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Stop the trash talk: Don’t let rude employees affect customer relations

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in Your Office Coach

Question: “I manage the gift shop at a beautiful, historic winery. Although this is a wonderful place to work, we do encounter customers with a variety of challenging personalities. I have several employees who complain about how stupid customers are and what dumb questions they ask. Since we don't work in a bubble, I'm sure customers sometimes overhear these comments. I’ve tried asking everyone to be more positive, but negativity spreads like a disease. How do I stop this catty chatter?” — Frustrated in Wisconsin

Marie’s Answer: It’s one thing to relieve job stress by sharing customer stories, but quite another to trash the very people who provide your livelihood. As a manager, you must help employees understand the difference. Here are a few suggestions:

•    Encourage empathy by having employees recall their own interactions with haughty salespeople and ask how it affected them. Emphasize that successful salespeople approach everyone with an attitude of respect and helpfulness.

•    Acknowledge that while it’s OK to share frustrations about difficult customers, they must not do so on the sales floor. Gripe sessions should be confined to the break room. 

•    When you hear negative remarks, immediately ask the offenders to step into the back, and then remind them of the rules. If some employees are unable or unwilling to change their behavior, then you need to let them go. People who insult customers have no business working in sales.

•    When you hire new employees, clearly communicate customer service standards on their first day of work. Establishing expectations up front will help to shape their behavior in the desired direction.

In a winery, less sophisticated shoppers often feel ill-at-ease. Unless employees make them feel
comfortable, they may quickly depart without buying anything.

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