05/09/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Employees Talk. Customers Listen: You May Not Like What They Hear

One of the biggest assets a business can have is talented, loyal employees who understand the importance of customer service. I beam with pride when someone compliments one of my team members at It confirms what I already know: I'm fortunate to have the best and the brightest working with me.

As business owners, we place trust in our employees that they will represent the company well in all public interactions. But have you ever thought about what could happen when a customer overhears your employees talking to each other. Do you know what they are saying? Your customers do, and they are listening.

Customers don't want to get caught in the fray of employee problems. It makes them uncomfortable and it creates a bad impression for your company. Your employees should understand that conversations about company-related issues and concerns are only to be conducted well out of earshot of your customers.

Regardless of what type of business you are in, there are opportunities for employee conversations to be overheard. Imagine a water-cooler conversation between employees complaining about your business that's picked up by a customer sitting in a conference room. There are countless times when I've seen employees huddled in retail stores discussing things I shouldn't hear while I'm browsing through the store.

Let me share a couple of recent examples.

Last week I was flying on a major airline when I had the unpleasant experience of listening to the flight attendant and the gate agent threatening to write-up the other. Because it was an airline I fly frequently for business, I was upgraded and seated in a first class, aisle, bulk head seat. Suffice it to say, I had a ring side seat to this altercation. Once the gate agent left, the flight attendant didn't stop. She decided to recruit the other flight attendants on board to support her position. So they congregated in the galley complaining to each other. What impression did it leave with me? It reconfirmed that many of the airline employees are so disgruntled that they have lost interest in the people who are responsible for their paychecks -- their passengers.

Another example. Arriving late to a hotel because of a canceled flight, I decided to grab a bite to eat in the restaurant before calling it a night. When I'm by myself, I usually sit at the bar because typically bartenders are good conversationalists and I don't feel so alone. That night the manager was short staffed so he was working the bar. (I know that fact because he complained to me the minute I sat down.) The entire time I was eating my dinner, he yelled at and criticized his staff as they passed by. Let me just say, I wasn't able to relax and enjoy my dinner, and it will be the last time I stay at that hotel.

I'm confident you wouldn't want one of your customers to experience anything like the situations I've described above. So make sure when your employees talk, customers hear the appropriate things.