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Employee Reprimand

Employee Reprimand

For managers, how to conduct an employee reprimand has no shortage of opinions.

One of the most creative employee reprimands occurred during a conference at which I was the keynote speaker.  I had the opportunity to mix and mingle with managers from around the world.  Regardless of where they were from, it seemed that their management issues were the same.  But when it came to how to conduct a reprimand, things got lively.

During a round table discussion with six managers, I listened intently while they described their most pressing issues, one of which was “empathy” or the lack thereof among their service reps.

Once the empathy issue surfaced, they all rolled their eyes or made similar gestures indicating their knowledge of the situation and its importance.

No doubt, empathy is such a vital behavior, but it is also one of the most difficult to measure.  For example a service rep who reads a script which is designed to make the rep sound empathetic will only do so if he or she has a smidgen of sincerity.


Once the empathy issue surfaced, all the managers rolled their eyes or made similar gestures indicating their knowledge of the situation and its importance.

In the absence of sincerity, the words being conveyed have little or no impact in building a customer relationship.  Perhaps this is because, at its core, empathy means “I understand how you feel” and therefore having a shared experience is what is most important.  Employees who do not convey empathy might be in for a reprimand.

As the empathy topic worked its way from one person to another, the stories became juicier and juicier.  Finally, it was David’s turn to speak.  David came from the Midwest.  His big physical appearance was in stark contrast to his calm demeanor.  He was a customer service manager for a worldwide truck leasing company.  His company managed a fleet of over 40,000 trucks and every now and then a mechanical breakdown occurred.  When a truck was stuck on the side of the road, the truck’s cargo was idle, the truck driver was upset and David’s company had to spring into action with a remedy.  David conveyed that three of his reps were proficient at their work, but they lacked empathy – especially when a customer called due to a breakdown.  He shared how important it was that his customers truly believed that his reps understood what it was like to be stranded and destitute.

He was a customer service manager for a worldwide truck leasing company with a fleet of over 40,000 trucks and every now and then a mechanical breakdown occurred.

Employee Reprimand

Believing that his reps had the capacity to be more empathetic, David initiated his own reprimand method.  One day, he scheduled a field trip with his three less-than-empathetic reps and brought them out to a state highway.  He had prearranged for a truck to be left idle on the highway’s shoulder.

David then did the unthinkable.

He locked the three employees in the cab of the truck and left them there for an entire afternoon.  Needless to say, the other managers sitting around the table responded with eyes-popping, jaws dropping and lots of laughter.  Some managers thought his reprimand was too extreme – others believed he did the right thing.

Employee Reprimand

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David shared how important it was that his customers truly believed that his reps understood what it was like to be stranded and destitute.

David’s reprimand taught his reps a very important lesson about empathy, which they would not soon forget.  He enabled his employees to fully grasp the meaning of “I understand how you feel.”

The table topic then shifted from reprimand to empathy to raising the bar and tough love.

David shared with everyone that his antic gave his reps the necessary experience with which to empathize with their customers.  He also shared that if he didn’t care about his employees he wouldn’t have taken the time to invest in their future.  At that point, everyone at the table understood that good management and leadership required a courageous person who has everyone’s best interest at heart.

David’s extreme employee reprimand tactic is bound to raise a few eyebrows.

What do you think?  Does it takes a tough manager to make a tender, caring and empathetic agent?

Was David’s employee reprimand tactic too extreme?

Special Feature

If you liked this article, see our blog about “Tough Love” in the service dept.  Click the image on the right.

Tough Love

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Steve Coscia

The road from professional musician to thirty-year customer service veteran to best-selling author and speaker is not a typical career path, but Steve Coscia may have started a new trend.

Coscia is one of the most widely published and quoted authorities in the customer service industry. He has published more than 200 articles, four books and a series of training DVDs. His college curriculum is taught at institutions of higher learning throughout the United States and Canada.

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. Empathy is important, and we have seen a lack thereof when we have late Trucks at job sites. Smooth move by your example!

    1. Good insight, Joe. Easy to imagine the expense of having an idle installation crew waiting for the truck.

  2. Steve,
    This was a great article with tremendous insight. I do not think these agents were reprimanded but rather given a unique opportunity to relate with their customers. All too often customers problems are viewed as annoying or inconvenient. People often wonder, “why do they insist on making their problem my problem?” I believe that what separates a good sales representative from a great one is empathy and solution based thinking. In order to help solve a customers problem it is imperative to understand what their problem is, how it occurred, and what it feels like to have that problem. It is important to identify and not compare. Even if an individual has never been stranded on the side of the road, we all know what it feels like to feel alone, helpless, and dependent on someone or something and not even know who or what it is. We have all found ourselves in a situation where desperation kicks in. If you haven’t, then you do not take enough chances in life. The point is that we must find a common ground to stand on with our customers and then, and only then, can we help navigate to a solution. You cannot give someone directions home until you know where their start point is.

    This was a great article and I look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    1. Thanks Jon, for your positive feedback and your message about “common ground” and “navigating towards a solution.” Much appreciated.

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