I read an article this week that I believe could be instructive to all of us in an expense-cutting cycle. This particular piece was not about banks. It discussed the negative effects beginning to be felt in restaurants from the cutbacks of busboys.

And though our teams can usually get through the day without having to clear half-eaten food out of customers' way, I do think there are lessons to be learned. One is that there is no such thing as an unimportant job that directly affects a customer's experience. Even the most rudimentary tasks and gestures may have more effect than initially meets the eye.

On paper, busboys are the low men on the totem pole. They perform services and duties that are mostly taken for granted. Nobody claims to favor a restaurant because of its top-notch busboys. But when they disappear, their work suddenly becomes pretty paramount.

The author of that piece noted some expected and unexpected results from the disappearance of busboys at certain chains. For one, tables were not being cleared and prepared for the next customers as quickly as before.

Waiters were being asked to assume busing tasks in addition to their regular duties. The fact that some waiters and waitresses are quitting rather than take on those "humble" tasks is not all that surprising.

What has apparently been surprising to some operators, however, is the subversion they are beginning to see. Tables are staying dirty longer than would be expected. Floors are not being swept as often as they reasonably should be.

And in some instances, silverware is actually disappearing. It seems that some waiters who feel disrespected would just as soon throw away utensils as have to remove them before dumping food into waste canisters.

What cannot be overlooked in all of this is the effect it has on these restaurants' overall product. A restaurant "experience" is about far more than food.

Now consider banks. The core products we offer are pretty homogeneous, and it is extremely difficult to differentiate through price. It is more often the competence and degree of engagement of our employees and the atmosphere in and around our branches that serve as the greater differentiators.

Useful lessons are available in some of the basic best practices of good waiters.

The better waiters are masters of the simple gestures that ingratiate them with customers. Few occupations get the kind of immediate customer feedback that waiters do. The tip amounts they earn are usually highly correlated to the perceived service and "customer experience" that a customer has just had.

And a big part of that experience is provided by folks who may never speak a word to the customer. But a restaurant's overall cleanliness and efficiency depends heavily on them.

The big danger to these businesses is that these particular cutbacks are far more costly in the long run than the initial money saved. Poorer customer experiences lead to fewer customers, less revenue, and even greater pressure on staffing levels. It is a dangerous cycle.

Sure, every vigilant bank manager is now focused on squeezing out unnecessary expenses. And by and large, this is healthy.

But we should be especially vigilant to avoid moves that are penny-wise and pound-foolish. In a time when customers are scrutinizing most of their business relationships, now is not the time to show cracks in our service armor.

For many, staff reductions may indeed be inevitable. Few decisions have as much effect on an organization's short- and long-term prospects. How effective leadership is in explaining changes and helping those who remain to prepare for their changing roles will largely determine which organizations become market share winners or losers.

As work environments and even job responsibilities change, are you doing all you can to help your team remain engaged in their evolving roles? Never lose sight of the fact that the more respected your team feels, the more respected your customers will feel as well.

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