During the recent ice storm here in Ontario, I had a chance to go out and thank a couple of Hydro One linesmen who were trimming trees around our property. Our power had be shut off during the process and, it being Christmas Eve, I was anxious to find out when it would be restored.
As I approached the pair, who were packing their tools, I was greeted with warm smiles and a hearty "Merry Christmas!" Both of these gentlemen resembled the stereotypical linesmen you might imagine: big builds, big beards and big personalities to match.
What struck me most, however, as we discussed their string of 16-hour workdays in the harsh winter, was how well informed they were of the work going on by their team in the area. On top of that, I was also impressed as to how well-spoken they were. They were polite, genuine and courteous. They knew exactly when the power would come back on and the work that still needed to be done in the area.
They must have been tired and disappointed that they would be working through Christmas. No amount of overtime can overcome that sacrifice. They must have also been sick of answering questions from customers like me. Yet, they were kind and patient and put on brave faces for myself and my three kids that had tagged along.
The workers' comportment reminded me of the power of a well informed and well trained, frontline staff in any sized business.
What Hydro One needs were trained technicians that know how to handle high-powered electrical wires and equipment, and the company no doubt offers constant safety and other training specific to the field. But what was apparent from my encounter with the linesmen was that Hydro One also provided its employees with public relations and media training. That attention to the importance of training frontline staff on how best to interact with the public was evident and impressive. For this I admire that organization all the more.
You don't have to be an electrical utility to appreciate and invest in training your frontline staff on how to be courteous, polite and well spoken. There are programs in public relations, communications and media relations available to companies of all sizes. The truth is, the smaller you are, the more critical these types of investments can be. After all, a lost customer to a small service company can have a big impact.
Another time I have realized the importance of public relations training is with appliance repair personnel. When my stove needs repairing, I primarily just need someone who can diagnose the problem and get my oven cooking again. In reality, however, the way the service personnel treat my wife and kids and conduct themselves in my home, can be the determining factor on whether or not that business gets my repeat business.
Sure, it's hard to find good technicians to staff an appliance service business. I get that. While those craftspeople need to know how to do the technical work, they also need to know how to represent the business in a positive and professional light. No amount of advertising or discounting is going to motivate me to overlook a technician who is gruff and difficult to work with.
Small business owners spend years of blood, sweat and tears building a customer base and a reputation worthy of their brand. They should also invest in training the parts of the customer service representation that may not come as naturally to technicians and other frontline staff. Such training will lead to more positive customer interactions, referrals, repeat business and a marketing exercise that is second to none.
Invest in public relations and media training to standardize and enhance your customer interactions. This may seem like an extra expense at first, but it is really an investment, and one that you likely can't afford to overlook.
Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and exited seven businesses.