I recently had the opportunity of listening in on an excellent HBR Ideacast: The High Cost of Rudeness at Work. Naturally, a company cannot expect to achieve employee engagement if its most-senior leaders follow inappropriate practices of people management. I don’t want to take that path with this blog, though. Rather, I want to take the path that the Ideacast touches on: customers cannot tolerate rudeness or incivility with the least degree of allowance, even when it’s not directed at them.
Many of our clients operate in the fast-paced and demanding customer-service industry. These companies are constantly looking for ways to improve customer satisfaction, often concluding that their “frontline employees are the root of the problem.” Could it be that these customer-facing members of the company comprise only the tip of the iceberg contributing to engagement problems? After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Before joining the DecisionWise team, I had the opportunity to work in a variety of customer-facing positions. At one point, I was in charge of local training initiatives for an international food-service chain. In this position, I noticed a few trends:
- Customers love when companies treat employees well
At the locations I frequented, our team members had been taught to have fun with their jobs—while maintaining an extremely high standard of customer service. If you were to enter one of our locations, finding the crew singing along to a new song on the radio would not be surprising. Many customers would comment on how they enjoyed coming to our stores and how much fun we all seemed to have. By allowing employees to have fun, the company was able to build more rapport with customers—the company was able to engage its employees.
- Employees love to be treated well
Employees should be treated well from all directions—from customers and management alike. As some of the commenters on our recent blog on the Fortune 100 Best Companies rightly noted, the best companies show respect to their employees. Like was mentioned above, when customers witness companies demonstrating respect for employees, those companies establish stronger bonds of customer loyalty.
- Management attitude affects the bottom-line
Blaming the declining sales figures on frontline employees isn’t fair; most of these employees (save the most proactive, who will quickly leave if they’re being treated poorly) simply inherit behaviors that Management models. Perhaps that’s why Forbes recommends that leaders model the behaviors they seek.
I’ll be the first to admit that I learned the above lessons through a process of trial and error. Looking back, I appreciate the knowledge I gained from that experience in the food-service industry, as it continues to apply to everything I do—both in and out of the office. Respect your customer-facing employees and they will respect you; so will your customers.
Perhaps you don’t work in the food-service industry. How do you think respecting employees affects your company? Do you have an experience when you visited a company and were shocked by how its employees were being treated? Or, more optimistically, have you ever been amazed by the level of respect employees received at a company? Share your stories with us in the comments.