Aside from being an independent lawn mowing entrepreneur, my 16-year-old son has taken on a job working at a local outfitters shop. Within a week of him being on payroll, he was given keys so he could open or close up shop as well.

It is fun, and fills me with pride, to watch him get up to his alarm, get ready and head in to open. He takes his responsibilities quite seriously. Oftentimes, I and one of the children will zoom through the back alley to catch a glimpse at him working or to say, “hi.” The little boys think he is a pretty cool dude as he swings his keys casually while heading out the door.

This past week, Haley and I drove through the alley one cool morning, knowing that most likely no customers would be lined up to get a tube or kayak. We were correct in our thinking, so we stopped to chat. While he was leaning on our car talking, a group of four came out the back door. I whispered, “I think they are waiting for you,” so he turned around.

One of them asked, “Are you Will?” to which he said he was. They replied with, “You are supposed to hook us up with bikes.” With a smile on his face, he retrieved their bikes and pointed them in the right direction of the trails.

Nowadays, stores and businesses have no choice but to rely on teenagers as employees. Although it is great they are working, their lack in customer service skills is glaringly obvious. In fact, there have been smaller establishments I will no longer frequent due to teens with zero personalities or lack of ambition to answer my questions.

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Superior customer care and service is a must that parents and employers need to help establish and develop.

How does one help a teen, who may or may not be shy, become a better employee?

Start with communication. My kids are always in awe at how I can start a conversation with just about anyone about anything. “How do you do that” they often ask. For teens, or anyone new to working, starting with being able to simply say, “Hi, how are you? How may I help you?” Is a fabulous way to strike up a conversation with customers, current and potential. Once those two questions are asked, it is easy to continue. Spitting out that first couple of phrases can be difficult, but role playing can help!

How about learning to follow up with a customer? For example, Will rents out tubes and kayaks, so a simple question when customers return would be, “How was your bike ride or trip down the river?” Letting them tell you about their adventure shows customers that you care about them. Follow-up is so important, and when done consistently, customer service skills continue to develop.

Teach teens and new employees to answer questions! My biggest pet peeve when it comes to younger employees is when I ask a question and get a blank look accompanied by an “I don’t know.” Really? Is it that difficult to say, “I am really not sure, but I would be happy to find out the answer for you.” No one at any time should say, “I don’t know” and leave it at that. Let simple curiosity take over and find the answer!

Skills. Life skills. Job skills. Our kids, teens and young employees need these simple lessons and guidance to become successful, productive members of the adult world of work.

Kristen Asleson is owner of Midwest Virtual Assistants. Send comments and ideas to