Upright and Breathing are not Key Qualities

Tired businesswomanIn the last four years, I have facilitated over 100 customer service training sessions.  By far, the majority of people in my sessions want to provide their customers with great service.  They are excited to learn about the concept of internal customer service; they want to learn how to present themselves as professionals and how to effectively manage unhappy, disappointed customers.  They are eager to share their experiences with others in the group.

But every once in a while, someone will show up in a session who simply does not understand why they should provide some of the basics, never mind go out of their way to make a customer feel valued.  They believe that unhappy, disappointed customers are rude and demanding and refuse to consider using techniques to manage difficult situations.

I had one participant openly admit to spitting in a customer’s burger when it was pointed out to her that the burger wasn’t cooked as ordered.  (I must admit to thinking that was an urban myth.  Nobody would do that, right?  Wrong!!)  Another participant told me he had absolutely no intention of ever apologizing to a customer or trying to find a solution to a problem because “Customers get what they get and if they aren’t happy, they can just deal with it.”

Each time this happens I am astounded at the negativity.  We need customers. Customers pay our bills for us; they pay for our new car, our dream vacation, our children’s education.  Yes, sometimes customers come to our businesses with unrealistic expectations.  Sometimes the customer is “wrong”, but that does not give service professionals the right to treat the customer with disdain and disrespect.

Why do some employers put up with this type of behaviour?

Here are two reasons I’ve been given.

1.  The employee is great at everything else. Because they are technically proficient, they are allowed to get away with atrocious behaviour.

2.  They fill a time slot in the schedule.  Sometimes labour shortages result in the “hey, a living, breathing person who shows up for work at least 80% of the time is better than nobody.”

I understand the temptation to let high customer service standards slide a bit in those situations, but don’t give in!  The reality is that an employee with this type of negative attitude damages your business.  Having toxic, negative, people-haters showing up for work damages your reputation, your current customer leave and potential customers stay away.  Not only that, but the work environment becomes increasingly toxic as the negativity starts infecting previously positive attitude employees who see bad behaviour not being addressed.

Attitude truly does count.  You can teach someone HOW to complete a task, but you can’t train them to complete it with professional and personal pride or to care about their co-workers or their customers.

Upright, breathing and technically proficient isn’t good enough!   Hire people that want to succeed.  Hire people that would not dream of settling for “barely good enough” .  Hire people that actually care about and like people.


How Much is Your Cost Cutting Costing You?

Imagine the following scenario:  It’s 6:00 pm on a Sunday evening in January.  Outside, it’s dark, cold, snowy and blowy. Inside the fast-food restaurant it’s bright and warm.  The restaurant is entirely empty, except for the young lady working that evening. The door opens and four people hurry in, talking, laughing.

The young lady moves forward as the group approaches the counter.

Lady 1:  “How are you doing today?” (Big smile, cheerful tone of voice)

Young lady:  “Awful.  I’m sick, shouldn’t even be here but nobody would come in an cover my shift.”  (Frown and shrug, pull out disposable plastic gloves and pull them on)

Lady 1:  “Oh.  I’m sorry to hear that.” (Sound and look a little taken aback at the response)

Young lady:  “What can I get you?” (Abrupt.  Look at lady 1)

Lady 1:  “A spinach salad please.”

Young lady:  “We don’t have a spinach salad.  We use iceberg lettuce.” (Do not look at lady 1.  Turn away and start getting bowls, tools ready to make salad)

Lady 1:  “Oh, when I was at a different location, I could get spinach.” (Disappointed, but not argumentative)

Young lady: “I can’t do that.  The owner is getting mad at how much spinach we are using.” (Firm tone, another shrug of shoulders)

Lady 1:  “I don’t mind paying extra.” (Hopeful)

Young lady: “Spinach salad is not on our menu.  I can’t make you a spinach salad. If you want to add some to the iceberg letter, I can do that.” (Firm, stern look at lady 1)

Lady 1:  “Ok.  Well, then, I’d like cucumbers, tomatoes and green peppers in my salad.”

Young lady:  “No spinach?” (Look at lady 1, quizzical tone of voice, raise eyebrow)

Lady 1: “Yes and spinach.”

Young lady add iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes to a large bowl. Picks up small paper bowl with five spinach leaves in it and adds to salad.

Lady 1 looks at the five leaves of spinach, looks at her colleagues, looks back at the five leaves of spinach, sighs and shakes her head.


As you’ve probably guessed, I didn’t make this up.  On Sunday I, along with three other colleagues, needed to grab a quick bite to eat.  This restaurant was near by and it offered salads. Two big pluses. Unfortunately, not one of us got what we came for.

It’s also rather tempting to start judging the young lady working that evening.  I admit that’s where I went at first.  

It was pretty obvious she did not want to be there. Could she have done a much better job of serving us? Absolutely.  There is no denying that, but that’s taking the easy way out.  What responsibility does her manager or owner have in all of this? 

She had been told to only give out five spinach leaves in each order.  That’s putting her in a rather difficult situation. What direction / support were the employees given on how to handle those requests when they came in?

I also have to wonder what else the manager or owner is doing to save money from an internal customer perspective? Is employee recognition and reward considered a waste of time and money?  Is the store adequately staffed during busy times or are the staff expected to make it work?  What kind of training and support do they receive?  Is it enough or are they thrown in before they are ready?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, but that moment reinforced my belief that before I take on a job training staff on how to better serve the customer, I need to be sure that they are being served well by their management team.

(I also wonder at how much it costs to do all that portioning, never mind the cost of each bowl that was then thrown away once the spinach was used.  And what is the cost of a lost customer?  How much are  they saving by refusing to serve more than five spinach leaves?)


Do You Recognize Any of these Defense Mechanisms?

When something goes wrong at work, when you have an unhappy, disgruntled customer, co-worker or boss in front of you, many of us go into defense mode.  Which animal defense mechanism looks a little familiar to you?


Or perhaps this one is more familiar?  Just talk and talk and talk and talk until the the unhappy, disgruntled person or uncomfortable situation goes away.