One Bad Employee Can Tarnish Your Entire Brand

In business, a company’s reputation often comes down to the lowest common denominator, which is the actions of a particular individual, especially in small businesses. Look at the picture in this post – are your eyes drawn to all the beautiful green apples, or are they focused on that rotten apple, which spoils an otherwise perfect picture. It is often the same at work, where one’s own bad deeds can overshadow the exemplary actions of others. Allow me to explain with this case study.

the situation

In one company, they had an employee who had been with the company for many years. She was pretty much a rock star for most of those years. She was the company’s best-selling salesperson, and she gave her clients great customer service, and they loved her for it. And they kept coming back year after year, loyal to the company and that specific salesperson.

But about a year ago, something started to change. Its sales began to decline. Instead of being the highest ranked salesperson, she regressed to the lowest ranked salesperson. Its service levels have also started to decline, with many customer calls not being answered and tasks no longer getting done. When the owners of the company further investigated this employee, she admitted that she had health problems. She was unable to focus on her work or organize herself.

Initial attempt to solve

Given the employee’s long period of success with the company, the owners wanted to try to help her through these difficult times. They helped advise the female employee about where to get medical help, which she took with them. Doctors and therapists quickly diagnosed the condition as adult ADHD, prescribed medications and other treatments, and suggested things would be better and back to normal within a couple of months. Therefore, the employer patiently waited for the health and performance of employees to return to historical levels.

The damage that occurred during the period

The damage caused by this employee’s poor job performance is starting to accumulate. First, the company was losing revenue from unconverted leads sent its way. Many of these potential customers have expressed their frustration with the company, willing to give the company another chance with a different salesperson. But the vast majority did not, and they decided to move their business elsewhere. And secondly, operational errors are already piling up, as customers have had major problems with their orders. This caused the company to have to file refunds as a mea culpa, and it really started tarnishing the company’s brand and reputation, as negative customer reviews started pouring into the website. And that didn’t even talk about fellow employees who were witnessing this bad behavior, wondering what was going on, and how the owners would solve it.

The second attempt to solve

After several months of patience (and continued lost sales and service interruptions), employee performance has never improved to historical levels. The employee even suggested that the owners make some financial disincentive for the undesirable performance, which they did without any success or change in behaviour. The owners really had no choice but to sever ties with the former “golden girl”, as the two came to a mutually acceptable separation. Which for the owners was like saying goodbye to a beloved family member you will never see again.

The main takeaway is here

It is very difficult to cut ties with employees you love personally and professionally. The owners kept hoping the old “rock star” would come back to the room, which never happened despite a year of trying. But the damage to the company’s brand in the meantime has been enormous. The company got a lot of eggs in the face, had to offer a lot of apologies and refunds, and turned down dozens of potential clients who would never return to the company. And it doesn’t matter if these clients originally started with a different salesperson who would have served them masterfully. At this point, that “bad apple” had completely spoiled the bushel from the brand’s perspective in how they perceived the entire company. Which is unfortunate, as the company already offers incredible customer service, other than this isolated situation.

So, during times like these, sometimes you have no choice but to steal a first aid kit, no matter how painful it may be. If you can’t quickly resolve the situation with your employee, you need to make changes quickly that better serve your customers. If you wait too long, you may not get those loyal customers and you will lose potential customers. At this point, this result would be self-inflicted by the owners for not acting quickly enough in correcting a known material problem within the company. Don’t let this be you.

George Deeb is a partner in Red Rocket Ventures and author 101 Startup Lessons – The Entrepreneur’s Handbook.

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