Guest blog: Danger of rude staff


We’ve all heard about rude customers, but what about rude staff? Sue Hook asks the question, are your staff driving away paying customers?

Sue Hook
Sue Hook

Recently I shopped at a local bakery. They are small and very local and rely mainly on the town residents for their business. The young lady behind the counter was surly and definitely not ‘bothered’. I watched as the customers in the queue in front of me were treated to her off hand manner and deliberate obtuseness when taking their money. Her colleague, meanwhile, was working her butt off, smiling, chatting to regulars and working twice as quickly and happily. I hoped I got her, but of course I got the surly one.

Standing in front of her, there was an uncomfortable hiatus whilst I waited for her to look at me, which she eventually deigned to do. I was a bit cheesed off by then but chatted about how busy it was this lunchtime, wondering if this was the reason for her manner. The shoulder shrug would have made anyone with Gallic heritage proud. Now, I’m always happy to give feedback and it’s usually of the positive kind, but on this occasion I really couldn’t help myself. So I gave her the opportunity to listen to some of my wisdom along the lines of, she was there to serve customers, if she wasn’t happy meeting people then she might like to work in a windowless shed somewhere, that I was paying her wages and frankly she hadn’t earned it – plus other choice phrases much along the same lines.

Although a minor irritation in the grand scheme of things, this exchange did get me thinking about the relationship between the shop assistant or waiting staff, the customer and the overall business. I find it hard to understand why some owners of shops, bars, hotels and restaurants fail to recognise how important their staff are when dealing with customers and how this impacts on the success of their business. I believe there is a direct correlation between having great staff and having a great business.

Treating customers with basic civility must be a given for any business. It takes nothing to smile, make eye contact and engage with customers; just a bit of thought. The customer experience is then completely different and this small exchange will be appreciated. It is not just about this little bit of interaction. It is about an approach and attitude where staff truly believe their responsibility is to make and keep their customers happy. So happy, that they will return and buy again. This in turn, translates to happy and increased number of customers, more spend and ultimately a successful business. Yes I know that this appears very simplistic but the connection between staff and a successful business is undoubted.

Getting the right staff, with the right attitude is a challenge but is worth the effort, as the difference this will make to any business is tangible. My personal mantra when recruiting is to recruit for attitude and train for skill. It is always possible to train staff to operate a till, for example, but if they don’t have the right approach and attitude in the first place, all the training in the world will not change this.

About the author:

Sue is the founder and managing director of Hayle-based human resources consultancy, Sapience HR.


  1. Dear Sue,

    The shallowness of what can be described as your rant at what is highly likely a young, pressured, underpaid and overworked individual in a hot kitchen in summer shows a complete lack of compassion on your part.

    Yes, of course in your version of the ideal world everybody would be offering caring and top notch customer service and I agree this would be good for business, but there are several important points that you have not considered or have for some unknown reason decided to leave out.

    To be compassionate one must be understanding, and to understand one must be considerate. When I say considerate, I don’t mean being judgemental about something that you have just witnessed and then go on to compound the irritation by sniping at the parties involved. This doesn’t make you a hero and this certainly doesn’t resovle anything apart from your own temporal dissatisfaction and bolsters your sense of self righteousness.

    You see, we are all connected in one way or another. You wrote an article which connects me to you, and you wrote that article because you connected in one way or another to her in question.

    I know that in your head everything is very simple and businesses are always nice to customers etc.
    However, for some reason you’ve failed to register the fact that she is connected to her employer.

    Seeing as you work in recruitment I thought that this would come to your mind quickly. Are her employers paying her well? Are they polite people? Do they treat her with respect?
    Are her working conditions adequate? Does she feel involved in the business? Why isn’t she motivated? Does she have personal issues?

    Of course, you are oblivious to these questions until now, or atleast don’t/didn’t care as I’m sure it has nothing to do with you, and lets face it, it would probably mess around with that beautiful picture of the world you have somewhere tucked away in your head. As long as you get your pie with a smile, who gives a hoot right?

    Let me ask you something Sue, do you blame your candidates in your recruitment firm when problems arise at the clients site? Then you get someone else in, and they leave for the same reasons over and over again. Do you keep looking until you find a person that does what they are told with a smile or go? Is it just a game of finding the person with the least self worth and happens to be on their back side at that particular point that gets the job? Do you advise your candidates that particular employers have a short temper, is rude and nasty but pays ok, and then go on to expect them to work for such a character with a smile on their face whilst surpressing real emotions and feelings.

    Or do you advise your well connected, head strong, valuable and paying clients to change things or you can’t supply somebody? I do wonder Sue, as this takes principles, ethics, self respect and courage and of what I remember in my extensive recruitment experience is that those things exist in very small volumes, but hey that’s just my memories.

    So I’ll end to agree with you, staff can drive away business. But conversely and on the positive side can also bring new and repeat business to you. They are an extension of you, your concept, your product or service and in an ideal world will be operating as if they care as much as you do.
    However, they are, whether for better or worse an extension of the employer and it is the employer which can make the changes that will be effective.
    To look at the outside of things is of a material nature and only egoic materialists spend their time trying to bully change, this is a waste of time and energy.

    Now, I hope you got your loverly bakery made pies and are atleast happy enough to move on from it.
    The fact that you have written this I hope at least means you feel like you’ve got that frustration out. Personally though, when I tally the two.

    I would have prefered to be treated rudely by a bakery assistant to my face, rather than read this personal attack on an individual which is like us all right now, just trying to keep things together.

    Kind regards

  2. Hi Sue
    Well said, I have to really need something before I go back to somewhere where the staff are miserable or plainly just don’t care


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