Training & Development

Quint column: Don’t throw co-workers under the bus

Quint Studer at the public input sessions for the future Studer Community Institute building. Credit: Barrett McClean.

It seems like each time I write a column related to customer service, people are kind enough to send examples and questions about how to handle specific situations a little better. I’m grateful for the feedback.

The most interesting question I received this week was about not throwing co-workers “under the bus.” In other words, not making yourself look good at someone else’s expense.

How do you solve a customer issue without making the employee look bad? First, people at different levels in an organization have more authority to help provide service recovery. For example, if a customer feels a restaurant meal is overcooked, the wait staff typically takes it back and the chef cooks a new meal, which satisfies the customer.

However, because the person with the overdone meal receives their meal much later than the other guests at the table, the customer shares their frustration with getting an overcooked meal with the wait staff and may ask to not pay for that dish.  Unless the culture has been created to allow the waiter to deduct the meal without approval, the wait staff person will most likely speak with the manager.

The manager has more freedom to write off the meal, and does so. So, here’s the question: Does this position and this method to comping a meal reflect poorly on the front-line employee?

It all depends on how the manager responds. How is this done correctly?

Once the manager decides to deduct the meal, they should say something like this: Your waiter shared the situation with me and recommended you are not charged for this. I agree 100 percent with the recommendation and offer my apologies also. I hope you will give us another try.

When the manager gives the win to the wait staff, two things are accomplished. First, the wait staff appreciates the manager. Second, the customer feels better about the staff person. This may even help when the tip is added.

In the end, the manager should try not to get the win at the expense of another worker.

This is true with internal work situations. Years ago, when I was a senior vice president at a company I was walking through a department and an employee came up to me. She was very nice and wanted to run something by me. She asked my thoughts, I said it made sense to me and she looked quite happy. I felt good and went back to my office.

Thirty minutes later, that employee’s boss came to see me. She was not pleased.

“Do you know what you’ve done?” She asked.

“No, but I have a feeling it’s not good,” I replied.

She then gave me background information, explaining that she had just told her staff that morning why something could not be done. Then here I come telling an employee that it makes sense. She felt I sabotaged her and asked why I did that. I told her I blew it and I apologized.

From that point, I also learned that when an employee who did not report directly to me asked me a question I would say, “what did your manager say when you asked them?”

If they say they had not asked their direct supervisor, I would advise them to start there. If they said they did ask, 99 percent of the time I would agree with the response the supervisor gave. And even in the few times I disagreed, I would respond that their supervisor likely has a good reason for their decision.

It’s better to throw yourself under the bus than someone else.

As a leader, an employee shares a concern with you. Let’s say the dryers were working slow for the Blue Wahoos. These are vital – they are used to dry all player and coach practice and game uniforms. The slowness issue has been shared by the clubhouse person to their supervisor. The supervisor says dryers weren’t budgeted for this year and those will have to wait.

A team executive notices the situation when players begin to complain. In response, the team executive makes funds available for new dryers.

If this delicate situation is not handled well, the team executive can position the supervisor in charge of the budget poorly. Seeing that the players came to him, the executive needs to go back to that players and share that the supervisor also felt new dryers were needed, but also knew they got cut out of the budget. Then, take ownership for not listening better to the leader who felt they were needed. If not handled well, the executive has reinforced skipping steps.

The goal is to create a culture in which people feel supported.

Last week’s column on dealing with difficult customers got lots of feedback. If you’re in a leadership position where you deal with a difficult customer, you can bet that before they got to you, they wore some employees out. Take time to find these employees, apologize that they had to deal with the behavior and thank them for their work. This goes a long way.