Anna spoke at our Global Frontline Experience Summit 2022 in an insightful mini-talk session. Listen in above. If you missed the summit, don't worry! All of the powerful sessions are available right here.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”
It’s entirely appropriate that Anna Egan has a weather-based life motto after all, she works for A1 Air Conditioning and Heating (A1) and it’s the seasonal weather changes that herald a spike in sales for the family-owned Canadian business specialised in heating and cooling.
In an industry that is all about comfort and warmth, the Customer Experience and Business Development Manager says their staff promise is focused on being exactly that. She describes how the business has created an atmosphere where everybody cares about clients and each other by always trying to solve their challenges even when you might not have the answer to it. The team needs to feel empowered to take ownership of that situation and in the end of the day it comes down to really caring for their needs. To Anna, a large part of caring means achieving a rapid response time without compromising on the quality of service. “It’s something that is important to clients, so it’s important to the business,” explains Anna.
Caring starts ‘from the top’
Anna believes it’s helpfulness that sets A1 apart. Developing a helpful culture comes from within; and more specifically, ‘from the top’. Even the owner of A1 gets involved in showing kindness to clients and staff; leading by example.
“A customer shared a personal medical issue with us recently when they called to ask for a new filter. A1’s owner heard about this and not only went to the back of the store to get the filter; but he also got in his car and dropped it off at their house. Little things like that make a culture. When we see how much the owner cares; it imparts the same characteristic within us.”
We work in the home service business, where you might not expect that our work will create a massive difference in peoples lives but the feedback Anna and her team receive prows the impact their service makes in peoples lives.
"Building mastery in any frontline skill—customer communication, problem-solving, complaint handling, and so on—takes time. It takes multiple coaching touches, repeated practice sessions, and consistent reinforcement. It’s like climbing a ladder."
Anna uses two types of coaching to sharpen her people for the field.
One is a monthly, one hour session where she listens 80% of the time and asks questions or talks for just 20%. “We talk about their career, their aspirations and personal life if they want to. They hold the floor. We also talk over their performance as a whole.”
The second is what she calls ‘Ad hoc’ coaching. These weekly, 15 minute spontaneous one-on-ones involve Anna asking a team member to tell her about all their work-related issues.
“I ask them: What can I help you with right now to make your life easier? What are you hearing from customers? I follow up on their comments. That gives us an ear to the ground and support systems that work for staff and clients.”
Throughout both types of sessions, Anna applies the ‘Four stages of competence’ learning model invented by management trainer Martin Broadwell back in the 1960s.
“A good coaching plan doesn’t try to leap from stage one to stage four in one session. Instead, it asks, ‘How can we take a frontline worker from stage one to stage two?’
Celebrating the wins...
And when it all goes right?
“Acknowledging a job well done in the way you staff want to be acknowledged reinforces a culture,” says Anna.
A1 used to offer technicians a coffee voucher every time a client reported a good experience. “But our technicians said they wanted us to take that same amount of cash spent on the voucher and give it to the humane society instead. That’s what we’ve been doing ever since. Even our customers love it; I think it makes them even more excited to give us reviews.”
The team also celebrates wins with food parties and dance music on Fridays. Snack drawers are always full. “We treat each other like family and because we do - we would never want to let each other down.”
Creating a better customer experience
Anna’s final words of advice?
“Staff care immediately translates to customer care.”
To create extra care within your business, Anna encourages businesses to apply these simple concepts:
Engaged staff. It’s as simple as having someone pleasant on the phone that sounds like they love their job. It’s not easy because it has to be genuine. But if you take care of your staff; they will take care of you.
Start small, start now. It’s as simple as a personalised gesture. Look for something specific you can thank a client for – long-standing loyalty deserves a thank you card; or maybe they’ve lost a loved one who usually takes care of their furnace. Send them a sympathy card. Customers are people, not numbers.
Meet them, treat them. A client came to the office with an invoice problem and was having an awful day. He was offered a drink and immediately staff sat down and fixed his issue. The client said he expected to be waiting 20 minutes, but within two minutes someone was there, and within 10 the problem was fixed.
Complaints champion change. When there’s a complaint, we acknowledge it by saying sorry. We then recognise what it is that they’re concerned about, and resolve that.