How to Create a Scary Workplace

Vintage Metal Sign - Beware of Monsters - Vector EPS10.Over the years, I have met, worked with and worked for a lot of people. By far the majority of those people taught me, through their actions and words, what I can do to make work a better place.  These people:

  • Come to work each day with a fabulous, ‘let’s have a great day’ attitude
  • Look for potential in others and then make the time and provide the support required to nurture that potential
  • See the opportunity behind the challenge
  • Expect as much from themselves as they do from others
  • Take responsibility for failures or errors
  • Put team members in the limelight and acknowledge everyone’s role in success
  • Are accessible

Then there are the people who have instead taught me how to create a scary workplace, a workplace filled with hurt, mistrust, discontent and turmoil. Here are some surefire tactics these scary monsters used to create unhappiness, anxiety and even a little fear. They:

  • Come to work with a ‘let’s see who I can take down today’ attitude
  • Push and maneuver behind the scenes to ensure their favourite people succeeded at the expense of the entire team
  • Push and maneuver to get rid of people they perceive as unworthy or a potential threat
  • See challenges as an opportunity to bring someone down and raise themselves up
  • Don’t follow the same high standards they set for others
  • Blame others for failures or errors
  • Take all the credit for success
  • Hide behind closed doors, computer screens, voice mail or ‘too many meetings’
  • Expect results without sharing what the expectations are or providing adequate resources to be successful.
  • Keep changing the rules or the definition of success so success can’t be achieved
  • Discourage creativity or innovation with the phrase “that’s not the way I would do it” or better yet, discount the idea, then present it as their own

What has struck me about some of the people I’ve met who fall into the scary monster category is that many view themselves as action oriented, go-getters, not afraid to “say it like it is”, as someone strong prepared to make the hard choices. I’m not sure if they really are oblivious to the hurt, turmoil and discontent created by their words and actions, or if they are aware but simply don’t care.

Whether oblivious or uncaring, the damage caused by hurt, turmoil and discontent is real.

  • Hurt, turmoil and discontent don’t stay in the workplace. Unhappy, discontented employees share those feelings with friends, family and peers, potentially damaging the reputation of a company to potential high quality employees.
  • Employee turnover rises as people leave for a less stressful workplace
  • Employee morale and productivity continues to decline, leading to shoddier work and unhappy customers

Why are your Customers Leaving?

Fotolio.com image

I had lunch with a friend this week.  Over the last six to nine months, she has cancelled or not renewed three memberships to business associations or networking clubs and one on-line marketing / business listing site.

As regular readers of my blog know, I am a big believer in identifying your company’s customer touch points and then asking “What does my customer want, need and expect from me at this touch point?”  One very important touch point is your response when a customer decides he or she decides to no longer do business with you.

None of the four organizations gave her a hassle when she let them know she was cancelling or not renewing. That is a positive.  Unfortunately, not one of them asked her why she was leaving.  One organization, the one she had been most actively involved in for over two years, sent a generic form letter, not even addressed to her, expressing disappointment in her decision.  The others simply said nothing.

So I asked her why she left. One didn’t abide by their own code of conduct, one simply didn’t work from a timing perspective anymore, one had made political statements outside of her beliefs and one didn’t provide the results she was looking for.  All valid reasons.

Customers who have been with you for an extended period of time and then decide to leave can provide valuable insight. Take the time to ask them why they are leaving.  If you hear the same concern expressed over and over again, it’s an issue. Find a way to fix it. The organization that didn’t abide by their own code of conduct didn’t ask my friend why she left.  She told them anyway and she’s heard they have made significant positive change in that area from members in that group.

Asking the question “Why are you leaving?” doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change. The reason “It’s not you, it’s me.” may very well be true.  It is very possible the product or service you offer is simply no longer a fit for your customer. There is also the possibility that the customer wasn’t the right fit to begin with. Exit interviews with departing customers can help you better define your target market, providing you the information you need to focus on the people who benefit the most from the product or service you offer.

Asking the question “Why are you leaving?” is about ensuring you don’t lose the opportunity to become even better at what you do.  It’s about demonstrating you value the opportunity you had to be of service and that you value the customer.

When talking about customer touch points, I also suggest looking for ways to exceed the customer’s expectation.  One final way to demonstrate that you are truly service minded, that your concern is for the customer first, is to provide the departing customer information on other companies that can meet their needs.  What a way to exceed a customer’s expectations and leave a positive last impression.

What is your Priority – Product or Service?

Motivational concept image of a hand holding marker and write What is your priority isolated on white

There is a restaurant here in Winnipeg that has the talent in place to create and plate a ‘to-die-for-good’ meal.  My husband and I had plans to dine there one evening.  Then I heard and read many comments regarding the arrogant, sometimes verging on abusive, service from people who’ve gone to that restaurant… once and only once. Some of these comments have come from people I know personally and whose opinion I trust.  That restaurant is now off my list of places to go.  There are many other restaurants to go to in Winnipeg that create and plate amazing meals and just as importantly, provide friendly, attentive and professional service,

In the service industry, dinner is never just a dinner and a hotel room is never just a hotel room. It is the entire experience wrapping up the basic need for food and shelter that is important and sets one business apart from another.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to the hospitality industry.  We are all in business to meet and address a specific need.  So are our competitors. Even if a business offers something totally unique, it won’t be forever.  At some point, that unique product and idea will be replicated and if customers have been putting up with lousy service because there wasn’t an alternative, as soon as there is one, they are gone!

Product quality is important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. Back up the great product with great service.  That’s what brings customers back more than once, creates referrals and brings new customers through the door.

Sometimes Bad News is Better than No News

The bad newsAbout two weeks ago, I woke up, checked my emails and learned the phones went down at the hotel sometime during the night. Nobody could call in or out. I immediately went in.  Our night audit team had called our telecommunications company and they reported the problem was not on their end.  That meant it must be our phone system.  I called them and in less than an hour a technician was at the hotel.  Long story short … the problem was with our telecommunications provider, not the phone system. There were large scale outages being reported and equipment was being replaced.  About five hours later, the phones came back on line.

Two nights ago work called just after 1:00 am.  The internet was down at the hotel, again a disruption to business.  Not as severe as if it had happened in the middle of the day, but never-the-less, something that needed to be looked into.  Once again, the staff working the desk had called our telecommunications provider and been told the problem was not on their end.  So I got up and went in to work.  I called the 24 hour service line for our telecommunications company thinking … “they were wrong last time, maybe they are again”.  After waiting for quite a while for my turn to talk to someone, I went through the drill, sharing our account number, business address and description of the problem.  I was also told that all systems at the hotel showed green on their end; therefore the problem was on our end. At which point, I very nicely shared with them the story about the phone incident in which we were told the problem was on our end when in fact it was theirs and asked if there was any way they could dig deeper.  Less than two minutes later,  I received an apology and was advised that yes, in fact the problem was on their end.  Outages were being experienced, equipment was being replaced and all should be back up and running within the next five to six hours.  It was back up again in less than two hours.

Why am I sharing this story with you?  Because it’s such a great example of how to frustrate customers!  When the phone system was down, I would periodically check the companies website to see if any status updates were being provided to customers.  Nothing.  The only reference to the outages I found on-line were by frustrated, angry customers, with part of the frustration attributed to not having any information and being stuck waiting to talk to someone at a call centre only to be told …nothing.

Which brings me to the call / service centre.  Is the service team trained to look beyond the quick and perhaps usual reason for the problem?  In scenario two, I asked the person to dig deeper, he did and in no time at all, recognized his first response was incorrect. If I had accepted his first response, additional calls and needless searching for the source of the problem would have resulted in wasted time and even more frustration.

Beyond the training question, I have to wonder why the outages were not reported to the service centre.  While knowing when and how to dig deeper for an answer to a customer problem is important, wouldn’t it be better to give them a heads up so that when a frustrated customer called, they would be able to immediately respond with accurate information?

Of course, it’s not just telecommunications companies that fall down when it comes to managing bad news or frustrated customers.  When something goes wrong, when customers are going to experience service disruptions, say so. Be upfront, acknowledge the frustration, apologize for the inconvenience and share information on when they can expect service to be restored.  If you can, and this doesn’t apply to all businesses, let your customers know of alternative places to get the service they need in the interim.

Share all of that same information with the people who are responsible for responding to reports and questions from customers.

Outages happen. Stuff happens. Whatever the disruption is, understand that your customer is inconvenienced.  It may or may not be because of an error on your end.  It doesn’t matter whose fault it is.  Whatever the reason, know what information your customer needs and be prepared to share it. Acknowledge their frustration, keep them informed and if possible, provide alternative solutions.

In many cases, how you manage the service disruption has a bigger impact on a customer’s continued loyalty than the disruption itself.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice …

同僚にうわさ話されるビジネスマンYears ago, I was facilitating a customer service training session in North Dakota.  One of the service providers said to me, a Canadian, “I hate Canadians. They are cheap and always demand a discount.”  To say I was a little flabbergasted is an understatement.   Hating a large percentage of your customer base is not a good thing.

The one thing I will give her is that she didn’t talk smack about the citizens of my country behind my back … she told me straight up, to my face. There are a whole lot of service providers who have no problem labelling or mocking their customers behind their back.

I’ve heard and read comments, in log books and social media, that mock a customer’s intelligence.  I’ve heard and read comments, in log books and social media, that describe a customer as high maintenance, demanding and rude.

Yes, some customers are more difficult to serve than others, but laughing at a customer because they asked a “stupid” question (stupid in your mind, not theirs) is unkind and a true customer focused person is not unkind.

Labelling a customer as high maintenance, rude or obnoxious is assuming that your perception of their behaviour at one moment in time is exactly what everyone else would perceive as well.  It also assumes that what perhaps is a moment of rudeness is indicative of the way that person behaves all the time.

A moment that still causes me to blush with shame involved me, a plane and a mom with a young baby.  I’d been away on business for almost a week.  I was tired. I wanted to get home and I HATE the middle seat.  When I boarded, in my window seat was a young mom with her very young baby.  She explained that she did have the middle seat but with the baby, the window seat was a better option.  Did I demand my window seat back?  No, but I sure was grumpy and begrudging about sitting in the middle seat. There were huffs, puffs, eye rolls and  muttering involved. My ungracious behaviour caught the attention of the flight attendant. There was an empty seat on the plane so she asked the person in the aisle seat if she would be willing to move so I could move over one seat.  She did and I moved over.  The thing is, the entire time I was acting all high-maintenance and princessy, I knew I was acting badly and before the plane landed, I was having a lovely conversation with the young mom.  That initial bad behaviour did not reflect who I am 98% of the time.  But nobody on that plane knew that. The thing is, they also couldn’t say with an certainty that I was always like that.

When we mock our customers or start labelling them and warning other co-workers about them, we lose our focus on the customer and their experience.  Perhaps instead of leaving notes like “This customer is high maintenance … watch out” we can make an extra effort to be kind, to turn their day around and then leave a note that says “Seems like she had a tough day today … let’s all try to make her stay extra special.”

Thumper’s statement “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is especially important for customer service providers. When you have a challenging customer, don’t complain about it to your friends and colleagues, don’t put a warning note in a log book or a customer’s file and for heaven’s sake, don’t post it on social media!