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Balancing Customer and Employee Happiness

Posted by Kate Seat on 9/11/15 12:00 AM
Topics: college store customer service, student employees

No matter who coined the phrase, we're living in an era of retail where "the customer is always right" seems to be the prevailing motto for many businesses. Should this always be the case, though? What if this policy jeopardizes another equally important resource: your employees? The following excerpt recommends striking a balance between giving in and standing your ground.

(Also be sure to check out the full post and author Suzanne Lucas' excellent Evil HR Lady blog for even more insights.)

We all know that the customer is often wrong.

They demand things that violate policy. They treat employees that didn't make the policies horribly. They are huge pains in the rear end for oh, so many things. However, without the customers, we have no business.

Therefore, many companies have instituted a "customer is always right" model of business. Sounds great for keeping customers happy, but it's a nightmare for the employees. The reality is, if you allow your customers to treat your employees poorly, you'll lose your best employees. You don't want that. Here's how you can make (almost) everyone happy.

Only Make Policies That You Intend to Enforce

How many times has a cashier told a customer that what she wants is not possible, only to have the manager appear, give the customer what she wanted and make the cashier look like a horrible, mean person? It happens all the time in retail. Company policy is no return on X, but the customer throws a big enough fit, and the manager allows it. This teaches the customer that being rude is the secret to success, and it teaches the employee that you'll throw her under the bus at the slightest problem.

Instead, implement the actual policy you intend to enforce. It's not that there is no return on X, it's that there's no return on X without a manager approval. Then instruct your employees to not deny the return, but to say, "that requires a manager's approval."

Now, I realize that the result of this is that everyone who wants to will be able to return X. Before it was only the jerks. That costs the business money. So, stop and think: what would you rather do? Always allow X or never allow X, even when the person is a jerk?

If you want to use specific criteria, empower your employees to use the same standards. The result is that your employees feel trusted and competent. Your customers don't have to go through layers—they quickly learn that calling up a manager only results in the same answer—and that will cut down on screaming customers. It's a winning situation.

Reward Your Employees

When an employee has to deal with a difficult client (and difficult clients exist for many reasons, not just because they are jerks that you need to fire), you need to realize that this employee is doing a difficult job. Yes, customer service is a part of every job description. That doesn't mean you don't praise someone when she does a great job.

You can reward with cash (everyone likes money), but, honestly, often the best rewards are verbal ones. "Thanks for your work today. You did an amazing job." Recognize a job well done on the spot, and recognize it later with good annual raises and appropriate promotions.

One of the best ways to balance customer demands and employee needs is to let your employees know how much you value them. If you brush off difficult tasks and interactions as "it's part of their jobs to do that.," your employees won't be willing to go the extra mile next time around. In other words, treat your employees right and they'll treat your employees right.

Have you ever noticed that companies that people hate to deal with (like CVS and Kmart) regularly top the list of the worst companies to work for? It's no wonder that companies that treat their employees poorly have employees that turn around a treat their customers badly.

How to Have Great Employees and Great Customers

Be nice to everyone. Treat everyone fairly. Don't give into bully behavior—whether it comes from Jane in accounting or Steve the customer. The result? An excellent business environment for your employees and a great company for your customers.


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