Changing Roles in a Changing Industry

I stopped at a home center last week on my way back from work. All I needed was a $6 piece of metal to repair my kitchen faucet something I anticipated would take minutes. Instead, I spent more than an hour in the store looking for assistance while trying to avoid being run over by the little beeping carts.

The first customer service person I approached was less than helpful. The second, who was standing directly in the aisle with all the faucet pieces, responded to my request for assistance with a grouchy: "Don't ask me. I can only talk about bath vanities."

Wow, I thought to myself, he can only talk about bath vanities, huh? I bet he must be great fun at parties!

Okay, so perhaps I was feeling a bit cranky, and perhaps when I thought it to myself, I actually said it just a tiny bit out loud. Fortunately, the next salesperson who overheard my frustrated mutterings was amused rather than insulted, and promptly offered to help. When I told him what I needed, he responded, "Well, it's not actually in my job description, but I probably could find that for you."

He quickly found what I needed, and in short order, I was on my way, a satisfied customer (or as satisfied as you can be when you've wasted an hour buying something that's not shoes, ice cream or jewelry).

But later, I wondered: Whose job description is it, exactly, to find the small metal faucet thingie? Is it anyone's job? After all, little $6 pieces of metal aren't terribly important until they're broken, of course, and then every time you turn on the water, you look like you've walked through a sprinkler.

The whole experience made me think about how many times I've been tasked with things that I think of as "not in my job description." Sometimes it's the pesky little details: phone calls about areas outside of my expertise, or paper work that someone else was supposed to handle but didn't. Things that seem unimportant when you're asked to interrupt your busy schedule to handle them yet can cause huge problems when they're neglected.

We all do these things, yet on some level, we view them as "not our job."

Of course, we've all heard the mantra, "when it comes to servicing customers, there's no such thing as 'not my job.' " And, if we truly intend to be full-service firms not just talk the talk, but walk the walk we know we need to embrace these.

But increasingly, I've come to believe that if we want to truly succeed in this industry, it's not enough to just expand what we are willing to do.

In an industry that's constantly evolving, sometimes the only way to stay truly relevant to the market is to throw out the old job description entirely. And with it, rethink all of the preconceived notions we have about what we think we do, why we think we do it, and for whom we think we're doing it. Because it's not just that our jobs are changing; rather, the world is changing. Our customers are changing, and our customers' needs; the marketplace is changing; even the way business is done is constantly changing. And that means we need to change more than just some internal job description.

It's something kitchen and bath distributors and "whotailers" have been finding out in recent years, as a rapidly changing market has applied competitive pressures that have forced them to redefine their very role in the industry. After all, does it matter what your job description used to be, or what you think it's supposed to be, if the industry has evolved to the point where you're addressing totally different needs?

Likewise, as our society increasingly refocuses on the core values of hearth and home, kitchen and bath dealers may find they need to rethink who and what their customers want them to be. For instance, most kitchen and bath designers don't view community service as part of their job descriptions. Yet, for the Corvallis, OR-based Corvallis Custom Kitchens & Baths which won top honors in Kitchen & Bath Design News' Industry Leadership Awards for Overall Excellence in Operating a Kitchen and Bath Dealership the firm's decision to expand its "job description" to include education and a commitment to the community has actually changed how the firm does business, and how its customers view the firm. The result is a company that's not only more successful, but also one that has moved to the next level as a true leader.

Job descriptions don't even stay the same for products. In this month's "Designer's Notebook", Ellen Cheever talks about how the mantel hood of old has taken on a new role in the kitchen. That means designers need to "relearn" how to use these, both in terms of functional capabilities and design possibilities.

Have you thought about what your role in this industry is lately, and whether you need to make changes in order to be more relevant? If not, perhaps it's time. Or you might just get run over by that beeping cart in aisle six.