One of the most important factors setting a successful business apart from its competitors is the quality of training it gives its employees. In the nearly three decades our company has been in business, we have learned there’s no substitute for making sure all our people are deeply and broadly knowledgeable.
The process includes cross training. Our sales people learn about design. Our designers learn about installation. Our installers work with our suppliers in their factories. It also includes a lengthy “apprenticeship” learning process, which can easily take six months to a year.
The training period for a new hire is not just a few days, and it’s not just in the office. We train our new people in the field so they’ll understand what we do, and understand how we work with our customers, the homeowners and homebuilders.
A new account representative would be assigned to help deliver cabinets, to work in our warehouse, and to go on installation jobs before ever making the first sales call. When that representative understands what the installers are looking for, he’ll know what to put on paper when quoting a job.
After some time in the field, we’ll bring the trainee back in house to spend time on product knowledge. They learn about what we sell and who we sell it to, so they can make informed suggestions when it’s time to interact with customers.
We tell all our employees, “Always be a student.” That means studying our specification books and catalogs, learning about all the designs and styles and finishes we carry. It means learning about our competitors and why they use certain products – and why we might do something differently. It means taking the initiative, investing time on their own, doing research and asking a lot of questions.
We expect our people to be constantly learning about the different manufacturers we use. They’re learning about trends in materials and styles. They’re keeping up to date with trends in what customers expect. Customers are so well educated these days, through the internet, smartphone apps, magazines and other sources, that we can’t afford to have a customer know more than we do.
That requires our sales people, especially, to ask a lot of questions so they really understand their customers. The most important thing is really listening to the answers.
For example, a kitchen isn’t just a kitchen. Its functionality, how it’s designed, depends on the owners’ individual lifestyles. Some people just don’t cook much. They dine out or rely on takeout food, so they’re looking more for a visual “wow factor,” rather than functionality, in a kitchen. But for others, the kitchen is central to their lifestyles.
Individual likes and dislikes shape what we do for customers. Do they want their pots and pans visible and within easy reach, or do they prefer to have everything tucked away in drawers and behind closed doors? We can’t design the right kitchen unless we ask the right questions.
An inexperienced account representative might make the mistake of assuming a wife does a family’s cooking, when it might just as easily be the husband’s role, or a shared responsibility.
So among the many components that go into making a kitchen, which all our employees have to learn, is that invisible factor: How the customer wants to use it.
At the end of any job, of course, are the installers who actually put the pieces together, fulfilling the customer’s and designer’s ideas. Whether they are on our staff or subcontractors, we send new workers out with veteran installers to work under close supervision. During this training period, new installers gets paid by the hour but without any commitment for permanent work until they’ve shown they can work to our standards.
An experienced craftsman may complete that “apprenticeship” process in three to six months, but it could take to take a year or more for a rookie to get completely up to speed.
The reward for this level of work is our loyalty to our workers. We let them know, if you’re good, we’ll keep you busy. But we do have expectations.
Our office staff, as well, get six to 12 months training to understand our products so they’re accurately recording the details of each order. An employee who works at a computer doing data entry needs to know the difference between one door style and another, just as a sales rep does.
The point of all this is that our customers’ experience depends on every member of our team being experts at what they do – and understanding what the other members do, too. To get our employees to that level, we have to invest the time and attention to make sure they all are carefully trained, both in what they know and in how they work. What we expect, even long after the training period ends, is for everyone to be a constant student.
I’m always happy to answer any questions about what we can do for you, in your home or for your business. Watch for more tips about how to enhance your home’s value and convenience!
Cee Edwards is President and General Manager of Markraft Cabinets. He joined the company in 1995. Since 1985, Markraft has specialized in cabinet and countertop design and installation in residential and commercial construction and custom remodeling. To learn more about Markraft, go to www.markraft.com. Contact Cee at 910-762-1986. Like Markraft on Facebook at www.facebook.com/markraftcabinets or follow Cee on Twitter at twitter.com/CeeEdwards.
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