The Customer vs Employee Challenge

For many years, I felt a moral obligation to inform business owners whenever I thought they had a personnel or customer-service problem on their hands. I say moral obligation, because I have always been grateful to customers — or anyone, for that matter — who have taken the time to clue me in on any aspect of my business which they felt was not up to par.

I use the past tense here because, sadly, I rarely volunteer my observations anymore. The inherent urge to be of help to a fellow entrepreneur or business owner still resides within me. The problem, however, is that too many business owners have demonstrated that they are neither interested in, nor serious about, receiving such feedback.

A few years ago, I was doing business with a public relations firm that assigned a seemingly intelligent young lady (“Ms. Snit”) to my account. Subsequent events showed that she had it all — negligence, laziness, incompetence, and a huge chip on her shoulder. Her purported job was public relations, but her entitlement mentality caused her to focus on her technical “duties” rather than on pleasing her company’s customers.

After enduring one abysmal experience after another with her, I finally decided to go to the trouble of writing a letter to the CEO of the company, a letter in which I detailed Ms. Snit’s myriad deficiencies and belligerent attitude. I subsequently spoke to him on the phone and emphasized that I would prefer he handle the matter in a general sort of way in order to avoid hard feelings. I specifically requested that he leave my name out of his discussion with her, given that I have an aversion to meat axes.

I suggested that he simply point out some areas of weakness where he felt Ms. Snit needed some improvement. He assured me that he wouldn’t even mention my name and that he would handle things “gingerly.” I guess we had differing definitions of the word gingerly, because he not only told her straight out what I had said about her, he actually showed her my letter!

A short time later, I called Ms. Snit to inquire about an unrelated matter, whereupon she went into a tirade about how I had “defamed” her. In rare form, she demonstrated an uncanny knack for coming up with four-letter words that I didn’t even know existed.

Needless to say, from that point on she went out of her way to make things difficult for me. Worse, having been allowed to get away with her outrageous behavior, it was a green light for her to continue to treat her company’s most valued assets (its customers) with glaring contempt.

About a year later, I hired an audio/video company to do some extensive work for me, and dealt primarily with the vice president of new business development. Notwithstanding his impressive title, he never once delivered work when he promised it to me. Worse, he was unresponsive to an extreme.

I finally got so fed up with the bad service I was getting that I thought I should let the owner know about it. Since he had been the one to personally solicit my business, I knew he would be concerned about the lack of follow-through on the part of one of his top people. Here again I emphasized to him that he should handle the problem gingerly since we were only about half way through my project and I had a lot of money invested in it.

Apparently, once again, there was a wide disparity between our definitions of “gingerly.” Wham! Immediately after the owner of the company talked to him, the vice president of new business development called to let me know, in very harsh terms, that he didn’t appreciate my “going behind his back” to complain to his boss. I didn’t bother to remind him that on numerous occasions I had expressed my dissatisfaction directly to him, but it seemed not to have had any effect. Needless to say, working through the remainder of the project was a very uncomfortable undertaking for me.

Advice: If you’re a business owner, when a customer does you a favor by pointing out that one of your employees is not doing his job properly, don’t make the mistake of creating an employee-versus-customer battle. Be grateful to the customer, thank him for taking the time and trouble to tell you about his dissatisfaction, then approach the employee gingerly.
Meaning, tactfully point out the area or areas where you feel he needs improvement, but leave the specific customer out of it. Why? For at least two reasons.

First, because you can count on the employee’s having his own version of the story, and that version is almost certain to cast him as an innocent victim. Which means you then have a customer-employee debacle on your hands.

Second, if you intend to have an ongoing relationship with the customer, the offending employee is likely to act in ways that will drive him away from you by exacting retribution for his “tattling” on him.

I believe that one of the reasons so many employers make this mistake is that they tend to be naive. By and large, anyone ambitious enough to go into business for himself is usually conscientious, competent, reliable, hardworking, and customer-oriented. Where the naivety comes into play is that such business owners also tend to assume, at least subconsciously, that their employees possess the same traits.

And, fortunately, many employees do — at least the ones who are focused on getting ahead in life. However, the employees who treat customers disrespectfully are most likely to be the same employees who excel at kissing up to their bosses.

How do some employees manage to get away with this kind of charade throughout their careers? Sadly, I believe the egos of many business owners simply can’t resist the gushy verbiage of professional sycophants on their payroll. It makes them feel secure to know they are surrounded by a cadre of pit bulls who make great theater of protecting their bosses.

In fact, many bosses are addicted to the fabricated adulation of their employees. The unspoken understanding is that in exchange for treating the boss as if he were the Pope, they can count on him to stand up for the guys and gals on “his team” at all costs.

All of which sounds very noble, except for the reality that it’s simply not good business. An owner cannot serve his customers effectively if he is focused on not offending his employees.

I want to emphasize that making certain your employees are treating your customers with tender loving care does not prevent you from being respectful and loyal to those same employees. But your relationship with an employee should be based on how well he treats your most precious asset — your customers — rather than how well he treats you.

The corollary to this is that if you happen to be an employee, you should skip the sycophantism and focus your efforts on pleasing your company’s customers. You’ll get ahead much more quickly by having customers tell your boss how great you are rather than by your continually telling the boss how great he is.

Finally, if you’re an independent entrepreneur, everything is in your lap, because you are both the employee and the employer. Without customers, you have nothing. Treat them like the valuable assets they are. The only rigid policy you should have is that the customer must be satisfied at all costs.

In fact, you should look at every customer complaint as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with that customer. I’ve done this a thousand times in my career by not only apologizing and thanking the customer for letting me know about his dissatisfaction, but also by doing something special for him.

Almost without fail, it results in having a more loyal customer than one who has never registered a complaint. In other words, view a customer’s complaint as an opportunity rather than a problem.

One last piece of advice that I feel is critical: Don’t ask customers to fill out evaluation forms unless you, personally, are prepared to read them. On at least two occasions that I can think of, I was about to fill out one of those “tell us how we’re doing” forms, because I thought the owner of the company would appreciate knowing that someone in his organization was not performing up to par.

The problem? In both cases, the form was to be returned to the very person I was having a problem with! As I said, many business owners are very naive.

If you own a business — or plan to own one some day — never make this mistake. If having your customers evaluate your products and services is really important to you, make sure that customer evaluation forms are sent directly to you. Otherwise, you’re tempting the employee who reads the forms to shred the ones that don’t please him.

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Robert Ringer is a New York Times #1 bestselling author and host of the highly acclaimed Liberty Education Interview Series, which features interviews with top political, economic, and social leaders. His recently released work, Restoring the American Dream: The Defining Voice in the Movement for Liberty, is a clarion call to liberty-loving citizens to take back the country. Ringer has appeared on numerous national talk shows and has been the subject of feature articles in such major publications as Time, People, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Barron’s, and The New York Times. To sign up for his e-letter, A Voice of Sanity in an Insane World, visit]

Early to Rise Living – Healthy Eating on the Run

On Sunday, while transiting through the Houston airport on my way to Austin, Texas, I noticed a lot of people taking the easy way out with their nutrition choices in the magazine stores and at the restaurants. One professional-looking couple loaded up on Oreo cookies, Doritos, and licorice. It doesn’t matter how long your flight is, we can make better choices even in an airport. Houston, in particular, is a great airport for healthy options such as fruits, salads, and nuts.

Just because you are traveling doesn’t give you free reign to eat junk food. Calories consumed in the airport, and while you are flying through the air, still count for just the same as they do when consumed on the ground, at home, in front of the TV (where most people know better than to eat that junk).

All you need to do is plan ahead. Apples and almonds travel well for short flights. Eat a healthy meal before you travel and plan for another healthy meal when you land. You’ll have more energy and feel better when you stick to the right nutrition choices on your trips.

If you are struggling with your nutrition, I recommend The Diet Solution Program by my friend, and former coaching client, Isabel De Los Rios.

Craig Ballantyne
Early to Rise