Viral Attitude

Your customers might tolerate a business failure on your part. But an attitude failure? Forget it.

Editor’s Note: JHC readers may not work for medical products companies, but they have plenty of customers – administrators, all the people who use the products for which they contract, and the vendors with whom they negotiate contracts. Their credibility is on the line every day. Sales coach Brian Sullivan spends most of his time working with salespeople and sales executives from medical products manufacturers and distributors. But he’s got something to say to contracting professionals as well.

Take a moment to think of your worst experience as a customer. Perhaps it was the flight attendant who told you, “My primary job is not to wait on you,” when all you did was ask for a refill of water. Or maybe it was the customer service rep who told you almost gladly she couldn’t make an exception because “that’s company policy.” Or the waiter with squinted eyes and tight lips who glared at you and his watch while your kids were torn between the chicken nuggets or corn dogs.

Bad feeling, isn’t it? While many folks (much more forgiving than this writer) may be able to chalk those lame performances up to a person “just having a bad day,” it’s important for all of us who serve customers to realize that bad service carries a bigger punishment than ever before.

All it takes is one
Think about this: When you go to Amazon to buy a book, where do you almost always look? Reviews, Customer Opinions, Testimonials, correct? You can get almost all the information you need from what other people have already experienced. And these days, before people go on trips, many spend more time checking out sites like Trip Advisor than they do the website of the hotel or destination they are considering. Once again, because they want to know what others have experienced.

To support this, an eVoc Insights study cites that 48 percent of consumers need to consult reviews before making a purchase. Which means, each customer experience you provide might be shared with hundreds or even thousands of people.

In short, one bad attitude by just one person can define your department for your customers. It also means that each experience you provide your customers daily is more impactful than your department’s fancy logo, your colorful brochures or even that interactive website you created. Scary thought, huh? In fact, treat a customer badly today and in less than five minutes the Twitter and Facebook universe will decide whether you are worthy of their nickels.

Now let’s look at the hard numbers associated with an employee’s “bad day” at work. A 2007 Customer Impact Report by RightNow Technologies reported:

  • Eighty percent of U.S. adults will never go back to a company after a negative experience.
  • Seventy-four percent of consumers will register a complaint or tell others of a bad experience (pre-Twitter).
  • Forty-seven percent swore or shouted.
  • Twenty-nine percent reported they got a headache, felt their chest tighten or cried.

There is a difference between a negative customer experience due to an honest mistake vs. a negative experience due to an apathetic employee. In fact, negative customer feedback that comes as a result of an oversight or error is feedback that makes organizations and individuals better. Microsoft founder Bill Gates said it well when he said, “It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” So when failure and then criticism comes, you need to react appropriately.

In her book, A Complaint is a Gift, Janelle Barlow discusses five different reactions to personal criticism:

  1. You don’t openly admit you made a mistake, but instead remind the other person of the mistake he or she made.
  2. You reluctantly admit the mistake, spending more time explaining it than fixing it.
  3. You openly admit the mistake, but secretly feel like you were attacked.
  4. You take the criticism positively, apologize and then correct the action.
  5. You take the criticism positively, apologize and look at it as an opportunity to improve.

Remember, while business process failure (an inaccurate order, a late shipment, etc.) is tolerable, business attitude failure is not. Attitude failure not only creates customer experiences that can take your department down, it also prevents you from ever improving. Commit to never letting a bad day be visible to your customer … knowing the long-term risks of creating a bad customer experience. And when you or someone in your department screws up (and you will), take the criticism, learn from it, and let it fuel you to perform your job at the highest level.

About the Author

Brian Sullivan
Brian Sullivan, CSP teaches salespeople and leaders how to influence more people in his PRECISE Business Development Programs. Sign up for a FREE Online Training Module on How to Become a Master Questioner by going to Or visit him at