This is a tale of two companies and two entirely different experiences that I had with the respective receptionist. The person who answers your phone and the person who greets your clients and prospects at the door is your front line to the customer. Your coveted customer’s and your perfect prospect’s first practical contact with your company’s human interaction. Your corporate culture should ooze from this very important employee.

COMPANY #1: CI GROUP, Tampa, FL. My company was hosting an event that evening. The city workers inadvertently hit a power line and knocked out power in our building, indefinitely. I had 20 high-level CEOs coming to our office, for the first time, in 6 hours. I now had 5.5 hours to make make some magic happen. My Managing Director happened to be in professional group with the CEOs of CI Group; so in a bold move, he walked in to their corporate office one block over, and asked the receptionist for a lofty favor…could we move our social gathering to their space? Without hesitation, she said “Yes, we will be happy to host your event here. Let me get with the team to prepare.” Come to find out, this was the receptionist’s first week on the job. Without having to ask, she was empowered to make this decision (from a wacky request that I doubt was in their handbook) and we held our social gathering here without a hitch. Bravo, CI Group.

COMPANY #2: MAHER CHEVROLET, St. Petersburg, FL. I purchased my current vehicle here, and have brought my Chevys here for service for 10+ years. I have had positive experiences, from sales to service, countless times. Last week, my aging front tires threw my car out of alignment in a rainstorm, on the freeway. I didn’t know what the problem was, I just knew I had a potentially dangerous situation and I was a couple of miles from my dealer. I called and explained to the service receptionist that I had purchased my car there, that my car was acting strangely and I needed to pull in somewhere quickly. I was just around the corner, could I come there? She told me “I can’t authorize that. We have a full schedule today.” I told her that I felt I shouldn’t be driving the car as it could be dangerous to do so. To which she replied “I suppose you can come by and take a chance that we can get you in…” Completely put-off, I said “No, I’ll take my chances and hope I can get somewhere else.” She said…ready for this? “Okay, good luck!” Mortifying, Maher Chevrolet.

Although I have had many more positive experiences with my Chevy Dealer than negative ones, the negative one is the most recent and lingers with me still. If their corporate culture doesn’t at the very least empower employees to nurture their clients and treat them with respect and priority, that sends a very clear message.

I get it. The receptionist may have been a temp. She may have been new. She may have just been walking by the unattended phone and picked it up. I don’t care. This was a very poor experience for a current client, after I expressed that I was nearby and was having dangerous car trouble. By posting this blog, I’m not trying to bash Maher Chevrolet. Likely I will continue to do business with them, and I will be sharing this experience with them, too. I hope this case study leads Maher Chevy, and any other business owner reading this blog, to think about a few things:

  1. What are your corporate ethos or core values, from the top down? Do your employees know and understand them and do they come to work embodying these values in their role?
  2. What are your company’s top 3-5 priorities? Do your employees know what they are? Do they understand their personal role in upholding these priorities?
  3. What is your corporate culture? Your company’s maxims? What words and actions are your employees expected to exhibit to properly represent your company? Do your employees know your maxims? Ultimately, your maxims should be on display in your office; literally and figuratively.
  4. What steps should any employee take when faced with an emergency decision? (Here’s a hint: it should never be to say “I can’t authorize that. Good luck!“)

We have a written policy that our employees can reference when faced with an emergency decision that could impact the bottom line. It’s a checklist of 10 considerations, a few of which read like this:

  • What are the ramifications if we simply do nothing?
  • If I make this decision, what will it look like to our customers?
  • If I make this decision, where will the money come from?
  • Are there alternate choices that could cost less? Is it worth it, or would the cost in reputation be more expensive?

And there is another list of 8 guidelines to think about when making an emergency decision, a few of which say:

  • Never make a decision in an emergency situation without pausing for 60 seconds to gain composure and get some emotional distance.
  • As best you can, council with another employee before making a decision that could potentially cost the company unnecessary money or reputation.
  • What is something I haven’t thought of that if I did it, it would turn this emergency into a blessing AND make or save the company money?
  • After the emergency is over, stop to reflect and evaluate the decision and outcome. Put it in writing to add to policies and procedures manual.

Every employee in our company has this list, and every employee feels empowered to make and stand by decisions made by following these guidelines. It may not always be the right decision in hindsight, but our corporate culture embraces decisive actions made with aggression, and we are never penalized for the wrong decision made for the right reasons.