Do you know what your employees are telling customers?

My wife and I are aspiring boat owners. At least, I thought we were - until last weekend when she informed me it wasn't worth the headache.

mike_mugnew1By Mike Davin, Online Editor, Boating Industry magazine — My wife and I are aspiring boat owners. At least, I thought we were — until last weekend when she informed me it wasn’t worth the headache.

Here’s the story: My wife and I were up at my parent’s cabin, where their boats had just been delivered from storage. We were the first ones up since the boats had gone in the water, so we were planning to enjoy what I thought at the time was a good thing — the inaugural ride of the season.

Before I left, I heard there had been some trouble with the carburetor in the outboard hanging off the back of the pontoon, but I didn’t give it much thought. Delivery of the pontoon had been delayed until the techs could get the outboard started, but everything looked set when my wife and I arrived.

However, when we tried to start the engine — no luck. I tried all the usual methods to get it to turn over, and nothing.

So my wife called the marina where the boat was stored/repaired. An employee proceeded to tell her that whatever was wrong, she had caused it — probably by draining the battery or flooding the engine — because she didn’t know what she was doing.

Granted, my wife is not a boating expert, and neither am I for that matter. That’s why we were calling the experts for help. However, my wife is also not an idiot, which is what she felt like on the phone.

She reported that there had recently been a problem with the carburetor, but that was not accepted as a likely culprit. At one point in the conversation the marina employee said — quote — “if I come down there and there’s nothing wrong, I’m going to be pretty mad.”

Never mind that the place is all of about five miles away, and we were desperate to pay for his services.

By the time she got off the phone, her attitude was, “Forget it, let’s not go boating. Boats are too much of a hassle.”

At that moment, I was tempted to agree.

Will that one interaction prevent us from buying a boat? Who knows, but these days you don’t want interested buyers making any extra check marks in the “cons” column.

And more than that, with boating, it shouldn’t be “you’re in the club, or you’re not.” Experienced boaters provide a great base of customers, but the market has the potential to be a lot more than that. Making newcomers feel inadequate is just about the quickest way to nip that potential in the bud.

A few things to remember: You better know what your employees are telling your customers. You never know how much future business you’ve thrown away with each unsatisfied customer. You also never know which customer might work for a national boating magazine.


  1. This is precisely the reason we HAVE TO survey our valuable customers. If we don’t ask them whether they are happy or not they are probably not going to tell us. Of course they will tell every friend and relative they can find.

  2. This is why three major components of the Marine Industry Dealership Certification program are about monitoring customer satisfaction, a formal consumer follow-up system, AND Employee Satisfaction.

    Monitor consumer satisfaction levels, follow-up and trend feedback for improvement when problems come to light. Then look at employee satisfaction to keep your best foot forward. How can we expect an unhappy employee to provide a positive consumer experience?

  3. Gee, the employee might have gotten mad, because he was asked to do his job. Amazing, this employee needs a “stimulus” program, right in the center of his pants on the way out the door. I will be glad to assist just as soon as I quit banging my head against the desk, having read this incredible story. These people are everywhere. We were introducing a new Lexus in Las Vegas and were going to have the writers drive the Lake Mead Rec. area for testing. As a courtesy, we stopped to let the park ranger in the booth know of our plans. Well, she objected and wanted us to get al kinds of permits and so forth. She made a comment that I will never forget: “Just because it’s public land, doesn’t mean you can use it!” I share this just to let you know that unfortunately, the truly clueless are among us everywhere.

  4. Great line, Mike! “…this employee needs a ‘stimulus program, right in the center of his pants…” I’m going to have to borrow that one!

  5. I have always been a big fan of incentive programs for ALL employees. The Sales staff is always known for them, but the other employees will benefit from the same sort of carrot dangling off the stick.

    Incentives can be as simple as a profit sharing program can boost all employees to be part of the business by having “skin in the game.” This can also encourage peer pressure to work towards the greater good of the business. There can also be individual incentives for workmanship and responsibility tied to their position. These are very doable but must be measureable in an undisputable way to not cause problems. What is measured will be what is accomplished.

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