The Business of Diving

Towing the party line: the power of an engaged employee
By Steve Lewis

Business leaders are driven to introduce all kinds of incentives to their employees in order to get them to understand and “live” a simple message that is an essential truth in running a successful operation, especially one where staff has day-to-day, face-to-face interaction with customers. That simple message is this: everyone is in sales.

This message has many ramifications. It would seem particularly important to all of us in the Dive Industry for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that when it comes time for our customers to draw a distinction between our store, our agency, our service, our products, and our travel programs and compare them to similar offerings down the street or across town, tiny and very subtle things can mean the difference between a sale and a “thanks for your time.”

The trick then is to dip into the ideas goodie bag and pull out incentives that work best in your type of operation and that will work 24/7. I love to hear about the more creative ones and ones that are worth sharing, but if we were to look closely and analyze those stories in detail, the central theme of just about all of them is the same.

The obvious ones revolve around money and flexible work hours. Both of these are called hard-dollar incentives, and most business people understand them at least well enough to give them a try. They undoubtedly work, but the ones that work even better are soft-dollar incentives that encourage staff members to fully adopt what marketing types call the company’s “corporate culture.” In a nutshell, the rest of us might translate this into towing the company line. I like to think of it like this: in order to make the customer believe in our brand, we have to believe in it too. More to the point, I believe this really is a magic potion that generates consumer interest, loyalty and ultimately sales.

A colleague recently told me a story about her business that illustrates this point perfectly, if somewhat subtly.

Her business is hotels, and in her hotel at this time of year, there are lots of customers, lots of action, and, because summer is the busy time, a lot of staff running around with a handful of jobs to get done in the shortest possible time.

One of the junior staff – a new guy who had recently joined the banquet staff – still found time to stop and tidy up a small display in one of the public corridors, even though he had an armful of linens and was obviously on his way somewhere else. When he had finished and was leaving, a guest turned to the new guy and said: “Wow, you look pretty busy, but I noticed you stopped what you were doing to straighten things up.”

“That’s my job, sir,” he said.

“What? A small detail like a plate and a picture not being aligned is your job?” the guest said.

The new guy explained why it was the job of every one of the hotel’s staff to pay attention to small details. “Even the general manager would stop to do something like this,” he said. “At this hotel, that’s the way it is, sir.”

A couple more pleasantries and the staff-customer interaction was finished. The new guy was on his way to prep for that night’s banquet, and the guest went to his room. Once there, he called down to reception and asked for a couple of email addresses. He then fired off an email to the hotel’s general manager and director of operations. It was a short email basically telling them how impressed he was with what he had just experienced and explaining that he is the CFO of a large pharmaceutical company.

“We hold a conference for our sales team – that’s about 150 people – for three days every year. Based on what I have seen of your hotel while I have been a guest here, and on the attitude of your staff including the young man who took the time to do a little housekeeping in the hallway downstairs, and who then took the time to tell me why he believed it was his job to do so, I would like your sales team to contact me to discuss holding that conference on your property.”

In sales, and therefore in business itself, one of the most difficult jobs is to correctly identify who is the important customer. This job is so difficult that most companies work with the concept that all customers are important customers. No arguments there. To take the whole concept one step further, you can never tell which customers have the potential to become a VERY important customer, or for that matter, who among your customers is a sort of “secret shopper” for VERY important business. The power of a staff full of people who understand this and who act accordingly will help to propel any type of business closer to success, I believe.

I asked my colleague what she felt was the driving force – the incentive – that compelled the new guy to act the way he did… surely not money, surely not additional time off, so what?

“He’s one of our staff. He believes in what we do and what our company stands for. It’s that simple,” she said.

Towing the company line – it is a powerful sales tool; it works, and it does not cost a whole lot to implement. It’s worth thinking about.

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