The Customer Experience Series: Jerks Beget Jerks

As we learned in the previous post in this series, creating great customer experiences are a top-down proposition. In simple terms, this means how you treat your frontline employees is likely how they will treat your customers.

So, if you’re fair, thoughtful, and respectful with your frontline teams; then you can expect they will be fair, thoughtful, and respectful with your customers. Conversely, if you’re a jerk; you’re going to unleash a team of jerks on those very same customers.

Let me give you a real world example.

In the mid-90s, while working for a beer distribution company, I was in the back of a grocery store with one of delivery drivers. Right in front of us, one of the grocery chain’s vice presidents was loudly scolding the store manager. The VP was abusive; and watching it was brutal and embarrassing for us and the manager.

After the VP left, I watched that same store manager berate the liquor department manager. Not five minutes after getting his tongue -ashing, I watched the liquor department manager unfairly reprimand the first employee he saw.

The recipient of this scolding was a nice, middle-aged woman who was stocking shelves in the liquor department. She was almost in tears as the liquor manager verbally tore her down. Within a few minutes, she composed herself and went to the liquor department checkout stand to help a customer.

So, How Did The Customer Enjoy Their Experience?

This nice, middle-aged clerk became rude, unpleasant, and short with the customer. Barely speaking, with a scowl on her face the entire time – and all of this happened in about fifteen minutes.

If a vice president’s one-time backroom tongue-lashing can translate into a bad customer experience in just 15 minutes, imagine the long-term effects of this kind of abuse. Crap rolls downhill all the way to the customer; and you simply cannot treat people like crap and expect them to treat your customers well.

Carl Buehner once said, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” The store manager, the liquor manager, the clerk, and the customer all surely remembered (at least for the short term) how they were made to feel that day.

While you can never expect your employees to care as much as you care, you can certainly never expect them to care after a beating. Think about this the next time you’re being a jerk to your entire sales team at your Saturday morning meeting 15 minutes before you open the doors.

Being a jerk just creates more jerks; and if any of those newly created jerks deals with your customers, you can expect they’ll be jerks to them, as well. Incidentally, your best people simply won’t stand for you being a jerk. They have too many options. In the end, jerk bosses are left with a bunch of poor-performing jerks as frontline employees… making the bosses turn into even bigger jerks.

This becomes a vicious circle… of jerks.

Next up in the series: Beware the Dog & Pony Shows.

(If you’re catching this series for the first time, you may want to begin with the first post in the series: Why Does Good Customer Service Matter?)

About TheManager:

Steve Stauning, creator of The Appointment Culture and an expert in The Customer Experience. He is also an extremely popular keynote speaker, writer, and industry consultant. Learn more about Steve at