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Indoctrinate Employees In Culture of Customer Service

Employment lawyers have the opportunity to hear many employers’ complaints about the performance and conduct of their employees. Often in the context of building a case for just cause (for summary dismissal), poor treatment of customers is a frequent topic of discussion.
 
Customer service is, of course, the window through which customers view a company. Not surprisingly, poor service is one of the chief complaints of customers. It comes in all shapes and sizes and can sour a relationship to the point where the customer moves on to obtain goods or services elsewhere.
 
A recent study reported that half of all shoppers polled report multiple customer service problems during any given shopping trip. In my own experience, there are three versions of poor customer service which are particularly likely to jeopardize the relationship.
 
The first involves the employee blaming the customer for whatever the issue happens to be. To be sure, there are occasions when the customer is at fault. But it’s the tendency to jump to the conclusion that the customer has done something incorrectly that can be particularly aggravating.
 
I recall getting on an aircraft in Victoria a few years ago, having earlier checked in and received my ticket. As I boarded, I showed my ticket to the flight attendant. 
 
She frowned and told me there was no seat for me (it seems that two tickets had been issued with the same seat number). That was irritating in and of itself but it’s what happened next that really left a bad taste. 
 
She started to say, “The problem is that you…”. Quickly sensing where this was going, I cut her off and emphasized that I had done nothing other than walk up to the airline’s check in counter and receive a ticket. It was their job, not mine, to ensure that the ticket I received had a valid seat number.
 
That’s an example of the employee attempting, inappropriately, to off-load responsibility onto the customer. In my book, that’s a definite customer service defect. 
 
It’s amazing how these unpleasant encounters stick in the memory of the consumer. I can’t remember why I was in Victoria on that occasion or anything else about the trip, but I clearly recall the episode with the flight attendant.
 
My second grievance involves the employee, rather than taking responsibility for a problem, simply handing the customer off to someone else. It happens to me all the time in department stores in particular. I also had a recent experience to that effect here in Kelowna.
 
We had been having ongoing problems getting an expensive job completed properly in our home. I was working slowly through the process of attempting to get the problem fixed. Just getting in contact with the company’s representatives by telephone was a challenge.
 
When I finally reached a representative of the business to explain one particular portion of the problem, the response I got was, “Oh, that’s for Jack to take care of”. Rather than assuring me he would promptly track down Jack to have him take care of the issue, he left it in my hands to locate the other employee and achieve the desired resolution.
 
What that told me was that the employee considered his own time to be more valuable than mine. That is also a definite customer service flaw, in my view.
 
The third thing that I experience time and time again is employees who simply don’t take their customers’ issues seriously. In the face of unsatisfied customers, they take a blasé approach and brush off customer concerns.
 
It’s one thing to calmly assure your customers that their issue will be addressed. It is another thing to demonstrate total apathy about the problem.
 
The way for companies to overcome these issues is through training and indoctrination of employees. The basics of customer service can be trained - even the most ill-mannered person can be taught how to deal civilly and respectfully with the clients of the business.
 
The indoctrination element relates to making the employees feel a part of the company’s culture as it relates to customer service. It’s about teaching employees that every contact they have with a client makes up the totality of how the company is viewed by the general public. One Canadian airline (not the one I had the encounter with in Victoria) seems to have done an extremely good job of this.
 
The truth is that many customers will stick with a company which has only average products if only they are treated well and provided with effective service. The entire fast-food business, for example, has survived on the strength of the premise that fair-to-middling food can be sold to people who value service and speed.
 
The ones which have been highly successful have demonstrated an understanding that repetitive training and indoctrination are the keys to consistently good customer service. That can result in employees who demonstrate great customer service by saying things like, “Mr. Smithson, we’ll address that right away and I’m going to personally ensure it’s done to your satisfaction.”
 

 
 
Robert Smithson is a partner at Pushor Mitchell LLP in Kelowna practicing exclusively in the area of labour and employment law. For more information about his practice, log on to http://www.pushormitchell.com/.