“I worked in a customer service role for several years and we had to deal with some really unhappy folks on a daily basis. Part of the job involved documenting customer files after a phone call. After a particularly nasty exchange with one gentleman who wasn’t even a customer, during which he was verbally abusive and generally difficult to deal with, I noted the file that I had terminated the conversation because I wasn’t his punching bag. It was a rookie move, but I felt justified in hanging up on him because of the man’s overtly combative and uncooperative attitude.
A few days later, my manager left a printed copy of the file note on my keyboard with his own comment written across the paper: ‘Let’s discuss’. My supervisor and I met with my manager in his office where I told him about what happened and why I took the course of action that I did. He basically explained that taking abuse from customers was part of the job and that we were, indeed, their punching bags. I felt completely unsupported. I wondered what line an angry customer would have to cross for my manager to say that I didn’t have to take it. Managers are supposed to have their employees’ backs, aren’t they?
Alright, leaders I’m going to say something and I want you to repeat after me: Employees are our first customers. We take care of our employees first so they can take care of our customers. Every leader needs to have this written on a placard and displayed in their office so they can read it, foster it, and live it every day.
Employees are not your customers’ punching bags. You need to understand that employees are not pieces of machinery built to fulfill organizational goals. They are human beings and they are susceptible to the various stresses of their jobs. Of course certain jobs, by their nature, carry greater levels of stress – customer service roles being one of them – but that by no means relegates employees in those positions to human punching bags. Job stress is a major factor in employees’ levels of disengagement. It is a manager’s job to coach and help his team navigate the difficulties they face on a day to day basis. Telling an employee that she or he simply has to suck it up and deal with whatever abuses your customers feel like throwing at them will result in overall engagement levels tanking, average customer experience suffering, and financial results taking a hit as well. Think of your employees as the lifeblood of your organization; they need to be engaged through a healthy flow. Leaders, you control that flow through your words and actions.
Here’s what a good leader would have done in this situation. She would have reflected on what it was like to work in her first customer service job and how it felt to be berated by a nasty customer. She would use empathy to put herself in her employee’s shoes. Then, when meeting with the employee, the manager would open up about her experiences and share some techniques for handling difficult customer situations that she learned over the years. Through coaching and positive reinforcement, the employee would come away with the tools needed to confidently and tactfully respond the next time a customer tries to treat him like a punching bag. But the most critical part of the conversation should be the manager’s assurance that her employees should never feel abused…and that she will always be on her employees’ side if they ever do.
What do you think? Have you ever been in a situation when you did not feel that your boss had your back? What about a time that your manager demonstrated great leadership and went to bat for you?