The View from HR

View from HR: Bosses set company standard by practicing what they preach

CorrespondentApril 5, 2014 

How an employer treats customers teaches employees how to interact with others. It may also forecast the kind of treatment employees should expect one day themselves. A good example happened recently at a car dealership.

The actors were “Haley” (Internet sales) and “Sly” (assistant sales manager). Haley matched a telephone price given to me by another dealer. She confirmed it separately with Sly, and I agreed to drive over and sign papers.

Imagine my surprise when presented with the initial offer, not the significant verbal refinement. After an extended absence, management claimed a “miscommunication” and retracted our verbal agreement. They even suggested I should somehow prove the competitor’s verbal offer. No thanks.

It seems this dealer chose to leave their salesperson out on a limb, despite having admittedly committed to a customer. Whether Haley and Sly had a miscommunication, or their processes need some work, should not become a customer’s problem.

Speaks volumes

Here is the point: Haley, Sly, another salesperson, the sales manager and others got to see what this employer values most. Was it keeping a commitment to a customer who drove 50 miles on a Saturday? Was it supporting Haley’s promise, even if it was a mistake? Was it driving home the values preached by showroom posters, a picture of the owner and “awards” on a shelf?

In my view, this employer showed everyone that a minimum profit margin on one car outweighed everything else. Breaking a verbal promise, blaming an employee, leaving a customer and spouse sitting in a showroom, wasting a salesperson’s time: None of this meant more than the profit margin that day.

Employees are always watching for evidence of whether we mean what we say. The car dealer’s treatment of a customer caught in an internal squabble speaks volumes about how employees should behave and the treatment they should expect to receive.

Moments of truth

Your best employees seek employers that behave internally the same way they speak externally.

Moments of truth are key points in time revealing corporate character to employees and customers.

There is more to my story. The sales manager called Monday, agreed that they handled this poorly and offered to make it right. He is sending a donation to my favorite charity. I sincerely hope he told every staff member about this gesture, and explains why, so they see what he truly values. It will mean more than a poster.

I did get my car, for the agreed price, from another dealer.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 North Carolina employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service