Why Might Your Store Employees Be Ripping You Off Blind?

By Bob Phibbs

robot-jobA friend of mine received a disturbing product recall on his Pacifica van – the ball joint on the front wheel could break with catastrophic results.


He called the dealer that day to make an appointment. The guy couldn’t have been nicer.

Yes, it’s serious. Yes, they have the needed parts. Yes, we can get you in Monday.

When my friend arrived at the dealership and told the service clerk what he was there for, the guy replied instantly, “Well, I don’t know why he said that. I don’t think we have the parts.” After five minutes of back-and-forth accusations and distrust, the guy finally looked in the customer record and had to admit they did indeed have the parts.

My friend will never buy another car from these people.

Another friend of mine shared her story about needing to pick up some cosmetics on her way home.  There were four cashiers standing chatting while she stood there waiting to be rung up. After a minute of listening to their chatter, she asked who could ring her up now. They begrudgingly moved apart; without a word, one slowly walked over to her register and waited silently for my friend to move over to her.

My friend will never go back.

I’m sure you have your own stories of how a store’s employees treated you poorly and you swore never to return to them as management seemed blind to the poor customer service.

While it's easy to associate ripping you off with employee theft...

It’s these unseen consequences of bad behavior that are really ripping you off.

You’re paying employees to make sales, not to make conflict.

You’re paying employees to give people respect, not disrespect.

You’re paying employees to bond to your shoppers, not to each other.

But it’s hard to give respect and consideration when you yourself don’t feel it.

And yes, employee theft can happen as a result as well...

While we can say it is a matter of training, there’s more to poor customer service than training.

Yes, employee selection is critically important and having a proven sales process is equally important, but if the people who are in charge of the employees don’t value the employees as people worthy of respect, that bad feeling just rolls down the hill picking up steam until it lands on a customer.

That’s right manager, owner, CEO, it started with you.

We’re living in a world where poor customer service is the norm and much of it all starts with how employees are treated.

Zig Ziglar used to tell this story:

A car dealer brings all of his employees together for a meeting and says, “You all are taking too long of lunches. Customers are having to wait. I can’t have that so effective immediately, everyone has to be back on the dot by 1pm.”

The car dealer was at lunch, looked at his watch, and realized he was going to be late. He jumped in his car and sped toward the dealership. Within just a few yards, a cop pulled him over. The dealer said, “This is really ridiculous. I’m going to be late to work and you should be out there arresting thieves instead of giving speeding tickets.” The officer gave him the ticket.

As the dealer stormed into the dealership his #1 salesman pulled back his shirt cuff, looked at his watch which clearly showed 1:10 and said, “Yes, everyone has to be back on the dot by 1 pm.”

That really made the dealer mad. He went into his office, slammed the door, and called for his secretary. When she came in he demanded, “Did you get those five letters I asked out yet?” She replied, “No,” which really got the businessman angry. He said, “If you don’t get those out in the next hour, I’ll find me someone who will.”  


The secretary left muttering to herself, “This is really ridiculous. I’m doing the work of two people. He comes in after a bad lunch and I have to pay for it.” She goes to the receptionist’s desk and says, “You know, you don’t do anything anyways around here, I need you to get these five letters out right now. And if you don’t, I’ll find someone who will.” She went back to her desk.

The receptionist muttered to herself, “This is really ridiculous. I have to cover the phones for everyone while they’re on lunch, she comes back and unloads her work on me.” But she got the letters out.

That night as she opened her front door to her house, she saw her son laying on the floor watching TV with a big rip right up the back of his brand new chinos. The receptionist said, “Son, how many times have I told you that you have to change your school clothes before you go out to play? Now you’re going to bed without any supper.” She left to make her own dinner.

The little boy muttered to himself, “This is really ridiculous. I’m home minding my own business and she comes home like a mad woman.”

About that time his cat came around the corner and the little boy said, “I bet you’ve been up to no good,” and he took a kick towards the cat.

Now wouldn’t it have been better if the car dealer had taken responsibility and curbed his anger at the start instead of starting the anger chain?

But we live in a cat kicking world.

The final month I was working with a retailer, the owner laughed and said, “We go through so many managers, I no longer even bother to learn their names. When I call I just say, ‘Let me speak to whoever is in charge.’”

Young people today have a lot to bring to the table as well as a lot to manage. If you’re having trouble delivering an exceptional experience and find your average number of items stuck at 1.1, your crew unable to upsell, and you feel they aren’t doing enough…look in the mirror. The problem just might be staring back at you.

Are you acknowledging your own responsibility for your employees’ actions?

Are you passing along your own frustrations in your own life onto others?

If you’re having more customer complaints, more poor customer reviews, and less traffic in your store, start at the top with your own behavior and ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you ask for employees to do things or tell them?
  • Do you say thank you afterward?
  • Do you make a point to connect with their eyes before talking to them?
  • Do you tell others what a great job an individual does in front of that individual?
  • Do you ask for their opinions?

These are by no means all the ways to show your employees they are valuable but it is a start.

See also, Retail Management Tips: 15 Ways to Increase Profit Margins

In Sum

There is a segment of business owners who always feel employees are ripping them off either by the wages they pay them or ways those employees give away product when they aren’t looking.

What is more insidious, more caustic, and far more widespread is how employees see shoppers as an interruption, as something to be dealt with, as something not worthy of their time.

Many times, this starts with behaviors modeled at the top.

But don’t forget now that you are aware of your own role, training and holding your employees accountable is just as important.

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