experience that would make us want to do business with this company again. The term for this is "mutuality of interest." In other words, each of these people seemed to act as if they, themselves, were owners of the business and dependent upon its success. This attitude is only found in employees who are convinced that their employer is not only dedicated to satisfying customers, but also truly concerned with the lives and careers of their employees. There also seemed to be a real comradery among the crew and staff, and a sense of "fam- ily." Several times we heard the mention of the term "family" when describing what it was like working aboard the ship. We certainly noticed that everyone seemed truly happy being there, liked each other and enjoyed the interaction with passengers. ANTICIPATING CUSTOMER NEEDS This company had very obviously spent a lot of time and effort anticipating the needs of its customers. The company also seemed to stress exceeding all expectations. Time and time again things were taken care of before we even real- ized that we needed something. Some of this involved added expenses and, as mentioned above, this was not a low-price experience, but, as with a lot of choices, there is a segment of the market that is willing to pay for premium products and/or services. LESSONS LEARNED So how does this relate to the kitchen and bath industry? Over the years, we would occasionally receive comments from our customers saying that they felt a sense of warmth and family when interacting with us. While this was flat- tering and gave us a warm feeling, our recent cruise experience caused us to evaluate how that might have been achieved. Compensation is obviously an important part of employee satisfaction, but often more important than the specific amount is whether or not employees feel they are being fairly paid in relation to others within the organization and within the industry. Group outings and activities, such as pizza parties, picnics, sporting events, etc., allow employees to get to know each other on a more informal basis and develop more personal relationships. Make sure that every member of your staff understands the importance of what we refer to as "mutuality of interest" and its importance to them as well as the company. While contracts are not common in our industry, the need for performance reviews on a regular basis are extremely important so that employees know where they stand. Additionally, the opportunity to grow and advance within your organization is a challenge for small businesses. Still, there are usually opportunities to provide additional responsibilities and recognition. The other lesson is the emphasis on anticipating and meeting the needs of our customers. It really is not overly difficult to put ourselves in the place of our clients who have this stream of tradespeople in their homes day after day, stirring up dust and making noise. Obviously, minimizing this disruption is a giv- en, but letting the client know that you are aware of how they are being impacted will go a long way toward easing their pain. Equally important, if not more so, is dealing quickly and openly with any- thing that goes wrong. Another need that can be met is the client's need to know what's happening with their project and when it is going to end. So, while we are not running a cruise ship, we should try to make our customers feel as much like a pampered passenger as we can. ▪ " Make sure that every member of your staff understands the importance of 'mutuality of interest,' both to them and to the company as a whole." Read past columns and features and send us your comments about this article and others at Sense of Family Inspires Quality Service BRUCE KELLERAN, CKD, CPA 24 Kitchen & Bath Design News • June 2018 BUSINESS MANAGEMENT

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