How Candid Should Employees Be?

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I had a very interesting customer experience the other day. I received a notification from UPS, sent to me via snail mail, that a package couldn’t be delivered to me because they didn’t have the correct street address. Yet they sent the notice to my correct address. Confused, I called UPS, who said that it was obviously an error and they could arrange for re-delivery. But there is a UPS distribution center not too far from my home, so I told them not to worry; I would pick up the package. (I didn’t want to have to wait around at home on the new delivery date.)

When I got to the center, the guys there were very helpful, found my package immediately, and were quite congenial. I told them what had happened, and one of them immediately speculated on what happened: “The driver couldn’t find the package when he got to your house, and when he finally found it, he was across town, so he just wrote down ‘wrong address’ and went on with his day.” The two other UPS workers, who all seemed very seasoned, nodded and laughed. I laughed too. They were good guys. I hadn’t been inconvenienced all that much, so why raise a fuss. But I was also rather appalled that they would be so open about such bad customer service and that it seems to happen often.

What do you think? Should they have told me about this negative–and what seems to be a common–customer experience practice? Should I have requested that they do something about it? Should I contact UPS and let them know 1) that the drivers have been known to do something so lazy and frustrating for the customer–imagine that I had been waiting at home all day to receive a specific package! Or 2) that the distribution center personnel was “telling tales out of school,” bad mouthing fellow employees, and airing what could be considered dirty laundry to a customer.

It seems to me there should be certain internal guidelines regarding employee candor with the public. Employees should:

1) Always be honest, but you don’t necessarily have to bring up the dirty laundry when it isn’t requested and doesn’t change the outcome.

2) If the customer asks about something that is broken or went wrong, you can speculate on possible causes, but reassure the customer that it will be looked into–and ask the customer what she thinks could be done to remedy the situation.

3) Think through what you are saying to customers–make it second nature–so that off-the-cuff remarks that could be damaging don’t happen.

4) If you know about some bad customer experience practices, bring them to the attention of management. You don’t have to name names–nobody likes a tattletale; rather, point out that you’ve noticed some things that could be fixed and offer suggestions for improvement.

5) Don’t ever speak disparagingly about colleagues with the general public. Never make your co-workers the butt of your jokes. You can candidly acknowledge that the problem was the result of a co-worker’s error, but keep the laughter to yourself.

6) Remember that you represent your brand. Even though you might point out a problem that has nothing to do with you, you can damage the brand image, and this can trickle down to you!

Similarly, companies should empower employees to be honest with customers as much as possible. Customers know that there are problems in any organization; they won’t be put off by knowing that things aren’t perfect in your company; they will be annoyed if you hide information or make untrue claims. Further, as I have stated in other customer experience discussions, let your customers be part of the solution, thereby engendering loyalty and customer pride.

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