Common Business Questions

What to do when employee interactions are driving away customers

Janet Harte
Small Business Development Center

Q: I think my employees are driving away customers. How can I make them change?
A: The fact is, you can’t really make your employees do anything and achieve the best results. You can, however, influence their behavior to improve customer service.

Q: How do I go about influencing their behavior?
A: It starts with you. In a small business, your commitment and attitude reflects on the entire business and employees learn quickly. What makes good customer service is your attitude toward customers. You can spend a lot of money attracting customers. However, once you get them, you and your employees determine whether or not they’ll be satisfied and return.
Q: How do I ensure my employees treat customers the way I want them to?
A: Model the behavior you expect from your employees. Think of them as members of your own special team. Every strong team has a leader who defines expectations and results. Communicate your expectations by sharing your philosophy about how to work with customers and providing clear policies and standards for interacting with them.
Q: I already have given them job descriptions that tell them what to do. What else should I cover?
A: Written job descriptions give employees clear guidance on the work they are to perform. However, they also need to know how to prioritize that work when it conflicts with meeting customer needs. For example, they should be able to decide if they continue to stock shelves or help a customer load a purchase. Empower them to make decisions that result in customer satisfaction within guidelines you have established.
Q: What else do I need to know?
A: Employees need to be accountable for their behavior and they need to know specifically what you expect. The job description lets them know what you want accomplished. Performance standards let them know the level of quality and what behavior is expected. If you want a customer-focused business, include behavior-related performance measures in the standards for every job. Think of the behaviors you want to reinforce when the employees are performing their jobs. For example, it’s one thing to ring in a purchase on the cash register; it’s another thing to do it with a smile.
Q: If I need help, is training available?
A: If there are limits to what you can train on-the-job, invest in customer service training through your local community college. Classes may be available on general customer service topics or you can ask for a customized program.
Q: So all I have to do is teach employees what behavior I want them to change and they will do it?
A: If you commit to high standards of service quality performance and train your employees, you are on your way to achieving a customer-focused business. Just make sure you recognize positive changes in performance and reward it appropriately. Create a continuous feedback loop with your employees so you know when they need help and when they are successful. Stay close to your customers and your employees and you will be able to meet the needs of both.

Janet Harte is the Washington State University/SBDC center director and business development specialist for Southwest Washington. Call 260-6372 if you have questions or wish to make an appointment or e-mail harte@vancouver.wsu.edu.

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