Workplace Culture

Workplace Culture and Customer Service – Don’t Blame the Lettuce

I recently had an unsettling customer service experience when I went to pick up some dry cleaning. The employee behind the counter could not find my garments. Instead of apologizing or saying she would look into solving the issue, she muttered under her breath, “I hate working here.” Then she said things like, “I don’t know what they were thinking.” And when she couldn’t find a pen, “Why don’t they keep any pens around here?” The conversation ended with me suggesting that she write down my name and number and have a manager call me the next day when they were in.

As I walked away, I didn’t feel angry. Instead, I felt sad – sad for the missed opportunities for the person helping me and for the company that they represented. Clearly the employee was unhappy and did not have the resources to deal with the situation.

Instead of blaming employees for poor service, we need to ask, “How can we change the environment so that our employees can thrive and provide great service?”

It would be easy to blame the employee for her poor customer service. And certainly, she could have done things differently. However, I think finding fault with her would be unhelpful. To paraphrase one of my favourite writers, Thich Nhat Hanh, if we plant lettuce and it fails to thrive, we do not blame the lettuce. Instead, we look at the conditions in which it is growing and seek to change them so that it can thrive. In the same way, we should not blame people when they fail to thrive.

What I experienced at the dry cleaner was certainly a symptom of a culture problem within the company. I wondered what opportunities had been missed to fully orient the employee to the work, to support her capacity to problem solve, and to show her how to resolve a missing clothing issue. Her repeated use of the word “they” told me she did not feel she was part of the team.

Here are three customer service insights:

  • Customer service is a reflection of our workplace culture. When employees are fully resourced and supported, they can serve our clients and customers well.
  • Instead of blaming employees for poor service, we need to ask, “How can we change the environment so that our employees can thrive and provide great service?”
  • All employees need to feel like part of the team. They need to feel cared for and know that their role contributes to the workplace and the team. When employees feel connected, they are far more likely to take responsibility for situations as they present themselves.

As we each consider the ways in which we and our colleagues provide service to each other – and to our customers and clients – let us focus on tending to our garden and creating the conditions in which people can thrive.


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Eric Stutzman

Chief Executive Officer

Eric is co-author of ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. This book is available on our website.

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