Incivility, Customers, and the Snowball Effect

Poor Ratings (Customer Service) 000003839435SmallIf you think that incivility on your team has little or nothing to do with service to customers, clients or patients, you may want to reconsider. In fact, you may be suffering from detrimental thinking errors. When team members are uncivil with each other, one of the following is bound to happen (a partial list):

  • A client will witness the staff’s incivility, and, based on their impressions, will make decisions that will adversely affect your organization
  • A staff member who is used to treating colleagues discourteously will inadvertently deal with a customer in the same manner
  • Team members who are used to being dismissive with each other will refer to clients behind their backs in derogatory ways (I’ve seen that happen, have you?)
  • The derogatory nicknames that are used to refer to clients will deteriorate into what the law considers to be ‘harassment’, whereby clients are referred to in terms that are based on their culture, religion or race and such
  • Staff is distracted by colleagues’ incivility. They make mistakes, take longer breaks, forget information, radiate gloom rather than cheerfulness, and offer no creative solutions when those are needed. In true snowball effect, customers will naturally conclude that your organization offers inferior service and products.

In a survey on workplace incivility I designed for the Canadian HR Reporter magazine a couple of years ago, 72% of the 308 HR professionals who participated in the survey ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘somewhat agreed’ that incivility has a significant negative effect on customer service. That’s 3 out of 4 people -nothing to sneeze off, to say the least.

And research By Christine Pearson and Christine Porath published in the Harvard Business Review in 2013 suggests that 25% of people who experience a troubling workplace incivility incident by a boss or colleague will admit to taking their frustration out on a customer. However, when we ask people in our workplace incivility training sessions to guess the research findings, they usually come up with much higher figures.

If you want to change things on your team and improve customer service, start with a good discussion about it within the team.  Click here for a process that will help you do so, step by step. And, of course, building awareness and commitment though solid training is always a great ideas too.

(PS sometimes it’s the customers who are rude first. In these cases, creative ideas for dealing with the problem might come in handy).


If you have great examples of incivility affecting customer service, or need help with challenges you have, contact us anytime.

And, if you missed the news, I’ve joined twitter and would love you to join me –

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