How You Treat Your Employees Dictates How They Will Treat Your Customers

how you treat employees dictates how they treat customers

How You Treat Your Employees Dictates How They Will Treat Your Customers

Excuse the crude language, but there’s a saying you may have heard: “Crap rolls downhill.”

We like to add the impact on the customer experience to this saying by amending it to: “Crap rolls downhill all the way to the customer.”

Telling your frontline employees what they must do for your organization to become a CX juggernaut is simple. Understanding the close relationship between customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction is something else entirely.

Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines, said it best “You put your employees first. If you truly treat your employees that way, they will treat your customers well, (and) your customers will come back …”

How you treat your internal customers (that is, your employees) will dictate how they treat your external customers. You simply cannot embark on the journey to become a CX juggernaut if your employees aren’t along for the ride.

Jerks Beget Jerks

As we learned in the Customer Service 101 post, creating great customer experiences requires those at the top of the organization to care. In other words, becoming a CX juggernaut is a top-down proposition.

This means, 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 us give you a real-world example.

In the mid-1990s, while working for a beer distribution company, Steve was in the back of a grocery store with one of the delivery drivers. Directly in front of them, one of the grocery chain’s vice presidents was loudly scolding the store manager. The VP was verbally abusive; and watching it was brutal and embarrassing for Steve, the delivery driver, and the manager.

Later, Steve watched this same store manager as he berated the liquor department manager. Not five minutes after receiving his tongue-lashing, the liquor department manager unfairly reprimanded 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 do you think the customer enjoyed their interaction with the liquor department clerk?

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 transpired in less than 30 minutes.

If a vice president’s one-time backroom tongue-lashing can translate into a bad customer experience in just 30 minutes, imagine the long-term impact on the customer experience with 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 department 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 (assuming you do care, which if you’re reading this post, you probably do), 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 fifteen 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.

Changing the Culture at the DMV

A regular reader of this blog asked us the following question via email:

“According to state workers, the Department of Motor Vehicles is trying to change their reputation of rude customer service. With long lines, rude customers, customers who don’t want to deal with bureaucracy, how could management at the DMV change their culture?”

If you’re a business leader, you might be thinking “Why should I care about anyone trying to change the culture at the Department of Motor Vehicles?”

It’s simple: If it’s possible to improve the customer experience at my local DMV, then it’s possible to do even more at my company. Heck – think about it – if the DMV can change, then anything’s possible!

Moreover, every customer needs some form of assistance – whether they voice this request or not. It doesn’t matter if that assistance is provided by great in-store signage or helpful associates employing customer-friendly processes, your customers (and those at the DMV) genuinely appreciate when their needs are addressed.

As we explained to this reader, everything meaningful (good and bad) starts at the top.

Your local DMV clerks didn’t begin their careers as jerks; they just evolved into jerks over time. And, while challenging customers can certainly make for a bad day, it’s the managers at the DMV who chiseled those on the frontlines into hardline jerks.

If the leadership at the DMV truly wants to change the culture, they must start by treating their teams with respect. This means many things, but chief among the changes necessary is that managers must come to work with a servant attitude. Only by striving to serve those they supervise can managers expect their teams to serve others and become committed to the customer.

Next, management needs to begin openly rewarding those who show respect to the customers. For the most part, customers dealing with a government agency (like the DMV) may seem clueless to those who work for these agencies. Understanding (from top to bottom) that the average customer doesn’t know how “this” works – and that the job of the DMV clerk is not to “train” customers, but to serve them – will go a long way.

Volunteers and Orphans

To help you and your team better understand what we mean by having a servant attitude and ensuring everyone is committed to the customer, we’ll introduce our Volunteers and Orphans Approach.

Stop looking at your business as a business. Instead, imagine you’re the head of a charitable organization that serves kids in foster homes. Each year, your charity runs a Christmas Toy Giveaway for the foster children in your county; and the entire event is staffed by hard-to-get volunteers.

Every day in your business from today forward should be treated like this toy giveaway. Everyone who works for your company is to be treated like a volunteer, while every customer is to be treated like an orphan.

In ridiculously simple terms: If you want to ensure your customers are treated well, you and every manager should begin treating your employees as if they are volunteers… because they are.

You see, you can buy your employees’ backs and legs, but they volunteer their hearts, and they volunteer their minds. If you want the best work out of them; if you want them to make great decisions; if you want them to treat your customers the right way, then you need to treat them as if they are volunteers.

Of course, you want these volunteers to treat your customers like orphans, because if they do, you will become a CX juggernaut overnight. Successfully employing the Volunteers and Orphans Approach will quickly become your best customer-issue prevention strategy.

Now imagine you’re in the role of Santa Claus at the annual Christmas Toy Giveaway, how would you behave? Of course, everything you did as Santa would be meant to please the orphans, right?

Would there ever be any reason to scold an orphan? Never.

Would there ever be any reason to treat an orphan badly? Nope.

Would there ever be any reason to ever teach an orphan a lesson? Of course not.

Likewise, there is never any reason to scold the customer, to treat them badly, or to even teach them a lesson. That’s not your job, and that’s not the job of your employees.

What about scolding a volunteer? If you were playing Santa, would there ever be any reason to scold a volunteer?

Only if they treated an orphan poorly, correct? That would be the only reason to ever scold one of your volunteers. And it’s the same thing in your business. Everything you and your team does should be weighed against pleasing the customers – just as the person playing Santa and his volunteers would have just one goal: pleasing the orphans.

As we wrote earlier, how you treat your internal customers will dictate how they treat your external customers.

This post is part of a series of excerpts from Ridiculously Simple Customer Experience, a book written for everyone in any organization that has customers. That is, it was written for those in both the public and private sector; and for everyone in these organizations. From the frontline, customer-facing employees to the CEO and board of directors.

Each chapter in Ridiculously Simple Customer Experience concludes with Key Learnings and Chapter Exercises to make certain you and your team take the efficient path to becoming Customer-First. As you’ll learn in this ridiculously short book, building and maintaining a CX juggernaut isn’t hard… in fact, it’s ridiculously simple. Buy it now on Amazon!