Projecting an image from the bottom up

Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 11/87 item 01 - scanned

Today, I am angry and frustrated because someone has changed the first few words of an article I wrote. My words 'an outsider to the industry' became 'a naive punter'. A slicker read, perhaps, but one I would prefer not to put my name to.

In your case, can you be sure that you don't have staff who repeatedly and unknowingly distort your company image?

It can happen so easily because people assess our attitudes and outlook from our behaviour and choice of words. Our actions spring from our thoughts, so for example anyone who thinks of prospects as 'punters' is likely to treat them in a fairly condescending way and, maybe, lose business as a result. I've no doubt that most PC Dealer readers share my view. The problem is that, lower down the organisation, people may not see things the same way. I know that many prospects appear to be complete wallies, but that's because they're usually out of their depth when it comes to computers.

To succeed in most businesses, it is vital to respect one's clients and to recognise that each is entitled to a fair hearing and to their own point of view. Our job, ultimately, is to create a trusting relationship between ourselves and our customers in which they will not feel threatened or intimidated. Unless we can achieve this, we can't look forward to repeat business the lifeblood of most organisations.

The question is how to get people at the coalface to behave in a way harmonious with your company objectives. It's impossible to monitor every word and gesture, but you need to know they're making the best possible impression. The sales staff probably get plenty of training in selling skills and should, therefore, know how to behave with clients. It's the others we need to worry about - the people answering the telephone, giving demonstrations and on-site support. Did you employ them for their technical skills or their ability to communicate? A wise employer would have tried to get both, but this isn't always possible. A skilled communicator in a technical job isn't a great deal of use. They're great at smoothing ruffled feathers, but when it comes to practicalities, the customer wants proper service. And a technical person with adequate communication skills can unwittingly cause a lot of damage to a customer/supplier relationship.

There are probably as many answers to this problem as there are companies. But first, I would say that a company has to ensure that its own house is in order. If you've not done it already, a good first step would be to define and write down the company's objectives, philosophies, ethical standards and business conduct guidelines. Ensure every employee understands it and agrees to conform to its contents. Make sure too there is a channel for views and experiences to be communicated up the hierarchy. These two steps would help focus the staff, motivate them and create a degree of harmony.

The other side of the coin is the development of interpersonal skills to ensure that the employee's behaviour is harmonious with the corporate identity. I have found two very effective ways of bringing this about. One is through showing the enjoyable Video Arts training films, many of which feature John Cleese in a range of absurd situations. The films are truly memorable and, therefore, so are the messages contained in them. The other is transactional analysis, a way of identifying and analysing the behaviour between yourself and others as it is happening. You are then able to consciously select the most suitable behaviour from your personal repertoire. Thomas Harris has probably written the best starter book. It's called I'm OK You're OK. A small investment now is bound to bring you more business through improved customer relationships.