When I was 16 years old, my first job was serving ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins store. Not only did I love ice cream, but I was very social and felt that this job suited me very well since I loved talking to people. Unfortunately, I think I’m still trying to lose those extra ice cream pounds I put on!
Now, let me be clear that the job of taking ice cream orders really is pretty easy. But imagine being new at the task of scooping rock-hard ice cream into cones without breaking them, or remembering the difference between a shake and a malt—let alone knowing where the heck to find all 31 flavors in the case. It took a bit of time to memorize all of this information. Then imagine the store full of people on a hot day or after a sporting event, and you have mayhem!
One night during that learning period stands out in particular—not necessarily because of the reasons stated above, but more because of how my manager made me feel during one of those crazy, busy times.
A man came into the store with his daughter, a girl I had met before who went to a rival high school. She and I said “hi” as I began to help her dad with his order. He was a very direct sort of guy and started rambling off his order, getting frustrated if I asked him to repeat things along the way. The last item on his list was a quart of French vanilla ice cream.
After making sure he had everything he needed, I went to the cash register to ring up his order. Just as I totaled it up, I realized I had charged him for a quart of regular vanilla ice cream instead of French vanilla, which was more expensive. I immediately called over the manager on duty to help me, since I didn’t know how to delete an order and start over. As she came over, the man started yelling at me and calling me names because I had made a mistake and was taking too long. As I was apologizing to him and doing my best not to cry (although my eyes were not cooperating), my manager did the most amazing thing. She turned to the man and very politely told him that this was my first week on the job, I was still in training, and there is a lot to learn when first starting. She went on to say it was a very innocent mistake and would be taken care of quickly, but there was no need for him to yell at me.
Even though her words didn’t stop my tears from coming, it was so reassuring to hear her stick up for me. I actually felt sorry for his daughter—she was so embarrassed by his obnoxious behavior that she put her head down halfway through his order. As they were leaving, she just walked away with a glance at me as if to say, “I am so sorry!”
A lesson for leaders
What my manager did for me that night, and throughout the rest of my training period there, is a great lesson for all leaders. Without realizing it then, I learned three valuable tips to help leaders build the skills, as well as the confidence, of an employee in training:
1. Never reprimand a learner.
2. Let the employee know it’s okay to make mistakes—that you “have their back.”
3. Praise progress.
My manager showed me she believed in me when she stood up for me at a moment when I really needed it. She knew the importance of both the external customer and the internal customer. Her belief in me and willingness to work with me through that interaction with a difficult customer really strengthened our relationship and made me want to work harder for her.
Maybe the customer isn’t always right, but they still are your customer. My manager was a great role model that night for how to treat both external and internal customers with respect.
About the author:
Kathy Cuff is one of the principal authors—together with Vicki Halsey—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Legendary Service training program. Their customer service focused posts appear on the first and third Thursday of each month.