Five Common Assumptions About Employees That Are Totally Wrong

The restaurant manager approached the table. "How's everything?" he asked.

One of the guests told him she was disappointed her salad was soaked in heavy dressing. She didn't want it replaced because the rest of her party were already halfway through their meals.

The manager brought her a free dessert as a goodwill gesture. He assumed the dessert would be a welcome surprise. He overlooked the fact that the guest had ordered a salad in an effort to eat healthy. The dessert was completely wasted.

Assumptions can be dangerous.

In some ways it's natural. Our brains are wired to naturally jump to conclusions. An over-eagerness to please our customers makes this even worse. And, once we land on a verdict, something called confirmation bias makes it hard to change our minds.

This isn't just a problem with customers. Customer service leaders often make dangerous assumptions about their employees that turn out to be totally wrong. 

Here are five examples to avoid.

Assumption #1: They Know What You Want

Employees aren't mind readers. They don't know what you expect them to do unless you explain it clearly and confirm their understanding.

Many leaders assume their expectations are obvious. They don't spend enough time setting expectations or establishing a customer service vision because they assume their employees already know.

In some cases, leaders over-communicate. They create confusion by providing so much information that employees can't tell what's important and what's not. 

You can avoid this assumption by doing two things:

First, verify your employees understand your expectations. Quiz them, test them, or observe them. Just make sure they get it.

Second, make sure they agree. Have them tell you what they plan to do to achieve expectations. 

Assumption #2: They Need Incentives

Incentives create all sorts of problems.

There's a mountain of research to back this up. Outstanding books like Drive and Predictably Irrational chronicle study after study where incentives make performance worse, not better.

Yet, customer service leaders continue to assume that employees need incentives to give their best performance. This comes from a sense that employees require motivation.

My own research suggests the opposite is true. Employees are naturally motivated. The real problem is demotivation. Customer service managers should focus their energy on making sure demotivation doesn't happen.

Assumption #3: They Care

This one is the opposite of #2. Not every employee is fully committed.

Many customer service employees don't consider their job a career. Some people just end up in customer service. Others view their job as a convenient way to pay the bills while they go to school for something better.

These folks aren't highly motivated. They won't move mountains or leap over tall buildings to make customers happy. They'll do the minimum and that's it. 

Customer service leaders need to be careful not to assume every employee is gung-ho about service. If you want to these people to perform, you need to make it easy for them to deliver outstanding customer service.

Assumption #4: They Need Training

We all have our pet peeves. My pet peeve is that training is the solution to every performance problem.

Managers often assume that's all that's needed. They think that training will someone "fix" employees who aren't providing great service.

I really wish that were true. I love training. I've been doing it for more than twenty years. Heck, I even volunteer to train in my spare time. 

Sadly, training can only fix a small percentage of employee performance challenges. My own estimates show that training is only responsible for one percent of customer service.

What should you do instead of training? Check out my next level service action plan to get step-by-step instructions.

Assumption #5: They're Content

No complaints doesn't equal no problems.

Many customer service leaders are surprised when a talented employee suddenly leaves the organization. They had assumed the employee was happy because he or she had never complained.

Some companies do exit interviews to find out what went wrong. These only help prevent the same thing from happening in the future.

A better approach is to conduct stay interviews. Sit down with your best employees and find out what's keeping them. Take time to learn about their goals and ambitions. You might be able to use that information to help them stay.

Are There More Assumptions to Avoid?

These are just five common examples. What others would you add to the list?