Curbing Bad Attitudes Where They Are Rampant
Bad attitude in retail and service jobs is the “in thing” these days among employees. It's hip to be negative. Indeed, this is the roughest road managers in these kinds of businesses must traverse. Unhappily, for many bosses of these disgruntled minions, the result of their efforts is unmitigated failure. We've mentioned the myriad reasons for the poor attitudes in retail and service jobs — low pay, restricted job roles, general resentment, and, yes, dealing with Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public.
Working with Customers in the Flesh Isn't Easy
Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public can be tough cookies to please. In fact, it's in the area of customer relations where you, the coach, must work diligently to convert employees' bad attitudes into good ones. The learning environment that we've talked at length about in this chapter is very often grounded in relating to customers and satisfying their needs.
For those of you who have never worked with the general public, you've missed out on the learning experience of a lifetime. Catering to walk-in customers is a never-ending challenge because you never know what's going to happen to next. A smooth work road invariably hits a bump, and sometimes even a crater, without any warning at all.
However, if you instruct your employees on how to properly service the public, you'll see a more resilient group of people developing before your eyes, and an increasingly more relaxed bunch over time. And, yes, this will redound to better customer service. You don't necessarily have to roll out a red carpet for customers, but you've got to remove the hot coals from the paths that so often greet them in businesses today.
Customers Aren't the Plague — They're the Paycheck!
You must disabuse your employees of the notion that customers are a plague of locusts that descend upon them. There are people whose jobs require them to stock shelves and they go at it with an artist's aplomb. The problem is that some of these same folks testily bristle when customers come along and purchase things off the shelves, thus messing up their works of art.
In this example, you've got to get the point across that the reason for packing shelves up to the hilt is so the buying public will buy the very things packed on them. And, further, that if the awe-inspiring packed shelves remained so, you and your employees both would be out of jobs.
Who isn't familiar with the business maxim “the customer is always right”? This sentiment is far-reaching, longstanding, and loaded with meaning. While it boldly declares that customers are always right, it's not meant to be taken completely literally. Those who toil in retail jobs would be glad to hear that.
What “the customer is always right” motto asks of managers and employees alike is that they accord their customers a tremendous amount of leeway. Pleasing customers has to be at the top of the agenda of any business and not just a mere afterthought. One of the most dogged problems in customer relations today is that employees are not taught to understand, let alone respect, the true meaning of “the customer is always right” maxim.
In fact, many retail and service business managers set the inappropriate and counterproductive tone of criticizing or mocking customers behind the scenes, and sometimes even engaging them in antagonistic skirmishes for all to see. This negative tone setting creates the unfortunate ripple effect of marring the customer relations landscape. Predictably, employees then get in on the act with the imprimatur of their bosses.
The popular adage, “the customer is always right,” should be ingrained in your employees' thinking. Not to be taken literally, its meaning must nevertheless be well understood. That is, customers must be afforded ample leeway because they're why businesses and, yes, jobs exist in the first place.
Your coaching, on the other hand, should set a decidedly different tone — a positive one — where you instill in your employees the mantra that the “customer is indeed always right, until proven otherwise — and even then sometimes.” As a coach you must make certain that the inescapable bad apples in the customer barrel aren't permitted to spoil the whole bunch.
The daily grind of working with a constant flow of customers often causes employees to lose sight of an important fact: The vast majority of customers who shop, eat out, and the like are decent people. Indeed, most consumers don't initiate any grief at all; most folks just want to buy their pound of seedless grapes, order their breakfast omelets, get their bags of chunky dog food, pay their tabs, and go on their merry ways.
Dealing with Problem Customers
Unfortunately, it's the silent majority of good customers who bear the brunt of the distinct minority of problem makers. It's the handful of griping customers who cause managers and employees to view, and hence treat, all customers as the enemy. As a wise coach, you've got to act as an aggressive iconoclast and destroy any false and destructive impressions, because the customer mischief-makers are — really and truly — the exceptions and not the rule.
If you highlight repeatedly the positive transactions between your employees and customers, you will be accenting the true reality — that dealing with the public is predominantly a positive experience, and shouldn't be viewed as a negative one. When the problem customer does come along, you can position the interaction as a learning opportunity in a reality laboratory. Emphasize that these bad experiences with customers are quite rare. If you can make the retail or service setting a positive place, you will see that your employees respond favorably and handle confrontational moments more professionally.
Respect Is Key
Retail and service businesses are joined at the hip with the aforementioned confrontational moments. You can't have one without the other: confrontations not only between employees, but managers versus employees, and — yes — employees versus customers. This unpredictable multi-dimension is what makes managing in these types of businesses such a formidable undertaking. Respect is often in short supply. Employees often feel diminished on so many fronts.
Many people look down upon retail and service workers, and treat them as the help, as it were. Some smug sorts couldn't conceive of coaching and mentoring's tools and techniques applied in such rough-and-tumble business environments. But, as we've carefully laid out in this chapter, coaching and mentoring not only belong in retail and service businesses, but could supply a necessary uplift for countless disheartened employees and many battle-weary customers, too.