Are Your Employees Delighting--or Driving Away--Your Customers?



David Lee
09/21/2011

If your business serves the public and you’re not monitoring how your employees represent you, you should be afraid.

Very afraid.

If you think I’m exaggerating, think of all the interactions you’ve had as a customer that leave you thinking "What were they thinking when they hired this person?" Think of how often you’re "served" by someone who is bored, disinterested, clueless, or just downright unpleasant.

Does The Owner Know This is Going On?

Let me give you two examples. The first one takes place at an electronics store. Three clerks, young men a few years out of high school, were hanging around the check out counter talking computer games as I entered the store. As I walk by, I glance at the closest clerk. He stares back at me in a "Who you lookin’ at?" way. I go about my business, searching for a piece of equipment, never disturbed by a single "If you need any help, just let me know." As I walk out the door, I think "Does the owner of this store have any idea what his employees are doing to his store’s reputation?"

The second example begins at a local business expo. I met the owner of a printing company there and was impressed with his helpful, customer-friendly attitude. I sized him up as someone who cares about his customers, and who would be easy to deal with, including if things went wrong. When I called his business, I looked forward to the same refreshingly friendly, concerned customer service that made me choose his business. Instead, the voice answering the phone was surly and irritated, as if yet another annoying life form, called The Customer, had interrupted her work. Each time I called back to work out the details with their customer service person, she answered the phone in the same churlish manner.

Who Hired This Person?

When I went to pick up my order, I was curious. What did this Rotweiler of a receptionist look like; what was she like in person? I was stunned when I cast my eyes on her. She was the same memorable receptionist I encountered at our local phone company that left me wondering each time I walked out to my car: "Why do they keep this woman?" I figured some type of longevity guilt trip might be at play, but why would someone who clearly values customer service – the print shop owner – hire someone so ill-suited to serving the public? Doesn’t he realize how she’s affecting the image he’s worked to create?

They’re Running – and Maybe Ruining -- Your Marketing Campaign

Ask yourself the same thing about your employees. Do you know what reputation they are creating for your business? If you don’t, find out because they have far greater influence on your reputation and your brand than any advertising in which you’re investing.

They have far greater influence because experience trumps hype. More specifically, marketing experts are talking these days about how traditional avenues of brand-building are losing their power, due to the over saturation of marketing messages. Inundated with "We’re great"… "No, no, WE’RE great" advertising messages, the public simply tunes out.

Because of this, people rely even more on word of mouth advertising these days. You only get great word of mouth advertising, though, if you deliver a customer experience that leaves people thinking "I wish EVERY business was like this place." An acceptable experience doesn’t move people to tell others. Bad experiences, though, make great stories and so each negative customer experience recruits another member to your business’s Negative PR Firm.

Thus, smart business owners look at the experience their employees create and ask "Does it leave customers wanting to come back and wanting to tell their friends great things about us?" Smart business owner also know that unless they have processes in place that allow them to get feedback on the service their employees deliver, they’re flying blind.

What to Do

Call your business and listen to both the words and the vocal intonations and ask: "Does this sound like a welcoming, intelligent operation… a place I’d like to do business?"

Have your business mystery shopped.

Ask your customers for frank feedback. Let them know you especially want to know about the "little things" because those are the things that you never hear about, but which slowly erode customer satisfaction. Put up a sign announcing your interest in customer feedback and offer easy ways of responding. Also, call customers and/or send them a note requesting feedback, and offer an incentive as a thank you.

Let your employees know that you will use the information you gather from mystery shopping and customer feedback to find out if you’re providing excellent service, providing teaching and coaching opportunities for them, and to celebrate examples of great service. Without data, none of this can happen.

Give your customer service reps specific feedback—both positive and negative—rather than general feedback which doesn’t give them clear guidance about what they are doing right or wrong. So, rather than say "I really like, and appreciate, how welcoming you are" say "I really like, and appreciate, how welcoming you are to our customers. For instance, I just noticed how you saw the older gentleman walking around, looking puzzled, and you immediately went up to him, gave him a big smile, and said _____ in a friendly, respectful tone of voice. That sort of proactive, welcoming treatment is what sets us apart from our competition, so way to go!"

Make giving feedback a regular part of work life. The more you do this, the more employees can hear corrective feedback because they don’t just associate feedback with criticism. They see it as you doing your job to help them do theirs.

It's time to get your call center agents on the right track. Whether your focus is phone, email, text, chat or social support, you cannot afford to have destructive messages reach your customers. Attend the premiere event for call center and customer management--the Call Center Summit. Discounted pricing applies!

David Lee, the founder of HumanNature@Work, works with employers who want to improve employee engagement, customer service, and morale. He has worked with organizations and presented at conferences both domestically and abroad.