No matter what industry, but especially true for the retail industry, a company’s employees are the most crucial element of the equation when trying to trump the competition. Sometimes, however, they are not appreciated for the level of contributions they make day in and day out nor are they recognized as having the potential to become a company’s competitive advantage. This is an oversight of massive proportions.

Peter Drucker, back in the 60’s (!) once mused that “Companies should treat their employees like volunteers” mainly because they can pick up and go somewhere else if they don’t like the working conditions . This is one of his most brilliant observations of many.

Think about it for a minute. What if your employees were treated as volunteers? Would your directions to them be clearer and more concise? Would you appreciate them more for their work and loyalty? Would you bend over backwards more to ensure they stayed motivated and satisfied? Would you even consider feeding them once in a while (as opposed to cutting back on the coffee and muffins available in the lunch room)? How different would your working conditions be? How would you engage with them differently? How would you communicate with them?

I have always maintained that if you possess a brand that you are trying to cultivate, your customer’s main touch point with your brand is usually your front line employee at store level (or on the phone or online). They become your brand ambassadors every minute of every hour of every day. The most important interaction your brand has with the customer is not on the television, in a magazine or on a billboard. I submit it is embedded in every the single interaction one of your employees has with every individual customer. That is what keeps your brand relevant and defines your brand’s personality and desirability. Customers have no time for poor service or rude salespeople any longer. They will just walk next door or click on another site.

Case in point: The 25,000 Olympic volunteers (or”Smurfs” as they are referred to around the venues because of their bright blue jackets and toques). With everything that has potentially negatively impacted the Olympic Winter Games of 2010 in Vancouver (from the Georgian Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death, to the lack of snow on Cypress Mountain to the failing ice machine at the Richmond Oval, to the technical malfunction at the Opening Ceremonies), I believe the volunteers have put the most indelible stamp on these games with their relentless energy, their incredible patience, their never-ending smiles and their good humour. They have indeed made the world feel welcome and shed the most light on what the Canadian brand is all about: Happy, friendly, sensitive, caring, smart and helpful (and some of them weren’t even Canadian!). No other demonstration, infrastructure investment, athletic achievement or glitch will define Canada more than those brilliant volunteers. The billions of dollars spent on gorgeous venues and lasting infrastructure benefits to the citizens of BC would ring hollow if it weren’t for the soul of the games being provided by the “Smurfs”.

We witnessed their efficiency and gleaming personalities on arguably the toughest weekend for many of them, the middle weekend where they were starting to feel weary and the end was still far away in the distance. But, to a person, they maintained their patience, their sense of humour and their brand awareness (subconsciously or not) that they were representing all of us in how they operated, how they behaved and how they interacted with our visitors from around the world. They came from far and wide, gave up vacation time, paid their own way to be in Vancouver, paid for their “Smurf” outfits themselves and those I talked to wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I was never prouder to be a Canadian when I saw them in action at every venue, on most street corners ( in the largest city ever to hold a Winter Olympic Games – no small feat) and at every public transit nexus.

Kudos to those that recruited, hired and trained these volunteers. They set the right tone, provided the right leadership and painted a beautiful picture for these volunteers to emulate.

The Canadian brand has never looked so good or been in better 50,000 pairs of hands.

“With Glowing Hearts” we all say…Thank you…

TheRetailTherapist 🙂