‘Sir, We Can Do Anything!’

These powerful words were the front desk clerk’s response to my “I have a unique request.”

Before even hearing my plea, he gave me a full-frontal view of the Ritz-Carlton hotel attitude. And, it was a few days before the Christmas holidays—a hectic time when I am certain he had been inundated with way too many “May I’s” and “Can we’s!”

The front-line employee of any organization is not only the most visible and vocal ambassador of the organization, her or his persona gives customers a clear and present peephole into the beliefs and bias of how that organization feels about customers. The front desk clerk’s “the-answer-is-‘yes’-what’s-the-question” orientation signaled to me, “we are here for our guests.” He was completely focused on delivering service unleashed.

Compare that perspective with my Veterans Day encounter with a large grocery store clerk in a nearby town. “Are you a veteran?” the young cashier asked me as I was reaching for my wallet.  Before I could answer, my wife proudly announced, “You bet he is! He was an infantry commander with the elite 82nd Airborne and a guerrilla tactics instructor at the Army Infantry School.”

“Wow!” the cashier responded. “We give our veteran’s a discount on Veterans Day!” But, her “I’m impressed” temperament quickly transformed to the stern disposition of a rigid auditor. “Do you have proof you are veteran?” she asked. I was taken aback. “What proof would I need?” I asked disbelievingly.

“I don’t know,” she said, “a military card or a baseball cap with a military pen. We have to have proof before we can give you the discount.” Ironically, the young man bagging our groceries grasped the irony of her assertion and asked her, “What about customer service?”

But, she obstinately refused to give up her rules ‘r us stance when I indicated I carried no proof. “No proof, no discount…it’s the rule,” she said harshly as if educating me, my wife, the bagger…and, all the cashiers within earshot! I silently paid for our groceries and left without acquiescing to my strong temptation to cynically salute her.

As a veteran of major combat, I quickly learned that success on the battlefield had much to do with how ground troops were resourced, prepared, and led. Air support was great; solid intelligence was helpful. But battles were won or lost by soldiers whose pride in their cause and commitment to their unit influenced them to show courage when on the receiving end of enemy fire. As warriors, they took care of business because they were taken care of.

The same is true of your front-line employees. Are your front-line ambassadors just performing tasks until quitting time or are they warriors eager to show customers the very best? Are they focused on following rules or delivering a masterpiece of great service?

It all depends on whether they are treated like your most important customers.

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