The ferocious, barking drill sergeant that R. Lee Ermey so masterfully played in “Full Metal Jacket” standing across the counter helping pick out bananas is not what we have it mind when combining military skill sets and customer service. Rather, military methods seek to improve employee engagement, discover new ways to do old tasks, ensure safety and ensure that employees equally fulfill the goals and desires of customers.
The challenge for retail and customer facing positions is how do we engage teams, serve customers and bring about a customer experience that makes customers want to return. These six military techniques help make this a reality.
Technique #1 – Connect the Team to the Ultimate Mission. In every organization, it is very easy for the junior members to lose sight and understanding of what the company is trying to achieve. In some cases, there can be more than 10 levels of leadership, from the CEO to lower-level workers. In all these instances, a great business leader works hard every day to constantly and consistently connect the team’s activities, performance and successes to the company’s mission and strategy. Everyone works harder and works better when they know how their actions directly contribute to the company’s goals. Be sure to identify the “why” behind even the most mundane tasks and activities – it helps everyone work harder when they understand.
Technique #2 – Great Training and Rehearsals Make a Successful Team. Training and challenging rehearsals are very useful. In the military, individual Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen are all rigorously trained so that they know how to do their job, but also how to fulfill the critical responsibilities of their comrades. More importantly, military formations of large groups of different specialties rehearse day and night, so vital functions of resupply, vehicle repair and casualty evacuation can be accomplished together flawlessly. The business lesson is that training and rehearsals that show how business can do things safer, more cost effective, and with high levels of customer satisfaction will make a business better.
Technique #3 – The Importance of Coaching and Teaching. Leaders think of themselves as responsible for setting strategy or making decisions, but they seldom think of themselves as coaches and teachers. If you’ve ever been to a military marksmanship range, you’ve seen this leader coaching in action. At a military range, the senior military personnel work the hardest coaching, teaching and setting higher standards for junior personnel on how to shoot correctly. I remember at one of my last military drills before I retired, helping to coach a Private on how to shoot correctly – there was literally over 20 years of experience between us, and I was the one dusty and dirty from crawling on the ground. Every interaction between a leader and their team is a time to coach, teach and train to higher standards of performance.
Technique #4 – The After-Action Review. The purpose of the After-Action Review (AAR) is to have an organization discover how to maintain what they did well, and how to discover ways to improve what did not go well. The AAR is used after every major and minor training and operational activity at all levels. Additionally, all leaders are trained how to conduct an AAR. In the AAR, the unit allows every member to participate regardless of rank and the team discusses: (1) What happened, (2) What went well, (3) What did not go well, and (4) What is the plan to fix what did not go well. The AAR is a universal, all encompassing team improvement process to identify areas that need to be improved and how to improve them.
Technique #5 – Acting Safely and Preventing Accidents is Part of Everyone’s Job. When the US Army start their daily missions, whether it is a ground convoy or a shooting range, the day begins with a safety briefing, medical evacuation procedures and a rehearsal of the day’s most dangerous activities. Anyone, from the newest Private to the seasoned Sergeant, can call a safety halt if they feel anyone is in danger. This adoption of safety as integral to everyone’s job is vital. When everyone has a role in safety, then everyone is looking to create a safe environment – no one is sitting on the sidelines.
Technique #6 – Always Lead by Example at Every Level. Leadership by Example is one of the central tenants of military leadership. Leadership by example means that the leader sets a strong and undisputed personal example for every activity, no matter how small, that the organization does. From dealing with an angry customer to restocking shelves, a leadership style that embraces leadership by example always sets the correct standard for the organization. Additionally, this style must also embrace personal passion, humility and courage to guide the organization. Finally, leadership by example must set and enforce high levels of organizational performance.
Adapting these military techniques to customer service will make businesses, employees and the customer’s experience better for a service interaction that will make the customer want to return. Military skills work for retail, customer facing and customer service positions because they value customer experience, employees and improving the customer experience as an activity that must be accomplished consistently and credibly.
Chad Storlie is an Adjunct Professor of Marketing at Creighton University, a retired US Army Special Forces Officer with 20+ years of service and an Iraq Combat Veteran. He is on widely published freelance author on military, veteran, and business topics. Follow Chad Storlie @CombatToCorp or on LinkedIn.