How to Avoid Front Line PR Disasters

If your business involves public contact at the pointy end of the transaction then the front line staff you select and train should be the key to your success. The problem is that often the front line staff are the youngest and least experienced due to their role being seen as an ‘entry level’ one and therefore not treated with the right focus and training they deserve. As an employer, this approach to hiring can potentially lead to disastrous consequences for your business. Here’s what could happen if you don’t actively select and develop the right front line staff. It happened just last week so it’s still fresh in the minds of all of those public who witnessed it, including myself.

It was a pleasant sunny Saturday of around 27 degrees, and after two days of hellishly hot 40 degree days, a trip to one of our Melbourne outdoor fun parks which had picnic facilities, children’s rides and water slides was the perfect destination for a day out with the family. Naturally this thought was shared by many hundreds of other families just like ours, so this fun park was facing a bumper day of expectant customers and ringing cash registers at the entrances. I am sure that the management and their young front line staff were very mindful of moving the long lines of families through their ticket windows as quickly as possible to keep the tills ticking over as the public streamed into the facility, eager to capture their perfect spot close to a barbecue facility or a shady picnic area.

This is one of those parks where the height of a child determines the level of entry fee that is charged and to support this policy, the entry windows have a painted ruler on the adjoining wall to help staff to determine whether a child incurs an adult fee, a child’s fee or no charge. This helps to avoid the issue of staff having to assess whether a child is actually under the cut-off age that a parent says they are, given that the criteria for the fee charged is the number of rides they are tall enough to enjoy.

This all seems fairly logical and for the most part, it’s a policy that is presumably easy for front line staff to follow and to administer, except when discretion and common sense are required. Unfortunately for young, inexperienced front line staff, discretion and common sense only come with maturity… or proper induction training by their employer from the moment they join the organisation.

So here is what happened just last Saturday. I am sure you would agree with me that it was a potential PR disaster just waiting to happen.

As I said, the lines of eager families waiting to enter the fun park just after 10 am were long. Waiting their turn among the long lines standing in the sun were a mother and father with a six year old child in a wheelchair who has cerebral palsy. This child is unable to stand unaided, only crawl. Naturally the number of rides he would be able to enjoy are limited. Still, he was excited about the big day out. His father tells me he had been waiting in anticipation for weeks, because this would be his first ever visit to a fun park.

When the family reached the entry window, the father explained to the girl there that his son would not be able to enjoy too many rides. To his complete surprise the young lady at the window looked at the boy and then asked the father to ask the boy to get out of his chair so that he could be measured. Although he was surprised at this request, the father kept his cool. Rather than judge the girl at the window as being either incompetent or unfeeling, he took the time to explain that his little boy could not stand because he had cerebral palsy.

You can imagine the father’s shock and dismay when the girl insisted that he had to do this because “that’s the policy.” So in front of the long lines of families behind them, the father had to lift up his son under his arms and hold him up against the wall like a criminal while the girl at the window checked his height. To add insult to injury, she then charged the adult fee for the six year old boy because he just happened to be a fraction over the cut-off height for children.

Can you imagine the embarrassment and humiliation that this innocent little boy and his parents faced in front of all the other families? He is starting school this year with the support of a teacher’s aid in the classroom. Unfortunately at the tender age of six, he is now old enough to endure his first experience of discrimination, at the hands of a young, inexperienced front line staff member totally ignorant of her role’s wider responsibility. The father told me he was just too flabbergasted and embarrassed to cause a stir at the time, even though in hindsight he was angry and disgusted at their treatment and the rest of their day was spoiled by this “first impression” to what is a wonderful park designed and managed for the benefit of young children and their parents.

I would have named this fun park in this blog, but to be fair to the management, when I rang them on behalf of the family they were shocked to hear what had happened, and have offered to make a personal apology to the father along with a complimentary family pass for another day at the park in the future. I do not know whether the aggrieved family will take up their offer such is their level of disillusionment with their treatment, but it begs the question about the potential PR disaster this could have created for the fun park.

First there is the spectacle being created for those families in the line witnessing this scenario first hand. Then there are all of the people who will hear about it from the aggrieved parents and their friends. Then there is the naming and shaming that could have potentially resulted on talk back radio, followed by other print and TV media outlets picking up the story. And now we have Facebook and Twitter as an ideal vehicle for this sort of negative publicity. If it was in the USA, it would probably have been all over the news followed by a law suit for damages no doubt.

Yes, I believe that this fun park management don’t know how lucky they are that none of the above negative PR has hit the airwaves, but what I do know is this. The hiring of entry level staff is a PR disaster waiting to happen if they are not properly selected, inducted and trained to be more aware and compassionate individuals in their roles, rather than mere transaction takers lacking in any common sense who hide behind ‘policy.’ Their education should start when they leave school not end! And while I think of it, there is much to be said for having an older and wiser ‘head’ around these kids while they are still learning the ropes.

We now have the tools and methodology to test for the right attitude and motivation needed for even these front line roles, if employers are willing to see entry level staffing as an investment in their business and not a cost to be reduced to the lowest common denominator.

Have you ever witnessed any similar examples of completely inappropriate behaviour by front line staff? If so I would love to hear about it from you.

Until next time… Let’s seek to understand more and judge less. Have a great week – Brian

Precision Profiling – What Makes You Tick? Through ‘Motivational Fingerprinting’ we uncover what you do, how you do it and why you do it, and most importantly, the hidden patterns that lead to your success, and that of your staff.

About Brian Clark

Brian Clark is the principal director of Precision Profiling®.

He is a renowned practitioner, writer and speaker on building total customer cultures; values driven leadership and world best practice strategy and implementation.

He has been a guest lecturer on world best practice for the executive management programme at Monash University’s business college (Mt Eliza campus); an adviser to and key note speaker for the Singapore Productivity Association and a consultant to many major Australian and overseas corporations and government departments.

Read more about Brian Clark Here

Comments

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      Thanks so much for your kind comments. What I post each week is a direct result of my observations and work in this field of helping people to understand each other more and judge each other less. I have answered Cathryn on this post who has given similar feedback to yours explaining a little bit more about what drives me to do this work that I do and why I am happy to share some of my discoveries about the people I meet and help. I hope you continue to enjoy what I share and if you know of others who may also appreciate it as you have, then please pass the weblog links on or even join the weekly newsletter feed to my community of interested travelers on the journey like you. While I can’t touch every one’s lives personally out there, hopefully some of what I have to say and share will strike a chord for them and you. Cheers – Brian

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      I am glad to have you on board and if you receive my weekly newsletter I hope I continue to inform and inspire. My whole focus is to share the results of my work in this specialized field to increase people’s understanding of each other and themselves through knowing what is going on for each of us at the unconscious level when we engage with each other, in particular in the workplace. Each week something always inspires me to share my thoughts, previous experience or business/corporate case studies I have worked on (with names changed of course). I believe that through greater understanding (and therefore less judgment) we can increase the level of acceptance in the workplace and in the world. If everyone did this in their own small way with their own circle of work associates and staff then the world has the potential to change for the better. Greater Understanding leads to greater Acceptance is my guiding principle. Conversely lower Understanding leads to more flawed Judgment and higher chance of conflict and/or damage to others. Please pass the website blog page connection on to others whom you may think will enjoy or learn from what I am sharing. That is the best way for me to get the message out there (other than the hands-on work I do for companies and private
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      What a lovely comment and thank you for your insights here. Other than the work I do as a coach and profiler one-on-one; inside companies or via Skype/phone, my only other way to get my message out there is via my weekly blog posts on this Precision Profiling site of mine. My whole purpose is to help people to understand themselves and each other more, which leads to less flawed judgment and more acceptance. Something we can do more of in our world. I hope you and your colleagues continue to enjoy my posts either by visiting my blog pages regularly or via my free weekly newsletter. Keep shining in your life. Cheers – Brian

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      I am so pleased to read your feedback. It is comments like yours and others on these blog pages of mine that keep me enthused about sharing observations and lessons from the work I do. I think you may enjoy some of the other posts too – hopefully you will. To me the key is about understanding and accepting more and that only comes from having an open and non judgmental heart. Keep shining in your life.- Brian

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