Gladys Edmunds, Entrepreneurial Tightrope, USA Today

USA Today

Hello, Gladys — So far my grocery business has done fairly well during this recession. I haven’t had to lay anyone off, and I try to keep my customers happy. What else can I do to make sure that I stay on the profit end of the recession? — Mark

You are correct in doing all you can to keep your customers happy. But don’t forget to make certain you are training your employees to hold the same value for your customers that you have.

This principle can be all too easy for small business owners to overlook.

Recently, for example, I visited a friend who is a medical doctor. During the visit I started sneezing, and our conversation turned to seasonal allergies. My friend suggested I make an appointment with another doctor whom she respected and said was an expert in dealing with allergies.

I called for an appointment. The woman who answered placed me on hold three times before making my appointment. When I asked for the address and directions to the office, she told me that she was very busy and didn’t have time, and I could get that information from their website and through MapQuest.

After hanging up I realized I had forgotten to ask if my insurance plan would cover the cost of the visit. I called back, and she put me on hold twice. When she finally picked up my call, she told me I could also find information about insurance on the website. But there was no information on the site about what my payment would be.

When I arrived for my appointment, it was more of the same. There were three women behind the counter. I walked up to the desk and stood there for a couple of minutes before finally one of the women told me to fill out the sign-in sheet and take a seat. Not once did she look me in the face.

After sitting for about 30 minutes my name was called and I was escorted into an examination room. Instead of seeing the doctor my friend had suggested, and whom I had requested when making the appointment, I was given one of his associates. As it turned out, he was helpful and gave me several useful suggestions. The associate seemed to be surprised that the woman making the appointment failed to tell me that the she was scheduling me to see him and not the doctor that I had been referred to. However, he didn’t seem surprised that I had been rushed off the phone and referred to the Web for directions to the office.

One of the most important things that you can do to keep your head above water and profits flowing is: Pay attention to how your employees deal with your customers.

Your employees are your most valuable asset. Make certain they are not chasing customers out the door. Training your employees in product and service knowledge and customer service can be a great investment in retaining customers, bringing in new ones and increasing profits. Keep in mind, the better you train your employees, the better supported you will be.

Also, make sure you show employee appreciation by rewarding good results. Your business is only as strong as its weakest link. If you have to lay off a few people, make certain that you lay off the people that are your company’s weak links. Longevity and loyalty is fine in good times, but during an economic crunch you need to keep the people who deliver results. Plus, it’s important to send the message throughout your business that results and performance count.

Gladys Edmunds’ Entrepreneurial Tightrope column appears Wednesdays in USA Today