Have you ever noticed what employees say in front of customers? Let’s take retail stores as an example. I’d guess nearly half of all the retail experiences I have include employees talking about something you don’t want customers hearing, or talking in a way that is negative, excludes or ignores customers.

I do give Starbucks credit for hiring people that are friendly, yes, hiring. You can’t train people to be friendly. Yes, you can emphasize it, but you have to start with a person who at least leans in the kind/friendly direction. As I’m sitting here in Starbucks I am laughing about the employees talking about the quality of the pastries in their case (going stale), but worse, they are talking about which stores are infested with insects and they themselves would avoid at all costs. Perhaps they feel okay saying this because there are only two of us within ear shot and we both have headphones on, but I can hear over the music on my iPod. Oh man, they are talking about insect problems at stores that serve food. Gross.

More often you might encounter employees who would rather talk to each other than to you–even when they are serving you. I just smile and say thank you. I know how hard retail jobs are and I’m glad the coworkers like each other, but I wish for something more as a customer.

Back to Starbucks. I do love the really friendly baristas. There is one at my local Starbucks (Where there are star sightings–I live near Hollywood now.) who always says, “Have a lovely day,” or something like that. She is really peppy, genuine and friendly every time I see her. I love that.

Question for you: what do your customers overhear your employees talking about? Can they hear negative conversations going on while they are on the phone with your company? Or, are they still finishing a sentence with a coworker when they take the next phone call? How do you know? Walk around the office and be open to what you hear. Can your customers read about negative employee comments on the internet?

Here are two basics to help you avoid the above issues:

  1. Hire for attitude, train for skills. Meaning, if you need a really friendly staff to answer the phone, hire people who are naturally upbeat and friendly. It’s tough to train folks to smile on the phone.
  2. Make a real effort to keep your employee engaged. Not sure how? Read the book, “First, Break All the Rules,” for a 12-step process that works like a charm. (My next blog is going to address some of these points, so wait, and then scroll up.) Engaged employees will make a real effort to represent your company in the best way.