What can I do about my employee’s poor customer service skills?

What can I do about my employee's poor customer service skills?

Dear Aunty B,

At one of our locations, there are five front-line staff who regularly operate a roster that covers our 7 days a week business.

One of them is seen as a real sour puss, and it’s true, she’s not a naturally smiley person, which isn’t good for a customer service position. Worse still, there have been written complaints about her online and by email.

We’ve dealt with that, but in doing so, her perception is that she’s not liked by her colleagues and that she’s the one who’s left out of being told about operational matters. Her colleagues, however, claim she’s not a team player and that she organises operational matters without reference to anyone else, and worse, at inopportune times.

I don’t want to run the risk that she could claim she’s working in a hostile environment, while their current manager is on long service leave, with duty managers operating in his absence (they’re part of the five).

I want to scream but that won’t help.

How best to remind them about being professional in their dealings with each other, human nature being what it is?




Dear Weary,

You need to address this before it spirals out of control! With any behavioural problem it is all about perception. It also appears that your focus is solely on “sourpuss” and yet the sourpuss claims to be left out. It sounds to me like you need to reset standards for all concerned.

I checked in with SmartCompany HR expert Martin Nally, founder and managing director of hranywhere, who says consistency is key here.

He recommends asking the sourpuss to meet with you somewhere neutral.

Advise her that you would like a catch up in order to see a way forward. You can even advise that you are going to have conversations with each team member just to reiterate standards of expected behaviour on a consistent basis.

Nally says you need to be what is called ASK assertive. Ask her questions such as:

  • How are things at the moment? Wait for her response. Silence is truly golden in these clutch moments. So please don’t be uncomfortable with silence.
  • Do you have any lingering concerns about our recent discussions? Wait for her response. Listen and take her lead. Prompt or probe if necessary if she raises some new area.
  • Is there anything else that you need me to be aware of that is troubling you? Wait for her response.

We are really trying to determine the root cause of the behaviour. There may be some seemingly small issue that can be addressed which can make a world of difference. Be aware that some item may arise that you do not expect. Now reflect on what was said and advise her you would like to give her some feedback.

When it comes to giving feedback Nally advises using the ‘sandwich’ feedback model:

  1. Start by saying you value her experience and knowledge of the company.
  2. Advise that there are some matters we need to address. Be specific.

e.g.: It appears some times that you are impatient with customers. That’s not good for the team. Not good for the customer and not good for sour puss. I need you to work on this and I can offer help and support if required.

Then reiterate that she is a valued member and that you will support her to lift her performance. You expect her to use that knowledge to provide great solutions.

You can again ask: Does this make sense?

Wait for her response.

Ask her to summarise.

  • Can you recap what we have discussed today and what we have agreed?

 Wait for her response.

Offer a commitment: To be consistent I will be having similar meetings with all the team. Then we will all get together and talk about the past 12 months. We will discuss

  • WWW  (what went well)
  • EBI (even better if)

Finish by saying you do value her contribution. There are some areas you can improve and you look forward to her focus on solving customer concerns. Sandwich in short form!

Will this magically fix the issues?    

Sadly, Nally says no. But it does give you a solid platform to begin. Then if improvement does not occur you really need to commence a performance plan process with potentially dire consequences.

Remember in these situations the maxim “what you accept you approve” is particularly relevant.  Doing nothing is not an option.

Be Smart,

Your Aunty B

Aunty B is on leave today, but she will be back soon with fresh advice for your business.

Email your questions, problems and issues to  [email protected] right now!
This article first appeared on August 26th, 2014.


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