An observation while checking out at a megastore this week reminded me of something I’ve told managers for years.
I don’t need to spend a lot of time watching a staff to predict what kind of behaviors they will exhibit in their jobs. I just need to watch their managers for a few minutes.
As I approached the “Express Lanes”, I saw that the shortest line in the area had two customers. As I walked up, the first customer left, and the next guy had only a soft drink and a bag of chips to pay for.
Yet, this process took almost 2 minutes. On the surface, that doesn’t seem like a long time.
And if that person would have bought, oh… 15 items, almost 2 minutes would have been okay. But it wasn’t 15 items. It was 2.
And the guy buying the items was an assistant manager at that store.
He and the cashier made small talk, and she chuckled loudly as they discussed something or other about what someone or other had done that week. The cashier even held her hand up to her mouth a couple of times to keep us from hearing or, I suppose, reading her lips.
I stood there with my wallet out, items on the conveyor belt…waiting.
They saw me and the customers who had lined up behind me. And they continued chatting.
I looked up to make sure the light above the cash register was still on. Yup, the line was open.
After that manager had received his receipt, he finished his conversation while also drawing the adjacent cashier into his audience. He walked away without looking back at us customers, and the young cashier began scanning my items without so much as an acknowledgement.
And truth be told, I actually didn’t blame her. She was a 20-something-year-old simply mirroring the level of awareness and customer appreciation her “superior” had displayed.
Heck, she likely figures it’s the management at the store that pays her salary instead of schlubs like me standing like cattle in a line. And she behaved accordingly.
Smart managers know that their success or failure rests in the hands of customers. Even smarter managers know that the behaviors they exhibit in front of their teams speak far more loudly to them than their words ever will.
If you didn’t speak a single word this week to your team about customer service, would your actions alone provide a lesson worth learning?
My younger son had a band competition midweek. Over my concerns, he has chosen to play saxophone in his 6th grade band.
You see, his first instrument is electric guitar. When you beat up electric guitars (and he does), they still work. When you beat up a saxophone (and he does), it doesn’t.
Two days before his event, he told us that one of the rods on his sax had fallen off the week prior. He had replaced it with a paper clip that wasn’t working very well.
I told him, “That’s one heck of a strategy, MacGyver.” (He didn’t get the reference.)
Having my son play a solo in his first band competition with a paper clip holding his sax together sounded like a hysterical story…that I would just as soon avoid being able to tell.
I rushed to the music center that we’ve spent tons of money with for years.
The woodwinds repair guys weren’t in, and I encountered a young employee manning the counter for the day. I explained what our problem and time crunch were and even found a similar sax on the wall to physically point out the piece we were missing.
He was “sorry”, but the shop guys weren’t in. I asked if he could maybe check if there was, oh… a box of little metal saxophone pieces back there. I would pay whatever necessary.
Nope, couldn’t do it. Not his department. He might get in trouble.
He seemed surprised that I was not moved by his perceived job security perils. Sensing I wasn’t going away peacefully, he telephoned the elderly man who runs that department at his home. The guy had car trouble that day and hadn’t made it in.
Learning the model number, he said that it was unlikely that they had the piece we needed. But he was pretty sure he could make one himself. He offered that if he could find a ride later in the day, he’d try to get in and fix the saxophone that evening.
Before he said another word, that guy had earned my respect. I went from feeling incredulous that this place wouldn’t even try to help a longtime customer to feeling indebted.
We arranged to meet early the next day, and he did indeed cut and shape a rod to serve our needs.
And I argued that he didn’t charge me enough. (Maybe I'm the one with a rod loose.)
One employee had me questioning why I ever spent money with that business. The other had me feeling like I was underpaying for the level of service and attention I received.
What type of impression will you make on your customers today?