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It's Time To Demand Enthusiasm

Howard Scott |

CHICAGO — For my money, Enterprise Rent-A-Car is the No. 1 company in terms of customer service. Why? Its enthusiasm, that’s why.Whenever I travel and rent a car, I always use Enterprise. I never question the price. That’s because wherever I go in the country, Enterprise people are upbeat, cheerful, focused, but never phony. They cut to the chase in as few words as possible. They are there to serve you and appreciate that you are a busy person.They know you don’t want a whole lot of sales talk. They might ask, “Did everything work out well, sir?” They also might say, “Next trip, don’t forget Enterprise.” The only time I encountered a problem, they immediately responded, and saw to it that I wasn’t inconvenienced for more than an hour. I am talking about customer service order-takers, counter staffers, car-return workers, and transporters. All seem to be young — 22 to 30, clean- cut, energetic and enthusiastic.So what does this have to do with Laundromats? After all, we are dealing with two different businesses. Customer interaction is a different character in a car rental facility than in a Laundromat, if for no other reason than there is more time constraint in the car rental operation. But we can learn from Enterprise, because enthusiasm is the life-force of all successful businesses. Enthusiasm alone goes a long way toward generating success. Enthusiasm can turn a mistake into a “thank you” encounter. And enthusiasm doesn’t cost you a thing. Who doesn’t appreciate a cost-free way to improve their store?MAKING IT WORKWhat you must do is create a culture of enthusiasm. As a starting point, be enthusiastic yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to go overboard, and gush exuberantly every time a customer asks a question. Rather, be attentive, positive and responsive. Move briskly. Maintain an open, honest expression. Address problems with a positive attitude rather than a sigh. Make a joke when something goes wrong.Let me give you an example. A washing machine develops a leak and a puddle begins to form on the floor. A customer brings this problem to the attendant’s attention. The attendant goes into a crisis mode, frantically mopping up the mess and using her cell phone to reach the boss, but is unable to reach him. The attendant panics as she tries to call a plumber.Compare this response to a more positive reaction. The attendant comes over, looks at the expanding puddle, and asks, “Does anyone want a swim?” She then calmly reaches behind the washing machine and turns off the water. Next, she gets a mop and cleans up the puddle. To minimize downtime, she switches the customer’s load to another machine, at the company’s expense. Finally, she calls the service company on her cell phone, instructing them to come down ASAP.Which looks better? I have experienced both situations, and believe me, the second scenario gives the customer far more confidence than the first.Second, preach enthusiasm at every opportunity. It is not enough to show enthusiasm. You must push the ethos of enthusiasm. Talk it up. Discuss how important it is. Point out that it will separate this Laundromat from competitors, and an undecided customer would opt to come to a store with enthusiastic personnel. Connect that declaration to next year’s pay raise. In the back room, put up posters that say “ENTHUSIASM spells SUCCESS.” Congratulate a staffer when you see him/her being sufficiently enthusiastic. Criticize a staffer for not being enthusiastic.Of course, your employees will most likely not be young college graduates just beginning their careers and filled with stars in their eyes. They will probably be middle-aged, divorced mothers; retired grandfathers; or Walmart employees working a second job. These are folks who have had their share of hard knocks and find it difficult to get too enthused about anything. Moreover, they know full well that they will never be president of the company, but at best will keep a halfway decent job. In other words, enthusiasm is a harder sell.Role-play demonstrating an enthusiastic response. Treat employees as members of the family. Be honest and aboveboard with staffers. Tell them the truth. For example, some employers don’t like to discuss sales with staffers. My suggestion is to put up a weekly sales graph showing laundry sales and comparing figures to the same week last year. Sharing such important information shows that you’re willing to be straight with staffers.Third, generate enthusiasm at the laundry. Periodically, bring in a box of donuts. Show up with pizza at dinner time. Hold contests that give staffers a reward for not missing a day all month and never coming in late or never leaving early. Hand out coupons to staffers for the purpose of handing out to prospects, each coupon coded with their employee number. Reward the staffer who brings in the most new customers. Choose an “employee of the month” and frame a photograph of the staffer along with a statement of why he/she is being honored. (Make sure that your customers can see the picture.) You need to give out some type of prize. How about a free meal for two at a popular restaurant? Maybe a crisp, new $20 bill would be appropriate for the staffer who brought in the most new customers.WORDS TO REMEMBERI spoke with an Enterprise trainer, and this is what she said: “You’re right. Enthusiasm is our watchword. We know that enthusiasm keeps and builds customers. And secondly, we know that while not everyone can be brilliant, charismatic or witty, every single individual can be enthusiastic. Third, we realize that it is hard to engender enthusiasm in a large, bureaucratic corporation — we don’t pay high wages — so we work extra hard at it. We hire young college graduates and put them through our indoctrination program. The training pummels them with the notion that being enthusiastic is the most visible sign of a successful organization. The company philosophy states that mistakes are acceptable, but not the lack of enthusiasm. Staffers role-play endlessly, getting participants to be enthusiastic, even in stressful situations. Finally, Enterprise throws novices into work situations, and monitors and critiques their approaches.”Enthusiastic staffers will aim your business toward success. Point the ship in the right direction. 

About the author

Howard Scott

H&R Block

Industry Writer, Drycleaning Consultant, and H&R Block Tax Preparer

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant, and an H&R Block tax preparer specializing in small businesses. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359.

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