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Welcome to the March 2010 issue of Alignment Solutions! In alignment with the idea that spring is a time of renewal, we have been busy engaging in some business "spring cleaning." Consistent with the belief that sometimes we have to let go of the good things in life to make room for the great things, we are making some changes to our business that will allow us to offer some exciting new products and services. Look for the details next month!

This month's theme is "the importance of receiving thanks." We address what we view as a disturbing trend in how people interact with each other that has negative repercussions in the workplace, in society, and on business. Fortunately there is a way to counteract that trend - and it doesn't cost a cent.

The Feature Article, "Is What Happens after 'Thank You' Hurting YOUR Business?," contends that the way your employees respond to customers' expressions of thanks may have a negative impact on your business. It explains two important reasons why this may be the case, and why employees may suffer as well.

In "The ROI of Receiving Customers' Thanks," the Business Solutions section identifies four no-cost steps to help teach employees how to welcome customers' thanks instead of trivialize it.

In the Personal Solutions section, "Giving and Receiving Thanks: A No-cost Way to Transform Lives" explains how each one of us can make our worlds a brighter place simply by learning to recognize and own the contributions we make, and by receiving the thanks of those who benefit from our actions.

I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com to find other articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!

 

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Is What Happens after "Thank You" Hurting YOUR Business?

Is your business suffering because of how your employees respond when customers say "Thank you?"

Consider this scenario: while shopping in person or by phone, an employee helps you - e.g., gives you directions, goes out of his/her way to explain something to you, makes a suggestion that saves you time or money. When you say "Thank you," the individual replies, "No problem," or "It's just my job," or "Whatever."

These types of answers seem to have become standard in the workplace. For a long time, being on the receiving end of one of the above responses bothered me. I wondered whatever happened to the reply I was taught when someone thanked me, which is simply, "You're welcome." There was something perturbing to me about the new "standard" exchange, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. A recent experience allowed me to discover the reason for my dissatisfaction and taught me a valuable business lesson.

After receiving a very generous gift, I called the individual who sent it to express my gratitude. Rather than cutting me short by saying something like, "It was nothing," she took the time to listen to everything I wanted to say, and her reply indicated that she fully understood my message. Instead of downplaying or minimizing her action, she simply accepted my thanks. I gained two important insights from this experience.

First, by fully acknowledging her role as benefactor, this individual refrained from trivializing my feeling of gratitude. Rather than responding that her gift was no big deal, for example, or that she wished it could be more, she simply heard me out and accepted my appreciation for the value she had provided.

In the business world, employees who serve customers often view their actions in terms of the "cost" to themselves - e.g., the amount of time or effort they expend - rather than in terms of the value they provide to others. As a result, they do not see the impact their assistance has on customers. For example, an executive assistant who made a phone call to arrange parking for me so I could meet with her boss in Los Angeles, where parking is notoriously scarce, saved me a great deal of time and helped keep my stress level down. Yet she brushed off my thanks by saying, "This is very minimal work. It's not a problem." Clearly she had no idea that her simple action had made my life easier.

Second, by graciously receiving my expression of gratitude, my benefactor enabled me to reciprocate in small measure for her act of kindness.

The norm of reciprocity is very strong in U.S. culture. That is, when someone does something for us, we feel obligated to return the "favor" at some point. Thus when an employee who helps us subsequently dismisses or trivializes our thanks by saying (for example), "I was just doing my job," in essence that person is depriving us of the opportunity to fulfill our part of the exchange. It is this refusal to receive the gratitude I offer, I realized, that has been the source of the discomfort I described above.

Think of the consequences that these all-too-common "No problem" or "It's just my job" responses have for everyone involved. When customers' efforts to recognize the value provided them are spurned, they may feel uncomfortable, unappreciated, or not heard. Without recognizing why, they may even take their business to organizations where such recognition is received well. Because employees have no idea how even small actions on their part can have a big impact on others' lives, they do not recognize the value they provide. Further, by refusing to accept the recognition for their efforts, in effect they are trivializing customers' efforts to show their appreciation, and denying them a role in an important social norm.

In addition to leaving both parties feeling diminished, this type of interaction is bad for business. Why? Because instead of recognizing the value they provide and being energized by the opportunities that present themselves every day, employees are focusing merely on the tasks they perform instead of on the value they provide. Thus they cannot see how they contribute to the organization's goals. As a result, the organization cannot optimize its business results. Why not tap into the capacity that every one of us has to add value to others' lives? Doing so is uplifting for all concerned: employees feel more engaged and valued, customers feel that they have been heard, and both of these outcomes are good for business.

To answer the question posed in the title of this article, "Is what happens after "thank you" hurting YOUR business?," try this assessment: as occasions arise during your conversations with individual employees, say "thank you." Listen to how they reply. If the responses are aligned with the message you want your employees to convey to your customers, keep up the good work! If they are not, you may want to take a look at the suggestions about how to teach employees to receive customers' thanks in our article The ROI of Receiving Customers' Thanks.

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The ROI of Receiving Customers' Thanks

In the article Is What Happens after "Thank You" Hurting YOUR Business?, I explained that employees who dismiss or trivialize customers' gratitude with responses like "No problem" or "Whatever" are doing a disservice to themselves, to their organizations, and to customers. In short, those types of responses are bad for business. Employers who want their customers to feel acknowledged and valued need to take some simple actions to reverse this situation, which has become the norm rather than the exception in the workplace.

Here are four no-cost steps to help teach your employees how to welcome your customers' thanks:

  1. Assess the situation to see if corrective action is necessary. For example, as the occasions arise, say "Thank you" to individual employees. Listen to their replies.

    A. If their responses are aligned with the message you want them to convey to your customers, recognize their efforts and keep up the good work! Go on to step 3.

    B. If their replies trivialize or brush off your attempts to recognize their efforts, it's time for some education. Consider step 2.

  2. Teach your employees the behaviors you want them to exhibit. Here is an example of how a conversation with an employee might go:

    A. When you take the time to help a customer, think about the impact of your actions on that person. There is a very high probability that you have made that customer's life easier, safer, less stressful, or more joy- filled. Acknowledge the recognition that you are receiving for improving the individual's quality of life.

    B. Take the time to allow the customer to express his/her thanks fully. Do not interrupt. Engage in active listening.

    C. Reply "You're welcome" and stop talking. Do not downplay your effort - even if you thought it was minimal.

  3. Hold your employees accountable for engaging in the appropriate behaviors. Here are some ways that managers can reinforce the desired behaviors:

    A. Have frequent conversations with employees about why allowing others to express their thanks is an important customer service issue.

    B. Help them see the situation from the customers' point of view.

    C. Point out specific examples of the behaviors you want to reinforce.

    D. Conduct role plays.

  4. Recognize employees' successful efforts appropriately.

While not all customers will express their appreciation, many will. By actively welcoming the thanks that are offered, employees have an opportunity to be recognized for their efforts as well as satisfy your customers' need to be heard. The ROI (return on investment) for this simple response is huge for everyone involved.

 

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Giving and Receiving Thanks: A No-cost Way to Transform Lives

Why do so many people have trouble accepting "thank you" when it is directed at them? Instead of responding "You're welcome," which used to be the common response, today we are more likely to hear "No problem" or "Whatever."

What's wrong with this picture? When we respond to expressions of gratitude by saying "It's just my job" or "It doesn't take much time or effort," we essentially refuse to accept others' thanks. In so doing, we de-value and belittle our own contributions. Instead, we need to acknowledge that we provide value to others who are grateful to receive it.

The truth is, when we do not allow others to express their appreciation for something we have done, we trivialize their gratitude and effectively dismiss their feelings. In addition, we fail to honor their strong need to reciprocate. Unfortunately, after a while, people get used to having their feelings trivialized and dismissed, and their expectations are lowered.

We can help others recognize their value by pointing it out to them. Instead of accepting a reply of "It's just my job," take a minute to explain the impact their action had on you. Often you will help them see what they do in a whole different light. Think of how your actions may impact others - e.g., by making their lives just a bit (or a lot) easier or brighter.

It's so easy to make a positive difference in someone's life. Some time ago, a television commercial made this point very effectively by tracing the impact of one small good deed on dozens of people, as each recipient reciprocated by doing another good deed for someone else. It started with something as simple as one person's holding a door open and smiling at another. The trail of reciprocity grew longer and longer, as each person touched in some small way by a stranger passed along the kindness. Each person's day was made brighter as a result of that tiny interaction - not because of the deeds themselves, but because of the impact they had on their grateful recipients. By passing along the favor, and having others receive it, they were allowed to act out their thanks.

Imagine what our days would be like if they were filled with people who both gave and received thanks! This can be our reality, if we choose to make it so. We can begin by receiving others' thanks. Nothing more than that is needed to get started. Try it and see for yourself what a difference it makes to you as well as to others.

 

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Date of Publication: March 2010
Pat@BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com
www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com | 562.985.0333
Copyright 2010 - All rights reserved, Pat Lynch