“The number of medals on an officer’s breast varies in inverse proportion to the square of the distance of his duties from the front line.”
–Charles Edward Montague

Translation: if you want to succeed in battle, you have to get out of your office and know what’s going on at the front line. The customer/front line employee interaction can make or break your business. There are some companies who understand the importance of this brand touchpoint, and others are handing over their customers to the competition.

A few questions for any of the business owners or leadership to get battle ready.
Question 1.
Are you the commander in chief of a business that has humans as customers?

Question 2.
Do you have frontline employees that deal with your customers?

Question 3.
Do you know what is going on, on the front line? That is a HUGE part of your brand and if you don’t know what’s going on out there, you could be in for a rude surprise, and, worse, you probably won’t earn a lot of medals, as Mr. Montague pointed out.

If you answered “yes” to 1 and 2 and “no” to 3, you might find these observations helpful.
Providing great service is something that is so easy to do, yet few companies excel at it. Look at Zappos.com. How many online shoe stores are there out there? I’d bet I’d have to use all the fingers on both hands to count. My personal choice for finding shoes on line has been Zappos.com for at least five years. The overwhelming reason I choose them is because they always make the transaction easy, they exceed my expectations and every time I have had to deal with a customer service representative they have been pleasant and beyond helpful. Tony Hsieh founder of Zappos just released his new book called Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. It’s a great story.

On the other hand, I witnessed a disgruntled frontline employee who, I am sure, was responsible for driving customers away. A long time ago, in a career path far, far away, I was working for an equine (horses) veterinarian. A fellow assistant had a wildly unpredictable temper. She would be sweet so some clients, and downright rude to others. She would accommodate the ones that she liked and make scheduling, and life, difficult for those whom she did not like. She was kind to some of our patients (horses) and a little rough with those that were not her favorites. It made the working environment toxic and caused the clinic to lose some accounts. To make matters worse, she wasn’t the most competent at her job. Our boss, the owner of the clinic, had no idea that this behavior was occurring. She was not involved in making sure that her face of her brand which was directly touching customers was a happy, helpful, cheerful one. She also never followed up with clients who left to find out why. Don’t let this happen to you.

Six steps to ensure your frontline will help defend your brand and win business battles

1) Empower employees. Give them ability to make some decisions on the fly to accommodate customers. Don’t have them constantly telling customers, “um, let me speak to my manager.”

2) Hire for personality and competence. I will take a pleasant person with a great attitude and a willingness to learn over a cranky genius on my frontline any day.

3) Have people that can wear a great mood game face. We all fall into a funky mood sometimes, or have a lot on our mind from stresses outside work. Find people that can come into work, take a deep breath and put on a happy face. Frontline employees will also encounter what I call a “hammerhead” (aka big jerk) every so often. Teach them how to focus on the problem, not the person, and try to get things resolved to that everyone is happy.

3) Support your employees, don’t throw them under the bus. If a customer is rude and wrong, support your employees. The customer is not always right, and your staff should not have to put up with abuse.

4) Reward them. Their job is an important part of your brand. Compensate fairly for the hard work that they do, providing excellent customer service is a skill.

5) Acknowledge the work verbally. A “thank you” and words of appreciation go a long way.

6) If you can’t get out and witness the customer/employee interaction yourself, have a friend act as a secret shopper and do some reconnaissance. Yep, good old fashioned espionage. If the findings are not good, work on steps 1-5.