Customer service staff often deflect problems when they believe the issue was someone else’s fault. But customers don't want blame - they want the problem solved. So how can organisations ensure their service staff have an ownership mindset?
"They never have enough cars."
The rental car employee had just picked me up from the auto repair shop and was driving me back to the rental office so I could get a car. He was explaining why I had to wait a few minutes longer than expected.
"Management is supposed to get cars from other locations, but they never do."
Ah, the classic deflection. Rather than simply acknowledge the slight delay and move on (I wasn't the least bit angry), the employee blamed his manager and tried to distance himself from the issue.
Chances are, someone has done this to you. Or perhaps you've observed one of your employees avoiding ownership when serving a customer. You might have even done it yourself.
Let's examine why employees do it and see if we can find some solutions.
Reasons to avoid ownership
Employees often deflect problems when they believe the issue was someone else’s fault. In my book, Getting Service Right, I examined four reasons an employee might avoid taking ownership of a problem they didn't cause.
Here's an excerpt:
If an employee isn't at fault, you might expect them to take action to resolve the problem or pass the complaint along to someone who can address the issue. But what if handling the complaint isn't in an employee's best interests?
There are several reasons why an employee might not want to address a customer complaint or pass it along to management:
- The employee fears being reprimanded for causing the complaint.
- The employee feels the complaint will not be properly addressed by management, so sharing the information is a waste of time.
- The employee views handling the problem as an annoyance or inconvenience.
- The employee feels they were treated poorly by the customer, so intentionally mishandling the complaint is a means to exact revenge.
The rental car employee exhibited several of these:
- He distanced himself from the problem in case I complained.
- He said he had shared his concerns with management, but nothing happened.
- And he told me that a shortage of cars frequently caused him extra work.
Some customer service employees tell me they've gone out of their way for a customer in the past, only to get punished for doing it. One person told me his coworkers caught wind of him putting in some extra effort and started sending him more problems, even if they should have been routed to someone else.
How to change the deflection mentality
An ownership mentality has to start with the leader. Leaders who do any of these things can stifle ownership:
- Get frustrated or angry when employees bring them a problem.
- Fail to fix repeated issues or help employees better cope with them.
- Avoid addressing employees who consistently make mistakes.
Training can also help.
For example, I often discuss the true definition of ownership in my training classes. Ownership doesn’t mean accepting blame or personally fixing the problem. Taking ownership simply means accepting responsibility for ensuring the problem gets solved.
Here's a short <5 minute video to help employees develop an ownership mentality, see good and bad examples, and take steps to accept responsibility for solving problems.
About Jeff Toister
Jeff is the author of The Service Culture Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Employees Obsessed with Service and Service Failure: The Real Reasons Employees Struggle with Customer Service and What You Can Do About It.
More than 140,000 people from six continents have taken one of his video-based training courses on LinkedIn Learning (a.k.a. Lynda.com).
He is a nationally recognized employee training expert and a sought after speaker with more than 20 years of experience.