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FastSigns CEO Catherine Monson on Undercover Boss

Published on November 16, 2012

FastSigns CEO Catherine Monson talks to Eric Vessels about being on the CBS show Undercover Boss, shares details of the experience as well as lessons learned that others can benefit from in their businesses.

Eric Vessels: Hi, it’s Eric Vessels with WhatTheyThink and I’m here with Catherine Monson, who is the CEO of FASTSIGNS.

Catherine Monson: It’s good to be with you, Eric.

Eric Vessels: Good to see you again. I understand that you were recently on Undercover Boss.

Catherine Monson: It’s true. It’s true.

Eric Vessels: That must have been an amazing experience.

Catherine Monson: It was an amazing experience. The show approached me September of 2011 and asked if I was interested and it was a pretty quick and easy decision to be interested. We filmed in December of 2011 and the show aired in May of 2012.

Eric Vessels: Now you say it’s quick but I understand you had to weigh pros and cons. Obviously, the pros are you get your brand out there but there’s some cons as well.

Catherine Monson: Well, you know, when you’re on a reality TV show you know that anything that they capture on film they’re gonna use. The biggest concern is what if I made a fool out of myself. You wouldn’t want to do that, right? And so once I figured out I probably had control over myself then what would be the other issues? It’s not like we’re a food brand where the camera could catch a rat walking across the back of the restaurant. And it’s not like we’re in healthcare where an employee could treat an elderly person without respect or drop a patient or something. So from that standpoint, we felt fairly confident. We thought the worst things that could happen is we might – they might pick a center that didn’t represent the brand well. Perhaps they might pick a…

Eric Vessels: A disgruntled employee.

Catherine Monson: A disgruntled employee or perhaps a franchisee that maybe was not a positive employer, right? So we felt that the risks were pretty low. And then after about two days of weighing the pros and cons we said yes.

Eric Vessels: There’s takeaways from it, and I’m interested to learn what you learned from a customer service standpoint, employee standpoint. The show at the end always tries to impact the audience.

Catherine Monson: Right.

Eric Vessels: How did the show impact you and what did you learn?

Catherine Monson: Well first, you know, when you go into a situation like this you don’t know what you’re gonna expect and you want to hopefully find that your folks are taking great care of customers and that you’re producing good quality work. And I have to tell you that was a great success for us because customers were happy, the employees cared about doing a good job. So from that standpoint I wouldn’t say there were any big shocking things. We did learn that one of the weaknesses that we have is we had promoted or communicated all of our programs and all of our marketing materials to our franchise partners. They didn’t always communicate it to their employees. So there were employees who had misunderstandings; things that they thought we didn’t do well but they just weren’t being given the same information the franchise partners were. So one of the big changes we made the day I stopped filming is we now communicate both to our franchise partners and their employees on every single program. Another thing I learned on a lift three floors up installing an exterior sign with a hammer drill is we hadn’t given our franchise partners the right kind of training for those kinds of outdoor projects and big projects. So we have undertaken a big training program from that standpoint. And those were the two biggest takeaways. There might have been a personal takeaway that maybe I’m too much of a workaholic and I need to have a little more balance in my life. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet but that was one of the takeaways.

Eric Vessels: Okay, it was on the list.

Catherine Monson: But I have to tell you working with these amazing employees was a great experience. I got to work with one employee, Gary, who is a former gangbanger, gang member, in and out of jail or prison 20 times and now works to get kids out of the gang lifestyle. To be able to be with someone like that and to be so inspired by his mission was very, very important and valuable to me.

Eric Vessels: For businesses that don’t get on Undercover Boss, what would be your takeaway from that experience to them? Is it just get out there, meet people, meet your employees, talk to them, communicate better, it sounds like.

Catherine Monson: Absolutely. It’s talk to your employees, have an open door policy, survey your employees 'cause sometimes they’ll say something in a survey, too, that they won’t say to your face and honestly. Talk to your customers. Survey your customers. Make sure you really know what’s happening. Get out and visit customers. Go inspect the work that’s being done and making sure that the installation is done correctly, the quality is there. And it really is get out from behind the big desk and get out there where the rubber meets the road and talk to customers and talk to employees.
Eric Vessels: That’s right. Well that’s a great story and we really appreciate you sharing that with us.

Catherine Monson: It was a great experience, and it was great to talk to you about it today.

Eric Vessels: Thanks.

Catherine Monson: Thanks.

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Richard Romano, Section Editor/Senior Analyst
Richard has written about communication, graphics hardware and software trends for the past 15 years.

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