This Wednesday Whimsey is about a person whose last name I do not know. The reason is that only her first name appeared on her name badge at the paint section of the Lowe’s Home Improvement Center in Bradenton, Florida.
Alison was as brilliant at her job as anyone I have seen in any role. On the one hand she mixed paints at twice the speed of others I have observed in many paint departments nationwide. On the other this young woman always had a cheery smile and direct help for customers who passed by and paused to ask her questions. But that would make Alison good. Here’s what made her great.
- Match the paint. I had for one paint a sample too small to scan. Rather than sending me over to the wall with paint samples she whipped out into a fan a set of colors bracketing what I needed. With lighting speed, she picked the one that matched the best.
- Change the color. I have a color that is too dark, so I add a little white paint or pigment. It invariably sends the color in a different and unwanted direction. Changing paint colors is never logical. Alison lightened up my sky blue to the perfect shade from one that would not have matched by using her experience to know what pigment and how much to add.
- Stay in the relationship. Alison attended other customers while my paints were mixed for the various colors I needed. Not once, however, did she lose sight of me. Eye contact and multitasking that included pulling cans out the mixer when done made me feel being helped at all times. She was customer rather than store-centric.
Three takeaways you might want to ponder:
–the person directly interacting with the customer is the most important employee the company has. Did I care about the Lowe’s strategic plan, advertising, quality standards, or memos from a senior vice president? I did not. Alison to me was Lowes for my 15 minutes there.
–We make such a mistake in presuming that all employees interacting with customers are equally good at a job. Sure, with collective bargaining all are paid the same. But there just have to be ways to recognize the sheer talent of some employees who would otherwise be treated as interchangeable. Bank tellers range from great to lousy. So too do paint mixers.
–We keep trying to replicate systems when the real gift is replicating people. No, not the same person but the same capabilities. So what explains an Alison or others like her you have surely experienced? Her knowledge and her skills certainly factor in. But my suspicion is that what really makes Alison great are her attributes. Her smile, her energy, her itch to help are a core part of a person’s make-up beneath the surface. The best employees are less those who take up protocols when they put on the store apron and more those who are outstanding just because of who they are.