One Employee Will Kill Your Business and You Won’t Even Know It When it Happens.

The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour. Japanese proverb.

According to a study conducted by the Rockefeller Corporation of Pittsburgh, 68% of customers stop doing business with a company because of an attitude of indifference by an owner, manager or some employee. Now do you really think that an owner or manager would not care about their customers? You can almost take for granted that they “get it.” So who is left? And the statistic does not say “some employees.” It’s just one. To the customer, just one employee IS the company. And that one employee could cost your business big.

Just before Christmas 2011, a security video of a FedEx driver nonchalantly dropping a computer monitor over a fence went viral on YouTube with over 2 million views in 48 hours. Today it has over 9.4 million views.

In 2012, a picture of Pink Fat Ladya Papa John’s receipt with its racial slur was retweeted 25,000 times in two hours. And in October, 2014 a similar incident happened at a Pizza Hut. These incidents generated huge press coverage for the wrong reasons for their brands and prompted apologies from the C-level of both companies.

Leadership development speaker Mark Sanborn posted in his blog about being told that to catch an earlier flight but with a downgrade from first class to coach, it still would cost him an additional $75. It didn’t matter that he was a United 1K Elite traveler flying over 2 million miles with United.

People Skills Coach Kate Nasser posted in her Smart SensAbilities blog about her confrontation with Karen, the manager at the Hilton Garden Inn in Eagan. When Ms. Nasser went down to catch the cab that would take her to her appointment, the cab driver asked for her room number. Of course, she didn’t want to give it to a complete stranger. So she asked the cab driver to come back into the hotel so that they could confirm her cab reservation. Ms. Nasser explains to Karen at the front desk that she did not want to give out her room number and could Karen confirm to the cab driver that she was the client for the reserved cab. Here’s the rest of that conversation:

Karen to the cab driver: “Her room number is 210.”
Ms. Nasser: “Excuse me, you just gave my room number to this man.”
Karen:  “The cab company requires it.”
Ms. Nasser, “You just gave this man my room number.”
Karen: “Nothing has ever happened.”
Ms. Nasser: “You just gave out my room number. How are you going to fix this?”
Karen: “Are you going to argue with me or are you going to get in the cab?”

Nick Meiers posted on his Essential Hospitality blog about this conversation he overheard in a restaurant:
Guest:  “How is the rib-eye?”
Server: “I’m not sure, I’ve never eaten here. You know how it is, you don’t want to be at work when you’re not working!”

I am convinced that in each of these incidents, these employees didn’t see anything wrong to act indifferently to the customer as they did. And here is the “killer” part.  In each of these cases, their manager or owner had no clue that these employees did what they did. Of course, the owner or manager would have handled the situations differently. But they weren’t there. At that moment, the reputation of the brand was in the hands of the one employee who was. And in each case, with the amplification by social media, the brand lost big time.

So what can you do to make sure you don’t have even one of these business-killing employees?


  • Define customer service expectations during the onboarding process. Include customer service standards in each job description. Create and review your customer service manifesto with each new hire.
  • Use these poor customer service examples and those you read or hear about to remind your team of how the actions of just one employee can damage the business and brand. Discuss proper responses in handling similar situations that could arise in your business.
  • Take immediate disciplinary action when an employee displays rude behavior to a customer.
  • Share customer feedback, good and bad, regularly with your team. Involve your employees in defining alternative responses in handling the situations that generated negative customer comments.
  • Motivate your team continuously with daily huddles to keep focused on delivering exceptional customer service.
  • Constantly ask your employees  if there are any incidents or questions that need to be resolved today so they can be better equipped to handle them in the future.
  • Empower your employees to bend the rules to take care of your customers.
  • Reward, recognize and celebrate the random acts of kindnesses that individual employees offer your customers.
  • Serve as a role model to your employees when interacting with your customers directly.

When you do this you will keep every one of your employees involved, engaged and committed in only offering the kind of “killer” service for which you DO want to be recognized.


Filed under Customer Service

8 responses to “One Employee Will Kill Your Business and You Won’t Even Know It When it Happens.

  1. I empathize with every word, Bill! I have boycotted businesses since high school based on one rude sales associate. Intellectually, I’ve always known it is one person at a big company [all well known brand names today] but for some reason, I keep every insult, putdown or slight in memory and I won’t give these places a cent of my business. Fortunately, we live in a country and I, in a city with many choices. The Internet amplifies our options.

    I admire a business with a culture that doesn’t permit snippy, mean-spirited people. It’s so very difficult to trust a branch or a department or just a counter to someone who can spoil the shopping experience for many in a single day. Here’s to customers who complain! Without them such sales-spoilers could rot the bottom lines of hundreds of stores.

    I heard a radio interview many years ago where a woman said, “If you want happy employees, hire them.” She went on to note that no amount of elevator music or hand cream in the WC or other perks will convert a sourball person to a smiling one.

    • “Customers perceive service in their own unique, idiosyncratic, emotional, irrational, end-of-the-day, and totally human terms. Perception is all there is.” Tom Peters

      I am the same way. I lived near a McDonald’s, one of only two fast food restaurants in town. One day I drove up to the drivethrough at 11 a.m. I’m listening to the radio and I’m hearing the 11 o clock news. There’s a temporary sign written with a Sharpie that reads “Intercom broken. Please drive to the first window.” So I drive up and when the attendant asks what I want to order, I say “Big Mac Value Meal, please”. (I’m not much of a salad guy for them.) And she responds, “I’m sorry we’re not serving lunch until 11 a.m. I look at my watch and then look at her. And she tells me, “The clock in here is 10 minutes until 11 a.m. We’re not serving lunch until 11 a.m.” She wasn’t rude, just matter of fact, but what do I do? Of course, I drive away. And ever since then, I don’t care if I have to use the restroom, I’m not giving that McDonald’s any kind of my business. That’s got to be more than 8 years now and I have yet to step into that McDonald’s. The customer service lesson I learned from that? Ever since then, I made sure any shop or restaurant in a hotel I managed opened 10 minutes earlier and stayed open ten minutes later than our posted times.

      Couldn’t agree more with the advice from that radio interview. Recently I heard Guy Kawasaki in an interview say, “”Anybody who thinks you shouldn’t smile in business is a loser.”

      Thank you, Jeanne, for sharing your comments.

  2. ‘Guest: “How is the rib-eye?”
    Server: “I’m not sure, I’ve never eaten here. You know how it is, you don’t want to be at work when you’re not working!”’

    I don’t find this offensive, but candid and natural. I suppose it cd have been said in an off-putting way, but generally I’d give points to a business that doesn’t force its employees to spout predictable corporate pap.

    • Christopher, I agree that it was a candid, sincere response to the question. I also agree managers should not require rubber-stamped mandatory scripts for employees. As backstory, most restaurants have a pre-shift huddle where the servers actually taste the feature or the entrees on a cycle basis. So even if a server doesn’t like fish, she hears the chef’s explanation of its preparation and gets helpful feedback from those who do taste it. I don’t see the rib-eye comment as a fault of the server as much as I do the fault of the manager to educate the team on the menu.

      As a resort general manager, I would tell the staff to understand that “the customer is paying for his experience, not ours.” Since the customer is paying for his experience, it’s not whether or not the server likes beef or fish; it’s whether or not the patron would enjoy more the dining experience based on the servers’ recommendations. The customers’ perception is that the servers should know the menu better than anyone else since they work there. So servers should be prepared to answer the customers’ questions about any menu item. It always costs a lot less for people to eat at home. They choose to go to restaurants because they feel that the value of the experience will be much more than the cost of the meal. We would not want a “you don’t want to be at work when you’re not working” response of the servers to detract from the overall dining experience. It might lead the customer to think, “Well, if YOU don’t want to be here when you’re not working, then why should I be here when I’m not working?”

      At the same time, I encouraged the staff to know that the chef was available to take such opportunities to come out and converse with the table. The chef would let the patrons know how it was prepared and after the meal, would stop by to see if they enjoyed the meal. Of course, you have to have the right chef, but in the resort business, probably more so than the free standing restaurant business, the executive chefs I served with were more than happy to come out to the tables to share their expertise. They understood that their presence in the dining room was a statement to the patrons that they not only put out food but as importantly, cared about the customers’ feedback. The customers’ perception of the dining experience: PRICELESS.

  3. Excellent post, Bill. You could probably go on and on about what businesses could do to prevent those horrible incidents from happening, but the bottom line is those employees just didn’t care enough about their jobs, their customers, or the companies they worked for.

    • Jeff, couldn’t agree with you more. I feel, in all those cases, and I think you would agree, “the fish stinks from the head down.” Managers who don’t care about their employees have employees who could care less about their customers. I rarely see poor service given by customer care staff when the manager is passionate about first taking care of his/her employees.

  4. Pingback: Don’t expect C-level execs to get the value of customer service | BILL QUISENG | Deliver the World's Best Customer Experience

  5. Pingback: Becoming a Company that Cares | PeopleMetrics

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