Support Your Staff

Order Reprints

Most likely, there is not a single person reading this that hasn’t dealt with an angry customer. The industry you’ve chosen lends itself to this type of interaction—people thinking you’re ripping them off, blaming you for a faulty repair (even though you’ve never even seen the vehicle) and outrage at a price that, in their words, is “robbing them blind.” 

There’s no getting around it, it’s part of the territory. For as long as there are cars to fix, there will be angry customers. This article is not about handling those situations or cutting down on those events, it’s about the impact these interactions can have on your employees. 

According to a new study, led by the UBC Sauder School of Business in collaboration with UBC-Okanagan Faculty of Management, the University of Illinois and the University of Queensland in Australia, customer conflict is a major contributing factor when it comes to employees leaving their jobs. The study, Unpacking the Relationship Between Customer (In)Justice and Employee Turnover Outcomes: Can Fair Supervisor Treatment Reduce Employees’ Emotional Turmoil, involved 420 retail workers and 363 restaurant workers in the Philippines and 940 call center employees in Canada, found that even when controlling for other factors (such as low pay, long hours, poor working conditions), there was a significant correlation between customer mistreatment and the rate at which employees quit. 

That statistic may seem daunting, since, as stated, this is an industry where customers tend to always be unsatisfied—no matter how great the service—but the study also found that the way supervisors react to their staff in these situations makes a big difference when it comes to employee retention.

“Whether you quit isn’t just about the customer, it’s what’s called an interaction effect—that is, the customer mistreatment is buffered when the manager treats you fairly,” Daniel Skarlicki, study co-author and UBC Sauder School of Business professor, said in a release on the findings. “So if you get berated by a customer and your boss says, ‘That’s disrespectful, I’m going to support you,’ it reduces the effect of that customer mistreatment.”   

Skarlicki discusses the study and what employers should take from it with Ratchet+Wrench.  

What was the purpose behind this study? 

We know that people who are serving customers can experience mistreatment—like yelling or demanding or demeaning, which is very stressful and, in some cases, especially if they’re treated with a lack of dignity and respect, can end up taking a toll. Treatment like this impacts emotions and sense of worth. People will stay up at night thinking about it. Eventually, it starts to build up and they’ll start to look for another job because they want to make themselves whole again. 

Why do small business owners need to pay attention to these findings? 

These findings are important to pay attention to because one person leaving you can have a huge impact. In the automotive world, customers come in and want to see the same person over and over again.  Most studies look into how companies deal with employees in terms of pay and working conditions, we wanted to see how customer treatment can trigger turnover. We tend to think about competition between shop owners for customers, but there’s also competition for employees. Employees believe that if they quit a shop, they’ll get treated better and feel more value somewhere else. This is especially important for shop owners to pay attention to because many customers will follow an employee, so losing an employee can also lose you a customer. 

If an employee is mistreated by a customer, what can an employer do to make sure he or she stays? 

The way employees are treated is a competitive advantage. Shop owners need to remember that it’s not about whether or not you treat your employees with dignity and respect, it’s about whether or not they perceive this to be the case. A lot of shop owners think they are doing better than they are. 

Can you describe what doing this well would look like? 

If a customer verbally attacks an employee, the employer has a few options. The first is before the situation even happens to let him or her know that there is a policy that allows them to get the boss in a situation where he or she feels uncomfortable with a customer. 

The second, if an employer witnesses the mistreatment, he or she can step in and basically let the upset customer know that you’re very sorry, but that kind of abuse is not tolerated. Afterward, as a leader, you should pull the employee into their office and let the employee know that you are proud of them for how they handled the situation and offer them coaching for next time. 

If you didn’t see it happen but hear about it, either through the grapevine or the employee him or herself lets you know, sit with them and ask them to tell you about the situation. Give them a chance to talk about it, don’t just tell them what to do. Let the employee talk about it, share their experience and then you can provide suggestions. 


Related Articles

Protect Your Staff—and Wallet

Get Your Staff Addicted to Their Work

Training Your Staff Through Everyday Leadership

You must login or register in order to post a comment.