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BLOOMINGTON - Pumping out widgets is the goal, but constantly prodding employees may be bad for business.

"Happy employees work harder. When people feel threatened, they're not going to offer you input. They're going to feel like they'll be jumped on," said Robin Albright, owner of Zinger Zanger Consulting, which contracts through Heartland Community College.

Instead of being herded like sheep, she said, employees need to be allowed to grow in their jobs through training and other methods.

Observing national "Employee Training Week," the City of Bloomington hired Albright to discuss "leading legendary customer service" with city employees. It was one of several seminars offered throughout the week, and employers throughout the Twin Cities took part, including McLean County, The Bloomington-Normal Housing Authority, PATH Crisis Center and others.

"Education is how people keep up with a rapid, changing world," said Megan Devlin-Petty, Bloomington human resources manager. "We're seeing better results when we train managers how to interview (for example). We're hiring better candidates."

Employers train employees throughout the year on a variety of topics, typically teaching them how to stay out of trouble, she said. But employees really responded this week to classes that help them enhance their work performance and career opportunities, said Devlin-Petty.

And those who seek the training already have seen the benefits.

"The people who are being promoted (within city government) are the ones who've done something to advance themselves," Devlin-Petty said.

Focusing on strong customer relations, Albright reminded employers that people pay for atmosphere and customer service. Consider how many people pay $5 for a cup of coffee in a trendy shop, she said.

"Customer service is about creating an atmosphere, creating an experience," Albright said.

It starts with happy employees, she added. They have the most contact with customers, and people inadvertently transfer angst and negativity in many ways - with or without words, Albright said. In other words, angry employees will likely give customers a bad experience.

"You've got to keep your employees happy as well as your customers. It's equal," she said. "Isn't (customer service) really a matter of us getting along with each other on an everyday basis?"

Plus, when employees must constantly look over their shoulders, their productivity drops, she said.

"People that are less threatened are more willing to offer creative ideas," said Albright, who also discussed communication skills and office aesthetics.

"It opened my eyes," said Luvenia Sims, a receptionist from Family & Community Resource Center who took the customer service seminar. "I answer my phone differently. I always have a smile. I've changed my office space, added flowers to make it more pleasing to others. I'll be sharing some of things I've learned with my co-workers."

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