“Tea Time” Tempers and Customer Service

Again, I learn so much about customer service by watching the workings of drive-through window employees.  See, I do this odd thing in the South:  I order my iced tea unsweet.  This order comes with a certain degree of risk. On  any given day, there is a great chance that my unsweetened tea will be decidedly sweet.  Southerners just don’t get “ugly” refreshments.  Over the years, I’ve learned to prepare for this mistake.  I enunciate clearly into the squawk box, remind the cashier at window #1 of the “UN” status, and then take a sip to check for sugar before I pull away from window #2.  I keep a running score in my head, and it seems that on any given day, there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll get slipped the sweet stuff with my order.

Because mistakes are made so often, I’ve come up with my own way of dealing with it.  I decided a long time ago to keep my attitude positive when returning what my kids  call the  “poisoned” cups.  I am determined and practiced at always being  polite, even apologetic, when saying, “Oops!  This is sweet; I ordered unsweetened.”,

What is amazing to watch is how the window people handle their own mistakes—or those of their co-workers.  Usually, they are apologetic, friendly, quick to replace the offending glass. But about 25% of the time, the worker cops an attitude. Here are some examples of the bad attitudes these employees show me:

  • They gruffly grab the product, dump it out unceremoniously, and hand me a new drink, all without saying a word.
  • They turn and vetch, in front of me, at the co-worker responsible for the mistake.
  • They say something nasty about the co-worker to me.  “He’s an idiot.”  “She’s new.”
  • They roll their eyes.
  • They tell me it’s my fault, for not speaking clearly into the microphone when I ordered.
  • They tell me that no, I actually ordered my tea sweetTea Time Text

Of course, it’s not much different in any of our businesses.  Think about your front line employees:  the receptionists, secretaries, salespersons, product reps, and service callers.  How do they handle mistakes and stress?  What kind of attitude do the faces of your company present to your clientele?  In a perfect world, they are upbeat and  positive, and communicate a “the customer is always right” attitude.  But in reality, some of us have days when we snarl and snap.

And in a customer-service oriented business, this is never okay.  Attitude is everything.  Attitude is image.  Attitude can make or break a customer-company relationship.

Don’t forget that turning the phone lines over to a good, reliable, pleasant answering service for a short while can ease the stress and allow you or a staff member to re-group.  Your clients will be served by caring, competent voices with upbeat attitudes while your staff member is taking a moment to remember the joy. Give it a try and see if morale and attitude in general improves.

In the meantime, we’ll keep the dialogue about attitude going in this blog for a few weeks.  Let me know how it’s going with you.

Challenge:  Ask your staff to monitor themselves, risk-free, for one week.  You do it, too.  How consistent is your company’s positive attitude? 

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