It’s funny when I know there is a blog post coming up about Customer Service, the Universe seems to present me with a variety of examples.
Rather than tell you about the extremely rude behavior that I experienced at a big box store regarding curbside options, which drove me to a store where I paid more just to get good service and ask a few simple questions, I’ll tell you instead a story from a colleague.
The setting of this story is a library, but it could be anywhere. A staff person had a difficult interaction with a customer and was angry and upset about what happened. And it became a problem. The staff person said “I don’t like that woman at all. Every time she comes in here, when I’m working at the desk, I give her the stink-eye. I make sure that she knows she is not welcome here and she’s not going to get any service from me! I will not help her and I don’t want her here.”
Um… ouch. (I know that is not very eloquent, but it’s the best I can do while my mouth is hanging open.) Where should we start with this one?
Let’s put ourselves in this staff person’s shoes first… we’ve ALL had bad customers. Mean ones, rude ones, sharp ones, forgetful ones, angry ones, odd ones… along with all the wonderful customers. Most of us have never had the luxury (or even considered that it was possible?) to give a customer the “stink-eye” and refuse to wait on her. But this staff person decided that was her prerogative and this was her course of action.
Let’s put ourselves in a Management role. First, we may not know this is even happening, unless the staff person, the customer, or other staff tell us. But once we know… how would you handle this? Imagine that this is happening at the front desk of your Recreation Center and a staff person is glaring at a person coming in for yoga class… or refusing to assist a parent bringing a child for summer camp registration. Imagine this is happening at your swimming pool desk or the service area at the State Park.
Now, the missing puzzle piece is, we do not know what this customer did to make the staff person so upset. But either way, we cannot have our staff behaving this way. How do we convey and train – and enforce – that every customer must be treated fairly and with respect – even when they do not return it to us. Staff on the front line are there to serve whoever needs service to the best of their ability. They are being paid for that job, they are expected to perform it, and are not ethically or personally allowed to decide who they choose to help or not help.
Likewise, this type of behavior trickles to other customers and can affect funding – especially if you’re a tax based entity. Unless the customer is breaking the code of conduct or behavior policy and management has to get involved, that person is still to be served.
Tricky? Absolutely. Especially if you do not have a Code of Conduct (or Customer Service Standards, Civility Standards, etc) that explain behavior for both customers and staff. What levels of respect and courtesy are expected – from both staff and patrons? Can you ask a customer to leave your facility if they break these standards – yes – and can you discipline a staff person if they break the standards – yes.
Without them, it is much harder to illustrate expected behaviors, outline consequences, administer these guidelines, and get everyone on the same page.
Back to the staff person… while she is on the clock and working in your facility, this is not acceptable behavior. The fact that she thinks it’s her choice to behave this way – and she has the nerve to do so – speaks to her character and may mean this is not someone you wish to have on your staff. No one wants customers to be rude or have conflict with a staff person, and we must support and train our staff on how to successfully work through those interactions. This one, for me, crosses a line. I hope you’ll use this as a thought provoking exercise for yourself and give it some thought. How would you handle this? Or toss it to your managers at your staff next meeting and ask for open dialogue. What needs to be brought out into the open, discussed, explained, written or trained to help everyone have a positive work environment and not let a situation like this occur? It’s a step in the right direction!