Sunday, July 09, 2000

SMALL-BUSINESS DIARY


Finding workers top worry

        Recruiting and retaining workers tops the list as challenges to the growth and survival of small and mid-sized businesses, according to the eighth annual survey conducted by Arthur Andersen and National Small Business United.

        Nearly half, or 48 percent, said they are concerned about recruiting workers, up from 37 percent in 1998.

        Meanwhile, 35 percent of respondents said retaining qualified workers is their top problem.

        “The work-force challenges of smaller businesses are extraordinary,” said John Hexter, chairman of National Small Business United. “Usually without a dedicated human resources department, fully developed training programs or sophisticated recruitment tools, small-business owners are finding enormous challenges in this tight labor market.”

        About 11 percent said they have had a key job unfilled for six months or more.

        Outsourcing activity has increased to 55 percent from 45 percent in the past two years.

        “The pressure is on for small- and mid-sized business owners to fill the demand for work with a lean and mean work force,” said Nancy Pechloff, managing director of Arthur Andersen's emerging company services practice.

        “Outsourcing is one strategy that solves several problems at once. First, the management can focus on its core competencies. Secondly, the company can get access to the human resources it needs while avoiding the challenges associated with attracting and retaining employees.”

Employee support key to good service
        @Text:Providing superior, consistent service in critical “moments of truth” represents a major challenge for most businesses, mainly because managers don't understand exactly what helps or hinders employee effectiveness at those moments, according to Mercer Management Consulting.

        Most executives acknowledge the economic rationale of improving worker effectiveness as well as improving customer loyalty.

        “However, they often forget that the two are linked, and that employee commitment and capability have a significant and quantifiable impact on the customer experience, which in turn can have a major impact on brand equity and shareholder value,” said Carla Heaton, a vice president at Mercer.

        She said for any business to change employee behavior it must first understand what workers value, how they experience the brand, and how their actions contribute to delivering the customer experience.

        “Absent these insights, businesses are destined to fall into a pattern of raising customer expectations and then destroying them before the sales transaction is completed,” Ms. Heaton said in an article in Mercer Management Journal.

        Ms. Heaton said companies must “align every point of consumer contact” with the brand promise.

        This means providing consistent treatment across all sales and service channels, including storefronts, call centers and Web sites, she said. In some cases, this will mean certain third-party agents (such as delivery firms, claims adjusters, call centers, authorized repair outlets) must also be brought into the loop.

        “When human interactions undermine a company's brand promise, it is most often because front-line employees did not understand the priorities implied by the brand promise or they lacked the resources — the training, tools, information, time or latitude — to deliver,” Ms. Heaton said.

        - Gannett News Service

       



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- SMALL-BUSINESS DIARY