Businesses are complaining that their employees are giving away the store, but many consumers say they aren't seeing it.

In fact, many consumer complaints focus on dealings with a company's employee. The consumer feels the employee is rude, or in some cases inflexible and unable to cut them some slack.

A case in point is a complaint from Nancy, of Bellrose, N.Y., unhappy with the clerk at a Comfort Inn, where she had checked in on a trip to visit her mother in a nursing home.

“I checked in at 11:00 am,” Nancy said. “I just looked at the room and didn't even bring up my bags because I wanted to get to the nursing to meet my mother for her birthday luncheon.”

Change in plans

Nancy said she was at the nursing home when she received a call that her son was taken to the hospital. She returned to the motel to say she had to return immediately to New York and wanted to cancel the room.

“The receptionist said that I had had the room for five hours and I would not be able to receive a refund,” Nancy said. “I told her that I had not even brought my bags up to the room because I had to go to the nursing home. She didn't care and charged me $80.00.”

Nancy thinks the motel employee should have shown some compassion and refunded her money, but it probably wasn't that easy. Employees are under increasing pressures to account for every dime of revenue. Once a check-in has taken place, it's very hard to remove it without a lot of questions being asked.

Employees under pressure

Despite such incidents, many businesses think employees are giving away too much stuff to consumers. A recent study found that nearly 70 percent of the nation’s service employees give away free goods and services – from hamburgers to cable TV – costing companies billions of dollars a year.

Clay Voorhees, study co-author and marketing expert at Michigan State University, said one of the best ways to combat this illegal practice – called “sweethearting” – is through better screening of job candidates.

“Our results show that by adding a few screening questions that focus on the potential employee’s risk-taking, ethics and need for social acceptance, employers could identify ‘bad apples’ up front and simply avoid hiring them,” Voorhees said. “In the long run, this approach would address the issue.”

All this means that current employees are coming under closer scrutiny from their bosses, and are held more accountable. That means the clerk at the Comfort Inn might have felt she could not give Nancy a break without getting a reprimand or even losing her job.

Consumers like Nancy might argue that “sweethearting” isn't nearly the problem businesses think it is. But in this business climate, there seems to be growing pressure to play it by the book.

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