I believe there must be a dearth of good managers and leaders in this country today. I get that feeling because, as I’ve been traveling through the summer, I keep running into situations where, after awhile, I just can’t believe one can hold the workers accountable at every single instance. Sure, people are supposed to be responsible for their own actions, but when you keep encountering events over and over, and you recognize that each of these people reports to someone,… well, as Harry Truman used to say, the buck stops here.

There’s a grocery store near one of the hotels I’m staying at. I walked in one evening just to grab a couple of things. As I was standing in line, I looked at the faces of every person who was working a cash register. Every person there looked demoralized, as though they were beaten down and had nothing to look forward to in their lives. I tried to strike up a conversation with the lady whose line I was in, but she wouldn’t even look up at me, as the customer. I felt as though she could barely hold her contempt for me as she bagged my few meager purchases; obviously, she didn’t care whether or not I came back to that store.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought my wife a new computer and printer in a large department store. I was looking at a brand I wasn’t familiar, and had a question I wanted to ask. I stood in this area for 10 minutes without anyone coming to see if I needed any assistance. When my wife showed up, I mentioned it to her, and she started walking around, looking for someone to help me. I had seen some people who worked there, and I knew they had to see me, and she walked in that direction. She came back and said the few people she talked to told her they weren’t allowed to leave their “zone”, even though it was only a couple of aisles away. I started to think that, even if it were true, that the least they should have done was call someone to mention that there was a customer who might be looking for assistance. When someone finally came over, he apologized, and I decided to go ahead and buy the computer and printer there. While paying for it, the person mentioned that the store would test the computer for me before I left the store. I had other things, and decided to leave some items I’d bought earlier in the day, as well as the printer I’d bought there. The person at the entrance said we couldn’t leave the other items because they weren’t his responsibility, but we could leave the printer. I asked him if I left the other items and someone came and took all of them, but left the printer, did it mean he’d just let them walk out of the store with my items; he said yes, because he was only responsible for the printer. I can’t see myself going back to that store again.

I was on the road and had to go to the restroom, so I thought I’d stop at a fast food restaurant, use their facilities, and pick up something to eat. The person behind the counter taking orders seemed to be having difficulties getting people’s orders correct. When it was my turn, I had to repeat myself multiple times to make sure she understood what I was asking for. I paid for the food, then waited, along with many other people, 35 minutes before I finally got my food. I had thought about leaving and asking for my money back, but someone else had asked for their money back already and were refused. As far as I could tell, there were only 3 people working the food area during lunch time. However, one other customer noticed that people who were using the drive-thru area were getting their food much quicker and driving off. He finally asked the cashier at the window why those people seemed to be getting their food faster, and the cashier said the drive-thru customers got their food from the people upstairs, and they were processed faster than the inside customers. He asked to speak to the manager and was told there was only an assistant manager on hand. When he got to talk to her, she said she was doing the best she could, and that there wasn’t anything else that could be done to change the process.

Many consumers who feel they’ve been mistreated by a store blame the staff. Not many people think to blame management. Whenever I feel I’ve been mistreated, or see inadequacies in how employees perform their duties, management is who I always think of first. Most employees aren’t going to reap the overall benefits of an organization that does well; managers have the capability of further promotions, as well as better benefits and pay. I tend to believe that, often, a person gets promoted to a management position and forgets that a big part of their duties are in the training of their staff. I would be hard pressed to believe that demoralized employees are working for a manager who’s ebullient and gracious. I’d be hard pressed to believe that many employees who exhibit terrible customer service skills are working for someone who understands that there’s a better way to do it.

I’ve said more than once that the customer isn’t always right, but they are always the customer. Even employees are customers at some point; what is it they’re experiencing on their own time that makes them come to work and put in a bad performance in front of your customers? What are some managers seeing when they’re shopping at other stores that leads them to believe that maybe copying the same standard will help improve their own departments?

Good customer service is the responsibility of managers, supervisors, team leaders, etc. Sure, it’s also the responsibility of the employees, but who’s got more to lose if the employees don’t satisfy the needs of their customers? In your business, how secure are you that someone else isn’t destroying your department, business, or organization because of inadequate customer service skills? How secure are you that you’re not only giving the best training possible, but also setting the example of how to behave during work hours, being friendly and positive and open and accommodating to each person you meet during the day? How confident are you that, if you’re not around, your employees will perform at the top of their game, as well as represent your department and organization in the most positive light possible?

Unfortunately, based on what I’m seeing, bad management is winning out. I expect that you, as a subscriber to this newsletter, are in the minority of trying to be the best managers possible. Help me spread the word and the mood, and when you identify negative performances based on customer service, figure out how you would have handled it differently. You will find that, even if you’re already pretty good, you will constantly improve, based on the errors of others. In that way, you’ll have turned a negative into a positive.