I'll admit it - there are times when I don't have enough empathy for some customer-facing employees...
But shouldn't all employees be trained to put their customers' needs first???
Earlier this week, I was looking for an item in a Rite-Aid store in Portland, Maine. I approached a person in a Rite-Aid uniform walking quickly down an aisle, and said, "Excuse me, do you know if you have..."
The woman said - with a straight face - "Can you ask someone else - I'm on break."
I politely asked her to explain, and she told me that if she were to help me, per company policy, she'd have to clock back in first; it would be easier if I asked someone else.
I later asked some other people that work in hourly positions how they felt about the woman's response. The overwhelming response was, "You need to have some empathy for low-paid hourly workers; they're on their feet for eight hours, and when they finally get a break, they should be allowed to enjoy the few minutes to themselves. If they respond to every customer question, they'll never get to take a break!"
OK, I get that. But how to balance the employee's needs with those of the customer in these situations???
The best answer I can come up with is one that I learned from an hourly employee in a business that's known for customer service: The LL Bean Retail Store in Freeport, Maine.
The Bean's employee told me that whenver an employee goes on break, they're careful to wear a sweater or sweathirt over their green LL Bean shirt. In other words, the employees 'wear a disguise' when they're on break.
The disguise prevents the customer from recognizing the employee as an employee of the store, and therefore, the potentially awkward encounter is avoided.
If you're a manager or employer, it makes sense to teach this approach to employees during the onboarding process; it'll build their confidence in you as a manager that truly cares for your employees, and puts each employee in the right frame of mind to properly handle (or "prevent") these situations before they arise.
Sometimes, the best way to handle an awkward situation is to prevent it from happening.
What do you think?