Below are two of the most interesting recent questions I’ve received as a customer service consultant and customer service turnaround expert. Let me know yours.
Q: I’m having trouble even finding people to work here who don’t have tattoos or piercings or both. Not to mention applicants with have hair colors not found in nature, or what very creative stylings of the facial hair nature has given them. . Our standards manual has always prohibited these. Is it time to update our approach? –Questioning in Quebec
A: Absolutely, it’ time. For two reasons. First, when you’re prospecting and recruiting for new employees, you want to attract the largest possible pool possible so you can end up with a solid group of finalists who actually have the traits needed to serve customers successfully. When you limit that pool based on arbitrary piercing/tats/hair/beard restrictions, you’re likely going to end up hiring anyone who breathes, rather than the customer service superstars you really want in your organization. (You don’t have to take my word for it. Many formerly restrictive companies have come around on this in the past few years. Most visibly, perhaps, because of their ubiquity, this is the case with Starbucks, which now allows visible piercings and tattoos (with some restrictions on placement), and hair colors that, as you put it, will never be found in nature.
The second reason is that your customers now express their personalities through how they color their hair and the artwork they put on their skin and the piercings with which they adorn themselves. So these customers are also going to be comfortable with and supportive of the employees who serve them doing the same. It also, by and large, makes customers feel better about the companies that allow this.
Now I know that if you lead a traditional business (whatever that means in our day and age), this can sound like bitter medicine to swallow, and that the low-friction rate for you, internally, may be to maintain your traditional, restrictive ways. But I’d argue that you’ve got bigger fish to fry in today’s challenging employment and competitive environment.
(There is one specific place situation in which you may not want to take my advice. This is if you have a high proportion of Japanese customers; in Japan, to some extent, tattoos are considered to be a gang signifier.)
Q: I consider myself a recent convert to supporting LGBTQ rights. I have family members who are in that community and it makes me proud to see them gain more and more acceptance. At the business where I work as a manager, I do feel we are nondiscriminatory in terms of whom we hire. But I do wish that, once hired, these employees would maintain a traditional look in public. I fear our customers aren’t ready to move beyond this. –Moving Slowly in Memphis
A: I have come across a number of businesses like yours: where it’s hard to see any blatant discrimination in hiring, but it’s easy to tell that being visibly part of the LGBTQ community is frowned on. My opinion is that it’s super-important to update your attitude; your guests will appreciate it and think of you as enlightened for doing so. Just like you, many of your customers have LGBTQ offspring, siblings, parents, colleagues–or indeed are in this community themselves.
And there’s another reason: You’re also going to attract a larger prospective employee pool. You’ll have more employees to choose from because prospects will figure out that this is a place where employees are permitted to express themselves.
Note: Due to space limitations, my answers here are given in rather broad strokes. There’s more on these and other key customer service issues in my new HarperCollins Leadership book, Ignore Your Customers (and They’ll Go Away); Forbes readers can get 3 chapters free or purchase the entire book here.
Micah Solomon, named the “new guru of customer service excellence” by The Financial Post, is a customer service consultant, customer experience consultant, keynote speaker, trainer, and author. Email him for a prompt response, or use his live chat to message in real time.