Posted by: Andy Porter | December 1, 2010

Former employees and word of mouth about your business

In the world of customer service it is said that a satisfied customer may tell 9 to 12 other people about their positive experience, but will tell 20 people (or more) if their experience was bad.

This idea is widely known and accepted. If the customer doesn’t like your company they will talk (or text, or post on social media) and tell others.

My only problem with this idea is how the word “customer” is defined.

Most business owners and managers I have met don’t seem to get that in this case “customer” is meant anyone and everyone who walks in your door or in anyway interacts with your company.

This would include, but not be limited to:

  • The Fed Ex or UPS delivery person
  • A person who comes in to use the bathroom
  • All employees
  • Employees spouses/partners
  • The mailman
  • Any sales person who comes in to sell you their products
  • People who are lost and ask for directions

Of all these groups I can tell you for certain that the group above that will spread the most negative news about your business is former employees.

Before I describe this more thoroughly, let me ask you this:

Have you ever left employ at any business, EVER, and later made negative comments that company? Can you think of specifics?

Did you tell many people?

Now of course if you fire a person for being a poor employee you might not expect a glowing reference from them. But before we discuss an employee who is fired or laid off let’s talk about an employee who quits.

Say that there is an employee who has been working at a company for some time and has been doing a good job. In many cases when the employee gives notice the employer is suprised, agitated, frustrated, irate, angry or upset. Have you ever experienced this? I have seen employers act very badly when they receive notice that one of their employees is planning to leave. Sometimes the employer will just tell the employee to leave right this minute. As if the employee has committed a crime by wanting to leave.

I have seen and/or experienced all sorts of wild reactions. I have seen employers who feel “betrayed” by the employee, or feel that the employee is some sort of enemy for leaving! Unfortunately this is not uncommon.

Of course this is absolute insanity. If a person who works for you decides to move on the only correct response is to be excited for the person! Maybe they got a better job offer and will make more money, or have new duties, or they are in some way moving up or trying something new, or moving to a new city, or, or or…the point is that its exciting and the only sane reaction is to be excited for the person and validate them.

If the employee was productive, had been there for sometime, give them a party, buy them the gold watch and chain and thank them for their years of service. Any employer reaction other than this is not just wrong from the point of view that the employee has helped the business, but it is certain to create rancor.

The very worst thing to do is to treat them like some traitor. I have seen businesses try to gyp them out of benefits or try to make life miserable for them. Many staff, when they do give notice are worried about what the reaction will be. This is because of the bad reactions they have had in the past!

Now if you want to talk about bad word of mouth, this will take the cake!

Any person who is treated badly, as in the above examples will spread not just bad, but horrible word of mouth about your company from here to Nairobi and everywhere in between.

One reason for this outpouring of bad word of mouth is the injustice of it all. Simply quitting is NO reason to be treated badly.

Employees who do get fired will usually do LESS trash-talking about the company than the employee who quits and is treated poorly.

There are volumes to be written about how to treat employees and why this is important. It is a fact that ONLY loyal employees will deliver consistent top-shelf service to your customers.

But no matter how well you treat employees they will at some point move on.

How you react to the news and treat the employee who leaves tells volumes about your company and will, for better or worse, have a gigantic effect on your companies overall word of mouth out in the community.


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