Posted by: Christine Donovan | May 22, 2009

Customer Service Starts with the Boss


Experts will tell you that one of the key rules of leadership is to model (as in demonstrate) the behavior you want your followers to learn.

If you can’t do it, they certainly can’t do it.   If you show impatience, annoyance, or talk about and criticize customers behind their backs, your employees will too.  And that behavior has to become evident to the customers.

By the same token, if you greet your customers enthusiastically, call them by name, help them with the littlest detail, and never, ever give them an “attitude,” your staff will eventually get it and copy the behavior they’ve seen you exhibit.

A few years ago while living in San Diego, I used to take long power walks every day and often stopped in a sub sandwich shop to have a soft drink and sometimes a sandwich.  The owner there was an amazing person and I always looked forward to seeing him.  His effervescent personality and happy nature made my day.  He greeted everybody who came in the door enthusiastically and made you feel you were the most important customer he had.

One day, as I stood at the register paying for my sandwich, I mentioned this to him and told him that he was the epitome of customer service.  He beamed and motioned toward my open hand into which he had just placed my change. “Did you notice how I always hand you your change?” he asked.  I admitted that I hadn’t and so he explained… “I always give the coins first, so you have a hold of them before I give you the bills.  That makes it much easier for the customer than throwing it all into their hand at once…”

In my years of providing and teaching service, I’d never heard this idea and he was absolutely right… which I told him.  He also asked if I had noticed the background music he had selected to play over the speakers in the dining room. I hesitated, and then I slowly smiled… realizing I had noticed because it was some of my favorite music.  He explained that “Most of my customers are Baby Boomers, so I keep the station on the oldies so they feel comfortable and at home.  And I never let my staff change the station although they’d rather listen to something more contemporary.”

This gentleman got it right… and the proof was in the broad customer base he had created.  I tried to take my walks in the non-peak periods, because lunchtime and dinner time were packed at his sub shop.

One day I entered the shop and realized he wasn’t there.  As one of his young, twenty-something employees came up to greet me and ask for my order, I asked where the owner was, and the young man told me he had to make a delivery across town. But then he added with energy, “But I can help you! What you would you like today?”  And I watched the young staff put together my sandwich happily and provide the same service that I’d grown to expect from the owner. The culminating moment was when this “kid” gave me change, placing the coins first and then the bills… he had been taught well.

Leadership begins with the leader.  Demonstrate consistently the behavior you expect from your staff and they will follow.

And with this post I will conclude my little series on Leading the Exceptional Service Culture (for now).  Of course this requires much more in-depth discussion, and I will definitely get back to this, my favorite topic, on future occasions.

See you next time…

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