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Have you asked for help? Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2010

You may think your employees aren’t interested in helping you find answers to the ongoing tough economy. But have you asked them for help? Alan Gillmore IV did, and by doing so, he made both his employees and customers at Gillmore Security Systems Inc. noticeably happier.

Gillmore provides security services to both homes and businesses. And as the recession deepened, customers were beginning to struggle with maintaining their service.

“We saw an increase in slow-paying customers,” says Gillmore, the 40-employee company’s chief operating officer and a partner along with his father. “We saw customers dropping services and cutting back. Maybe they wanted to monitor with us, but they didn’t want repair service with us.”

So in a meeting to brainstorm ideas about solutions to help customers, a suggestion was made to develop a customer advocacy program.

“What the customer advocate would do is if we had somebody who wasn’t paying their bills, as opposed to threatening to cut them off or sending them to collections, we tasked somebody in the organization to start calling this list,” Gillmore says. “They would say, ‘Hey, I’m not calling to try to collect bills. I’m just calling to find out what’s going on. You’ve been a loyal customer with us for years, and we want to be there for you when you need us.’”

The program showed customers that the company was flexible in working with them to pay their bills. It also gave a service manager in the company the opportunity to feel like he was making a valuable contribution to helping the company.

“They are very proud, and they’ll walk around and tell people about it, and it creates a buzz,” Gillmore says.

It was a lesson to Gillmore that when the times turn tough, you need to make a concerted effort to be open with your people. The challenge, of course, is when you don’t know exactly what the future may hold.

But that uncertainty shouldn’t stop you from talking to your people.

“We, as a staff, sort of sat down several months into the process and said, ‘OK, this looks like it’s going to last a little longer than everyone expected,’” Gillmore says. “‘What can we do best to weather the storm here?’”

The way you act when you sit down with your people can go a long way toward getting their participation in the dialogue.

“Ask open-ended questions,” Gillmore says. “What are you seeing out there? What effect is this having on the business? What kind of issues are out there? What could be the next issue that we see down the road? It’s trying to forecast as many scenarios as possible to create a plan that allows you to react very quickly with the information that is coming to you.”

You’ll engage many more employees in your efforts to keep growing your business if you involve them in your strategy sessions.

“It’s so easy to get sucked into the old mentality of, ‘That’s not my job,’ or, ‘That’s not what I’m supposed to do,’” Gillmore says. “It’s really making sure people understand that our overall objective is to provide heroic customer service at every level of our organization. If somebody calls in and it’s not your job, you do what you have to do to get that person to the right place to make sure they get good customer service.”

Just keep in mind that your employees are always looking to you for guidance on how to behave.

“It’s having your managers push down to everybody, ‘Hey, no matter what happens, somebody calls in, you’re diving for that phone and you’re figuring it out because there is no such thing as, ‘That’s not my job,’” Gillmore says. “Say, ‘This is what we’re trying to do as an organization. We really want you to be part of this.’”

How to reach: Gillmore Security Systems Inc., (800) 899-8995 or www.gillmoresecurity.com

Get it on paper

How many times have you had a meeting where great ideas were discussed and everybody walked out of the room feeling charged up about this new direction that your business was going to take?

And how many times was that idea completely forgotten a week later?

“Documentation is critical,” says Alan Gillmore IV, chief operating officer and partner at Gillmore Security Systems Inc. “It’s taking notes and meeting minutes and establishing action steps and then following back on it as the first action item at the next meeting to make sure that’s accomplished.”

Gillmore and his employees at the 40-employee home and business security service provider have spent a lot of time in recent months talking about ideas to push their company through the slow economy. But if no one remembers what is said, it won’t do anyone very much good.

“Even if you just have one person who their job is to keep tab of what’s being said and what people are committing to,” Gillmore says. “What is the objective in a meeting? What needs to be done? Just have one person documenting things and keeping a running tally of those things that are proposed and not only proposed but accomplished. Come up with a system to keep track of everything that is said and forward progress that is made. If you’re just firing at will, you’re going to lose track of stuff for sure.”

When you have a quick interaction in the hallway about something important, find a way to jot that down, too.

“Make sure you take notes just for yourself to follow up,” Gillmore says. “Send follow-up e-mails and CC other managers to make sure there is ownership and accountability.”