It’s Not Us – It’s Them

Last night was our annual Christmas dinner where we get to sit down with our folks and enjoy a holiday celebration.  It’s also another chance to say “Thank You” to each of our employees.  We’re not big guys, by any means, but we’re more than we were, so it’s a great time to reflect on what we are as a Company, where we’re going, and how we are going to get there.

We set out a few years ago to transform the level and quality of service and raise customer expectations.  The industry we’re in is rife with stories of – well, the list is long – less than excellent customer service.  In the rush to undercut pricing and minimize costs, the pool industry at every level has a reputation for providing lousy service, not fulfilling contracts, indifference to customer needs, and even blatantly ripping off customers.  We thought that we could do better.  And, we are!  Actually, we (the owners) aren’t – it’s our employees.

We start by hiring nice people.  Most are known or recommended by somebody who either works for us now or worked for us in the past.  If you’re nice, can look us in the eye, act sincerely, and can shake our hands, you’re mostly there.  We’ll ask simple questions to ask where your “heart” is, what drives you and why, and in about 10 seconds determine if you want to be here.  In a really short time we’ll know whether you are sincere and if you are sincerely nice.

Then, we ask you to do the right thing.  We are personally not fans of “salesmanship.”  The hard sell is awful to us.  That means our way is probably not typical.  What do we do?

  1. Take care of the customer.
  2. Listen to them.
  3. Get them a solution if they’re having a problem.
  4. Sometimes, the solution is educating them.
  5. And, if you don’t know – ask!

Not knowing is OK.  Everybody reaches the limits of their knowledge at some point in their career, but the answer is somewhere – so find it.  That’s doing the right thing for the customer.

We ask that you use all your resources.  Training, no matter how good, has its limits, so we give you – and train you about – a lot of the resources you have to find the answer.  It starts with our own “Store Pricing Book.”  Designed so that our folks can pick it up and virtually read it to a customer, it is packed with information.  But, it’s not carved in stone; it’s written on paper as a “living document.”  If we get frequent questions about stuff not in the book, then we amend the book to make sure that matter is covered.  If we find our employees can’t understand or explain something in the book – like how properly size a component – we’ll change it to make it easy for the customer to understand.  Everything in the book is proofed by multiple employees.  If there is a way to make the book easier to use, we’ll do it.

There are numerous other resources, too.  We want you to use them all.  Here’s our standard: if I don’t know something, I’m going to look it up or call somebody who does know.  Our expectation is that if I can do those things, so can any employee.

The zippy business term is “empowerment.”  To me, it’s common sense.  (We’ll see more about “empowerment” later.)  I’m busy enough already, so if you’re going to ask me and I’m going to have to <insert action here: call, open manual, open catalog, search manufacturer’s website, etc>, then you can too.  You’re smart enough and we trust you to do A), B), C), D), & E) above.  In other words, we trust you to do the right thing.

It is an overused but under-practiced cliché, this concept of “empowerment.”  I’ve worked in and observed all sorts of organizations and experienced all sorts of corporate cultures; read all sorts of mission statements, values commitments, and corporate visions with virtual boilerplate blather and “empowered” or “empowerment” thrown in a few times.  I’ve seen one of the most micro-managerial, top-down organizations imaginable bandy those words about with abandon.  Our expectation is real and simple – you are good enough, smart enough, and I like you enough and you can do anything I can – so do it!

Our folks know how to test water.  They know water chemistry and how to correct water issues.  They know how to find parts and equipment in our store.  They know why we like certain things and why we don’t like some products.  They know what to do if we don’t have something.  And, our folks listen to customers; if we get continual requests for something, we’ll stock it.

And, if we don’t have something?  Our folks know where we get our products.  They know how to get the right stuff – from big items to the most obscure part.  They know how to get our costs.  They know how to price the item.  They know how to order.  If the customer wants it – they can order.

Our service people do the same.  Listen, ask questions, explain, and find the right solution.  We don’t just “get stuff to run.”  We diagnose the real problem, find the right solution, and fix it right.  We do it the way the manufacturer says.  Manufacturers design and build things a certain way for a reason.  We recommend the correct product for your need.  We are going to install it the way they say.  We will diagnose and correct issues the way they recommend.  That’s the right way.  That’s our expectation.  And, the people we’ve hired believe the same way.

Whether it’s our residential or commercial customers, our people make it pretty clear that they are professionals and that the job will be done right.  Our people do that on their own – they do the right thing.

It’s our people who have raised the bar.  Nice.  Helpful.  Knowledgeable.  Resourceful.  And, they do the right thing.

Where we are and where we’re going – it’s all them!