Do you know where they are?

If you are a regular visitor to On our bikes you will know that I believe in management with a light touch. In other words, I hope that employees will work hard out of a sense of loyalty and because there is mutual respect between them and their managers and they wish to please and feel valued as part of the team. That involves two-way conversations so that good ideas are put into practice whether they come from the owners and managers, or from the rest of the workforce.

However, human nature being what it is, sometimes people who work for us get distracted. They may have personal or domestic problems. These are often easy to spot when we see out employees on a daily basis but for some businesses whose workers are out in the field and working partly or wholly on their own there may be problems that are not so easily spotted.

Many businesses have sales representatives on the road or area managers who spend a lot of their time travelling between customers. Some agencies supply workers out in the field as required. Trust is all very well, but often if something does go wrong, the first time the business owners or senior managers hear about a problem is when the customer takes their business elsewhere.

Of course a sales representative’s figures may show that he or she is not visiting customers and prospects when supposed to, but by the time the numbers filter through the business may be lost. It is the same with area managers looking after customer’s needs. If they don’t do their job, the business may be lost.

There are two ways of making sure that the workers in the field are doing their jobs and turning up, and neither is intrusive or heavy-handed.

The first is to ask every “out-worker” to call in when they set off for their first call. Of course, there could be a degree of deception, but actually lying is hard for most. That way, especially if a customer is expecting the visit, we can be sure that they will not be disappointed.

The second way is for every customer to be called at least monthly to ensure that they are happy with the service, and to ask if there is any way it could be better. If the out-worker knows that this will happen from the main base, that will be an incentive to get things right, but should not make them feel uncomfortable, especially as the customer service function of any business should be the number one priority.

A recent example of a failure in service I have seen is where a care agency supposed to ensure four visits a day to an elderly infirm person failed to send anyone to get her out of bed. She would have been there until the lunch time carer arrived had not the family arrived to find her in bed and without having had breakfast. The excuse of the agency was that the first carer had gone off sick and had not telephoned in. Surely a properly run agency should have every worker call in at 7 AM or whenever they are booked to start and if they do not call in they should be telephoned? If they cannot be contacted, then there should be a relief person to go to the first client as soon as possible. It should be a pretty obvious procedure for a care agency.

In the care agency case, it is not just a question of their losing the business. It is essential for safety reasons that their workers are there at the appointed times for their clients and that they should have proper procedures in place to ensure that this happens.

So, do you know where all your workers are? They shouldn’t mind your asking. How do you deal with this and what is your experience?

© Jon Stow 2010

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