NEW YORK — Do your employees play well with customers? Do they engage with the public in ways that spark business and promote loyalty to your dry cleaner?
In the best of worlds, you would always answer “Yes.” Fact is, though, every business has some employees who have a tendency to look on the dark side of things—a habit that can create negative interactions with customers. And even the sunniest workers have bad days. The cause might be a perceived snub from a supervisor. Or maybe it’s a marital crisis or a financial issue.
Whatever the reason, the result is the same: a grumpy employee who alienates customers. And that means lost sales and lower profits.
Negativity can take many forms, such as these examples:
James speaks to another employee, bad-mouthing a customer who just left the store. (Worse still, another customer overhears his remarks.)
You overhear Margareta tell a customer, “Management really stinks here.”
Andre says, “It’s not my job,” when asked to help out a customer who needs a special service.
All of those events—and others like them—can alienate customers and dent your bottom line. That’s why it’s important to take action before matters get worse.
COACH, NOT DICTATOR
“Do not be heavy-handed; do not use more muscle than necessary,” says Dr. Lois P. Frankel, a partner at Corporate Coaching International, Los Angeles. “In the old days, managers would say something like this: ‘I have to tell you that if I hear of this behavior again, your employment may be jeopardized.’ That was considered progressive. But not anymore. Today, you want to turn around the situation with the least disruption.”
Helping people improve their performance can also make the corrective process more palatable for the boss.
“Too many bosses don’t have these difficult conversations because they are seen as confrontational,” says Frankel. “Replace that confrontational cap with a coach cap. Tell yourself this: ‘My job is to bring out the best in people and make a company that is well functioning.’”
Your data-gathering activity may uncover a surprising fact: an underlying problem in the workplace needs to be addressed. This issue may be causing negative feelings on the part of other employees as well.
“When the performance or attitude of a good employee starts to deteriorate, that can be a sign that something is going wrong in the workplace,” says Richard Avdoian, an employee development consultant from St. Louis. “You want to find out what it is—and nip it in the bud.”
Let’s take our second scenario from this article’s opening. Why did Margareta say what she did about management?
During your data-gathering discussion described earlier, Margareta may tell you something like this: “We used to have flextime and they took that away last month.”
Your response should acknowledge both the issue and your desire to meet the employee’s needs. You might say something like this:
“I kind of feel the same; I wish that had not gone away. But let’s talk about how your needs can be met.”
While your workplace might not be able to offer flextime, it might be able to offer individuals a little more leeway in adjusting schedules to meet family needs. Changes that arise from coaching sessions can modify the workplace in ways that benefit all employees and result in great customer satisfaction.
Of course, this article has been examining the occasional negative actions of good employees. Persistent negative behavior requires tougher action. “If the behavior is persistent, then there must be accountability,” says Avdoian.
Consider the third entry in this article’s opening scenarios. Andre, who said that a requested service was “not my job,” needs to be reminded that “We’re all in this together” and that every employee has to be ready to pitch in with duties that may well be outside of the parameters outlined in a job description.
The coaching procedure outlined in this article should help Andre come around to a better attitude. If not, then the only remaining option is to refer to your organization’s progressive disciplinary measures that lead to termination.