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The power of the frontline

employee-blinders-copyMy family and I stopped by the mall last week to pick up some last-minute items for my 13-year-old’s summer camp in New Mexico. We were tight on time as my wife had called ahead to add our name to the list at Yard House, where the hostess predicted that a table would be available at 8 o’clock.

As my son, Cooper, and I entered Vans, I made eye contact with an employee, looked at my watch, and playfully said, “It’s 7:59 and our table at Yard House will be ready at 8 o’clock. Hopefully, you can help us find a pair of shoes and some shorts in less than a minute!”

About that time, my son approached a wall of shoes that were on display. The employee, who was stocking socks and other merchandise from clear plastic bins, didn’t budge as she said, “Let me know when you find something you like.”

It was clear to me in that moment that I had approached the wrong employee. This employee, perhaps unwittingly, had decided to subordinate customer service quality to a job function: stocking merchandise. When Cooper found a shoe that he liked, I asked the employee if it was available in his size. Only then did she pause stocking in order to retrieve the shoes. Though it may not have been her intent, we were made to feel like an interruption in her work rather than the reason for it.

A couple of minutes later, she returned with the shoes, handed the box to Cooper, and went back to stocking merchandise. No smile. No attempt to confirm the style or size. No offer of assistance. Just a transactional, “Here you go.”

As it turned out, they were the wrong style and she had to return to the stockroom to retrieve the correct pair. In her absence, I located another employee, Khyanah, – who was a delight! She smiled, moved with alacrity, and assisted us in finding a pair of shorts and accessing a dressing room.

When I approached the register, Khyanah confirmed with a colleague the name of the employee who had assisted with the shoes (presumably to credit her for the sale). As I handed her my credit card, I thought it was ironic that the indifferent employee would be recognized for the sale but it was Khyanah who had expressed genuine interest in me and acted with a sense of urgency.

This could have easily been a critical post about the poor customer service quality at Vans. Thankfully, I encountered an interested employee who turned my experience around. It proves that a customer’s perception of service quality, for better or worse, often hinges on his one-on-one interactions with frontline employees.

What types of interactions are customers having with your frontline employees?

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order the Delight Your Customers Companion Guide by Steve Curtin and Brian O’Neill.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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