One Employee Will Kill Your Business and You Won’t Even Know It When it Happens.


Share on LinkedIn

The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour. Japanese proverb.

According to a study conducted by the Rockefeller Corporation of Pittsburgh, 68% of customers stop doing business with a company because of an attitude of indifference by an owner, manager or some employee. Now do you really think that an owner or manager would not care about their customers? You can almost take for granted that they “get it.” So who is left? And the statistic does not say “some employees.” It’s just one. To the customer, just one employee IS the company. And that one employee could cost your business big.

Just before Christmas, a security video of a FedEx driver nonchalantly dropping a computer monitor over a fence went viral on YouTube with over 2 million views in 48 hours. Today it has over 8 .5 million views.

Earlier this year, this picture of a Papa John’s receipt with its racial slur was retweeted 25,000 times in two hours. Both incidents generated huge press coverage for the wrong reasons for their brands and prompted apologies from the C-level of both companies.

Leadership development speaker Mark Sanborn posted in his blog recently about being told that to catch an earlier flight but with a downgrade from first class to coach, it still would cost him an additional $75. It didn’t matter that he was a United 1K Elite traveler flying over 2 million miles with United.

People Skills Coach Kate Nasser posted in her Smart SensAbilities blog about her confrontation with Karen, the manager at the Hilton Garden Inn in Eagan. When Ms. Nasser went down to catch the cab that would take her to her appointment, the cab driver asked for her room number. Of course, she didn’t want to give it to a complete stranger. So she asked the cab driver to come back into the hotel so that they could confirm her cab reservation. Ms. Nasser explains to Karen at the front desk that she did not want to give out her room number and could Karen confirm to the cab driver that she was the client for the reserved cab. Here’s the rest of that conversation:

Karen to the cab driver: “Her room number is 210.”

Ms. Nasser: “Excuse me, you just gave my room number to this man.”

Karen: “The cab company requires it.”

Ms. Nasser, “You just gave this man my room number.”

Karen: “Nothing has ever happened.”

Ms. Nasser: “You just gave out my room number. How are you going to fix this?”

Karen: “Are you going to argue with me or are you going to get in the cab?”

Nick Meiers posted on his Essential Hospitality blog about this conversation he overheard in a restaurant:

Guest: “How is the rib-eye?”

Server: “I’m not sure, I’ve never eaten here. You know how it is, you don’t want to be at work when you’re not working!”

I am convinced that in each of these incidents, these employees didn’t see anything wrong to act indifferently to the customer as they did. And here is the “killer” part. In each of these cases, their manager or owner had no clue that these employees did what they did. Of course, the owner or manager would have handled the situations differently. But they weren’t there. At that moment, the reputation of the brand was in the hands of the one employee who was. And in each case, with the amplification by social media, the brand lost big time.

So what can you do to make sure you don’t have even one of these business-killing employees?

  • Define customer service expectations during the onboarding process. Include customer service standards in each job description. Create and review your customer service manifesto with each new hire.
  • Use these poor customer service examples and those you read or hear about to remind your team of how the actions of just one employee can damage the business and brand. Discuss proper responses in handling similar situations that could arise in your business.
  • Take immediate disciplinary action when an employee displays rude behavior to a customer.
  • Share customer feedback, good and bad, regularly with your team. Involve your employees in defining alternative responses in handling the situations that generated negative customer comments.
  • Motivate your team continuously with daily huddles to keep focused on delivering exceptional customer service.
  • Constantly ask your employees if there are any incidents or questions that need to be resolved today so they can be better equipped to handle them in the future.
  • Empower your employees to bend the rules to take care of your customers.
  • Reward, recognize and celebrate the random acts of kindnesses that individual employees offer your customers.
  • Serve as a role model to your employees when interacting with your customers directly.

When you do this you will keep every one of your employees involved, engaged and committed in only offering the kind of “killer” service for which you DO want to be recognized.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Bill Quiseng
Bill Quiseng is an award-winning hospitality leader and recognized customer service expert. He speaks and writes on customer experience, employee engagement, and leadership. Bill has over thirty years of luxury resort/club management experience. Bill served as general manager of The Inn at Bay Harbor - A Renaissance Golf Resort, MI. Under his administration, The Inn at Bay Harbor was recognized as one of the World's Best Hotels by Travel+Leisure Magazine.


  1. Before social media, the adage was that one unhappy customer will tell twenty, or something like that. No longer.

    In a blog that I wrote earlier this year, I quoted an article by Joe Mullich in The Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2012, that stated "A survey by the Federation of European Risk Management Associations (FERMA) . . . found that reputation risk from social media was cited as 'a material risk' by nearly 50% of European companies—making it one of the greatest cyber threats that organizations face.”

    When I discuss the risks imposed through the interactions you described, many executives are dismissive, feeling that “that type of thing” could never happen with their employees.

    Of course, anything involving humans in customer service delivery is inherently prone to bad experiences. Anyone can have a bad day–a fact that’s lost on many customers, including me. Everyone wants to be treated the right way, right now. I’m not excusing the behaviors you cited, but I suspect that many poor customer experiences evolve (devolve?) from otherwise well-intentioned employees who are stressed for a variety of reasons. Other employees are unquestionably mis-cast in a customer service role for which they have little interest and/or insufficient skills. Shame on the manager who put them in that spot.

    Companies cannot control all sources of employee stress, but they can do much, much more than they think to manage the risks. You cited some great examples, but I’d like to add that fostering a culture of open communication and candor so that employees can bring up issues without fear of being branded “not a team player” is key.

    One former boss of mine had great insight for his employees that stuck with me: “You are absolutely entitled to your opinions, but you’re accountable for your behavior.”

  2. When I was a resort GM being asked by a department head about what to do with a rude employee, I’d respond, “People who cannot be hospitable have no right to work in hospitality.” I know that is harsh, but no guest ever walked into the resort, intent on giving us his money, and announced to us, “Here I am. Dissatisfy me, please.”

    I totally agree that a non-negotiable in delivering exceptional customer service is “fostering a culture of open communication”. One of my favorite leadership mantras is one of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits: “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” As for expressing alternative opinions, I believe “If both of us agree on everything, one of us in unnecessary.”

    Your comments offer some great insight from which we all can learn. I certainly will remember “You are absolutely entitled to your opinions, but you’re accountable for your behavior.” Thank you very much, Andrew. I really appreciate it.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here