What Your Employees Say About You

Your people say a lot about you.

I’m not implying that they gossip about you or that they say complimentary things about you (although they may). What I mean is this: the way your employees behave to customers — in person, over the phone, in writing — is a statement about you and your company.

Of course, courtesy and respect of customers should be a given; each person should know that it is his or her responsibility and that it is expected.

Sooner or later, however, most companies end up with some type of guidelines for customer relations. These companies recognize that it is not just the president or the salesperson or the estimator who needs to know how to interact with customers. For example, when a customer enters the pressroom to do a press check, everyone from the press operator to the custodian to the customer service rep to the ink room manager should know how to make a good impression.

And once the guidelines are in place, employees know that rude behavior is not sanctioned and will be dealt with if it is chronic.

However, there has developed a grey area where rudeness is expected, tolerated and even venerated. Consider the people in our companies who are our network administrators, our prepress gurus, our website masters, our techno prima donnas.

Some are great, don’t get me wrong: they’re true wizards and nice people as well.

Others fall into a category I see in every city, in every region. They are people who think they can operate outside the laws of decency. They don’t believe they should treat customers with respect, dignity and courtesy. In fact, many of these people verbally abuse your customers, intimidate them, tell them their work is garbage and unsalvageable, tell them they are too busy to worry about their petty problems, tell them that “that’s just the way the system’s set up,” tell them that they hate this stinking job and they’re just waiting for a job at Google. 

Furthermore, as technology evolves, these are the employees who end up spending the most time with your customers! What astounds me is that owners and managers who normally would not tolerate this type of behavior in other employees, can come up with a dozen excuses to justify it.

1. We paid a high price to get these folks.

2. We don’t understand anything they say.

3. We don’t understand their jobs.

4. They work odd hours, and we never get to see them so we can chastise them.

5. We’re afraid that if we reprimand them (or gently outline our standards of dealing with the public) they will leave.

6. We’re afraid that they’re just a temper tantrum away from quitting, since that’s how we got them in the first place.

7. They’re pioneers in the digital realm and should not have to be reined in by customer relations.

8. If they’re short term employees (hired guns and renegades) who are only in your face long enough to establish a system and then get out, their effect (and damage) on our customers supposedly will be insignificant. 

9. If our customers are afraid of them, they’ll think we’re cool and smart and technologically advanced.

10. They’re misfits who never learned social graces, so we should feel sorry for them.

11. If we try to hire someone else, the new person may be really obnoxious, and, worst of all,

12. Everyone does it.

In the end, however, it boils down to you, the employer. Because each and every person who deals with your customers needs to know what your ground rules are—whether you express them directly, in a meeting, in a memo, or in a handbook.

I have kept the following clipping for years because it echoes what I believe about customer service, and because it especially applies now that we have begun to make excuses for our techno-nerds.

It is written by Ned Thomson, president of Thomson-Shore*, a book printing firm in Dexter, Michigan. Thomson says: “Our belief has always been that a company’s success should rely on every employee’s individual contribution. Each employee . . . press operator, receptionist, president, janitor, etc. . . . each person has an opportunity to influence what the customer thinks about our company, and those collective impressions determine whether we succeed or fail. We believe quality is not just the appearance of the book we print but it also the way we respond to a customer. It is how fast we return quotes, how fast we answer the phone or return your calls, how we respond if there is a problem, how we respond if a customer asks a questions or seeks advice, how quickly we ship . . . all those things that we would like to have done for us if we were the customer.

“It may sound corny,” adds Thomson, “but the ‘Golden Rule’ can be a pretty good thing to keep in mind when you conduct business — because customers will respond to it.”

*Printer’s Ink, Volume 7, Issue 4, Winter 1992, published by Thomson-Shore, Dexter, Michigan.

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