Your Employees Know More Than
Patterson, America’s no. 3 self-help guru, and
title character in the new ABC sitcom, claims to be the
author of the fictitious books, I Know More Than
You and its sequel I Still Know More Than
He’s not the only one. In many ways, your employees
know a lot more than you do about at least three
- What it’s really like to work for your
- What they need to do their jobs
- What your customers are saying about your company,
its products and services
Every week (if not every day) we are asked via our
Web site, “What can my company do to become an
Employer of Choice?” We’re sure the questions
are well intended, and that the questioners (mainly HR
professionals and small business owners) are sincere.
Well, we’ve got an answer for you.
That’s it. Listen. Really listen! Listen to what
goes on in your place of work. You may be surprised at
what you learn about what it’s like to work where
you do, what your people need, and what your customers
think of you.
1. What’s it really like
Recently, I had to call my HMO to change doctors because
the one I had was anxious to get back to practicing
medicine rather than put up with the absurd and medically
questionable practices of so many HMOs. Click on www.contentedcows.com/phone.html
to hear what happened. If you have the patience to listen
to all two and half minutes of it, I promise you one of
the best laughs you’ll get today. Be sure not to
miss the punch line. But after you reflect on what you
hear, you’ll probably agree it’s not all that
Listen to the audio file! The whole thing. I mean it!
Because in all likelihood, your employees hear the same
kind of nonsense from their (make that your)
carrier, and I want you to remember it well, and worry
about it just a little.
My bet is that when you advertise open positions via the
newspaper, Internet, or simple word of mouth, you make
some reference to having “excellent
benefits.” But do you really know how
“excellent” your benefits are?
You probably don’t suggest to job prospects that
they will have to wade through three to five minutes of
automated telephone attendant nonsense, manually enter
all their personal information at least twice, pray to
get a half-way intelligent human on the phone, then arm
wrestle an eight-ton paper-eating gorilla to resolve a
simple medical coverage issue on a policy they’re
You certainly don’t suggest it if you’ve
never called the number yourself, or never listened to
employees who have.
2. What do you need to do your work?
The New York City Fire Department wouldn’t have
dreamed of sending its people into the rubble of the
collapsed World Trade Center without being absolutely
sure they were as prepared as they could be for what they
were about to encounter.
What army would send soldiers to the front lines to do
battle without knowing they had had the training to do
the job? The answer—the army that’s about to
So why do some employers think it’s OK to put
people in contact with paying customers without providing
the training necessary to do the job?
I called Sprint recently to take care of a billing
problem, and spoke to no fewer than 10 (that’s
right—10!) different people on their payroll during
a two-hour desperate attempt to pay my bill. Nine of them
were utterly incompetent, unprepared, unmotivated,
untrained, and completely unable to do what was required
One young man had such an inadequate command of the
English language that, by his own admission, he was
sometimes “scared to talk English with my
But wait before you accuse me of xenophobia. My
frustration isn’t directed at this poor guy trying
to earn a living. I don’t care where he was born.
Here’s what I want to know. Who’s the
uncaring bozo at Sprint who placed this man in the path
of angry customers, in a telephone support role, without
so much as making sure he has fluency in the language
spoken by almost all of his customers?
3. Your customers are talking. Are you
Some people do listen to their customers. And this one
may surprise you. As we told you in our interim article
after September 11 (www.contentedcows.com/911.htm),
we wrote a number of lawmakers to express our views on
the impending bailout of the airline industry.
I never actually heard from my representative, but I did
hear from the member who represents some of my neighbors
(does the word “gerrymander” mean anything to
you?). The same day I sent my form e-mail, Florida
Representative Ander Crenshaw sent a personal reply. (He
doesn’t know me from you.) It was fairly lengthy,
substantive, thoughtful, and get this—it was not a
form letter. It couldn’t have been. The guy quoted
parts of my message and referred to specific items no one
could have known without actually reading it.
I’m not naive. Maybe it wasn’t Crenshaw
himself who penned the reply (or maybe it was), but it
was far more personal and responsive than anything
I’ve ever seen come from an elected official.
We have high-speed cable Internet access in our Florida
office. I won’t mention the name of our provider,
but its initials are AT&T. If you know anyone who
works in “customer service” for the Broadband
division of this company, stop reading this, right now,
go find them, and give them a hug. They need it. Because
all day, every day, their employer puts them on a
collision course with some really unhappy campers.
I won’t bore you with my sad tale of woe regarding
the endless array of technical problems we’ve had
over the last couple of months, which, by the way, have
nothing whatsoever to do with the tragedies of September
Suffice it to say that I, or others in our office, have
had to make more than a dozen calls to technical
“support” since the beginning of
On the first such call, I was “welcomed” and
asked by the disembodied voice on the other end to enter
my phone number—twice. If you listened to the audio
file mentioned above (like you were supposed to), this
will have a familiar ring.
When I finally reached a “technician,” he
again asked me my phone number. Hello???!!! Have you ever
heard of caller ID? Before telling him the primary reason
for my call, I asked him to pass along to his manager how
annoying it was to punch in my number twice only to be
asked for it again.
Because the company has been unable to attract and retain
a stable of qualified and motivated technicians to their
broadband business, it took many calls to finally resolve
(temporarily) our problems. Without exception, every call
proceeded as follows:
- Enter phone number—twice
- Wait a long time
- Tell my phone number to the person who finally
- Tell them how annoying this is
- Receive a promise to tell their manager that I
feel this is annoying
my umpteenth call, after going through the previous six
steps, there was a pause. The woman on the phone lowered
her voice. “If I’m being recorded, I’ll
probably get fired, but maybe that would be good.
We’ve all told management about this problem, and a
bunch of other ones. The trouble is that there
isn’t a manager in this building who cares enough
about anything we say to make a difference. So
we’ve stopped telling them. And that’s the
truth. There, I said it,” she said, and breathed
what sounded like a sigh of relief.
For her sake, I hope she finds a more worthy employer,
Please, for the sake of your business, listen to what
your customers and employees are saying. And more
important, listen to what they’re not
If you do, you’ll know even more than Bob
Reprinted from www.ContentedCows Web site with
permission of Richard Hadden (far left) and Bill
Catlette, co-authors, Contented Cows Give Better Milk.
Hadden and Catlette speak to audiences worldwide about
the bottom-line value of being an Employer of Choice.
They may be reached at www.ContentedCows.com.”
(c) 2001 Contented Cow Partners, LLC.
Links for more of the
For a list of “10 Ways Bill Catlette and Richard
Hadden are NOT like Bob Patterson,” click on this
If you’ll click on this link www.contentedcows.com/phone.html,
you’ll hear an actual recording of what took place
when I phoned my health insurance carrier recently to
change the “primary care physician” on my HMO
March 2002 News for a Change