At the Table: Don't Leave Customers Amused, Outraged

Sharon Roberts

Amused and outraged - now there’s a mixed emotion that many women are all too familiar with.

Recently, Lisa, a cheerful mother of three young children, related to me her amusing and outrageous experience when she took her one-year-old minivan to the dealership for repair. The ailment: one of the sliding doors refused to close.

As is usually the case, it seems, with highly dangerous, aggravating, and unexpected events, her husband was out of town. And naturally, she had a full slate of activities that required the minivan’s full cooperation.

When Lisa arrived for her appointment she explained the problem with the door that wouldn’t close. The service representative grasped the door handle, and the wretched door, smoothly and flawlessly, performed its purpose in life: opened and closed - again and again. Now, this is just about your worst nightmare when you’re a woman dealing with a male service representative.

Unfortunately, her memory bank is stockpiled with plenty of unpleasant experiences related to service men and technical things. Will he be understanding and helpful, or the worst case, insulting and condescending?

The service representative, Tom, selected the “You must be an idiot” card from his bag of tricks. He methodically and patronizingly explained and demonstrated how to successfully open and close the door.
Good grief, Tom, how insulting is that? (In a year’s time, Lisa had managed to successfully pull that rabbit out of the hat a few thousand times.)

Since common sense and reasoning weren’t working, as Lisa described it, she begrudgingly pulled out the card of last resort: the “husband” card. She explained this same problem had happened to her husband a few weeks ago.

Though degrading and insulting, many women have learned, when dealing with a man with this attitude, the best card in the deck - if you have any hope of being taken seriously - is the one that invokes anyone of the male species. How on earth can this still be happening in 2007?


An understanding and helpful service technician would have acknowledged the frustration and aggravation she was having with this vexing, intermittent problem door. He would have immediately assured her it was his highest priority to solve the mystery and make this right for her.

So where’s the hottest spot for the greatest impact with clients? It’s with the front-line people who connect - or disconnect - with clients every day. They provide immediate opportunity for soaring success or catastrophic failure.

Why would Tom be insulting and condescending to women clients? I suppose it’s possible that Tom thinks he’s being helpful. On the other hand, some people get a real charge out of trying to make people feel small. In a twisted way, it makes them feel powerful. People with this attitude are very bad for your business.

Does Tom’s manager know how he’s behaving with women clients? If he does, what is he doing about it? Some women take the time to notify the managers when they encounter insulting behavior, but most find it was a waste of time. The responses include, “He does a good job for us,” “Sorry for the misunderstanding,” “You should have …”


Recently an owner told me he wanted to get as many of his people as possible fully on board with the vision of the company, which was to become an exceptional service company that delighted its customers at every point of contact. I was curious about those exceptions, so I asked him about that. He clarified that it was unreasonable to expect everyone to be fully on board. And, he said he had a different expectation for the service technicians.

It seems he and the service and installation managers had a firm belief that it was unreasonable to expect that technical people could possess high customer service skills. And, with that hiring standard in play, imagine what they were snagging. The techs aren’t crazy about customers and don’t think a bit better of co-workers. Now, with those differing expectations and levels of tolerance, there’s a recipe for conflict.

It’s not good for business inside or outside the company. Good employees tend to leave the company and those that remain aren’t likely to brag about it being a great place to put your trust for taking care of your home comfort needs.

In stark contrast, the leaders of great companies have extremely high standards and they don’t compromise on their expectations, for anyone, certainly not for those who will be directly connecting with the customers in their homes. They know that people who highly value and respect customers can - and do - also have strong technical skills. And, they get what they expect.

These leaders provide in-house training of all new staff, including mentoring by senior field people. They are exemplars, constantly open to learning. And, whom do they learn from? Among others, they love to share the powerful lessons they learn from co-workers, and it’s reciprocal.

No wonder there is such energy and vitality in these companies. It’s very good for business, both inside and out. That growth is powered by joyful clients, including suppliers - and they certainly know who to choose.

Many of these joyful clients are women. Women are very loyal clients and they love to refer their friends and families to great companies. Now the mighty women’s network multiplier effect is in full swing. As I mention over and over, never forget this business-building fact: Women do not gossip, they advertise!

Publication Date: 12/10/2007

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