I found myself smiling and racking my brain as I read a recent column by Kevin D. Williamson in National Review. In this particular column, “Don’t Blame Staples,” he both welcomed and bemoaned the increased automation many businesses are using to supplant employees.
One of his points was that he doesn’t blame companies for the critical business decisions they have to make. Labor is one of the largest expenses of most businesses.
When it gets untenably expensive – and/or its alternatives get significantly cheaper or more efficient or preferred by consumers – automation makes business sense.
Williamson jokes that he welcomes the increased automation of some companies with “awful” employees. I suspect many would agree.
I racked my brain reading this piece trying to remember in which year I first wrote about the ATM vs Employee conundrum. I think it was 15 years or so ago. (When you do this for 20 years… the filing system gets sketchy. I’ve got old columns on 8 different computers in various states of functionality.)
What I do remember jokingly suggesting to a branch team (paraphrasing from memory), “Okay, here’s an ATM. It’s never late for work or calls in sick. It’s here day and night. It doesn’t take bathroom breaks. It always balances and never has an attitude problem. And it can handle just about every transaction most customers need.”
I then stated, “Now, you go ahead and make the case for why a living, breathing banker is better.” And mind you, this was back in the Mesozoic period before today’s uber-advanced ATM’s, ubiquitous high-speed internet, and smartphones.
The point then, and now, is that the value we bring must be beyond being “efficient” in our jobs. Our value is not (cannot) simply be processing transactions.
More efficient and less expensive technology alternatives will win that battle every day.
But technology doesn’t smile at customers. It doesn’t ask how their days are going or pays them nice compliments.
It doesn’t give their kids lollipops.
It doesn’t do volunteer work in the community.
It doesn’t show (real) empathy or listen to customers’ stories – or share its own personal ones.
Technology is seldom the highlight of any customer’s day. The important question for our branch teams today is, “Will we be?”
One of the groups we volunteer for had an approaching event that was headed for failure. The people supposedly in charge had “dropped the ball,” and it was obvious (to me) that a fiasco loomed.
After deciding that concern for the organization’s success outweighed my aggravation with the ball-droppers, I grumpily began attempting to salvage the event. And after a day of hearing me complain about how unreliable some folks are, my wife said, “If you’re going to volunteer, you can’t complain.”
Granted, I know what she meant.
But I laughed and told her, “Au contraire! If I’m the guy doing the work, I’m the only guy with the right to complain. In fact, I think the only reason I’m doing this is to prove how much better of a person I am than them! I dare one of them to tell me ‘No’ next time I need them for something!”
We both got a chuckle out of that. But in a weird way, that (only half-joking) comment reminded me of management and sales advice I’ve given.
I’ve often told managers that the best way to motivate your team to give their full effort today is to let them see you giving yours. It doesn’t mean that you will be doing the identical tasks, but they can see that your actions support your sermons.
Some of the most “motivating” managers I’ve encountered weren’t very adept at the “rah rah” part of sales meetings or coaching. But their sincerity and work ethics spoke plenty.
And people tend to be more willing to work hard for hard workers.
I also reflected on earning the right to ask for someone’s business. I’ve kidded with bankers who are shy about asking folks for their business to think about who in their lives they would feel no guilt in asking to help move a sofa, or look in on their pets for the weekend, or give them a ride to the airport.
It’s usually folks you’ve done favors for yourself. You don’t truly feel guilty because you have done (or would do) the same for them.
You’ve earned the right to ask for a favor.
When we strive to make every interaction we have with a customer or non-customer an exceptional one, we’re earning the right to ask for more business. When we put smiles on people’s faces - or their kids’ faces - we earn the right to ask for the “favor” of their consideration.
We make more sales by earning the right to ask for them.
Are you earning that right today?