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Are You So Busy Serving Customers or Leading Staff — that you forget the person? by Kelly Watkins

Do you get so wrapped up in the day-to-day duties of managing employees that you ignore the employee?  Are you so busy trying to serve customers that you forget about the customer?

I was sitting in the lobby of a hotel near Washington, D.C. staring out the window.  A vehicle stopped in front of the building.  A bedraggled couple slowly emerged from the car.  The man began a half-hearted attempt to stretch his arms, which he abandoned in mid-air.

One glance told me they were “travel weary.”  You know that feeling – not sure what city you’re in, what day it is, or what’s happening in the world.  Your eyelids are swollen from squinting at the reflection of the sun on the pavement and the vain attempts to read road signs coming at you at 100 kilometers per hour.  The pupils of your eyes are glazed over, remnants of the trance-like state the expressway induces.

Erma Bombeck even wrote a book about the travel weary look, it’s called, “When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home.”  To put it kindly, this poor man and woman appeared ready to go home!

The couple shuffled into the lobby.  They approached the counter, apprehension written on their faces.  That’s when it occurred to me they didn’t have a reservation.

The man’s voice was low, and it faltered slightly as he asked the front desk clerk, “Do you have any rooms available?”  He didn’t add, “Please say yes,” but the plea was apparent in his tone.

The Efficient Clerk began pecking on the keys of the computer keyboard.  Without looking up and allowing eye contact to distract her from her duties, her first comment was, “Do you want smoking or non-smoking?”

The man hesitated, looked into his wife’s pleading eyes, and stammered, “It doesn’t matter.”

The Efficient Clerk, obviously trained in the importance of making customers happy asked, “But, which do you prefer?”

The man mumbled a choice.  After more pecking at the keys, the Efficient Clerk asked, “Two double beds or one King?”  Again, she didn’t allow eye contact to interfere with doing her job.  The husband and wife exchanged the same bewildered looks.  The man, again, mumbled a selection.

After a few more questions, the Efficient Clerk looked at the couple for the first time and said, “That’ll be $99, plus tax.”

It took great restraint for me not to shout across the lobby, “Oh?  Does that mean you have a ROOM AVAILABLE?”

This couple was exhausted.  The Efficient Clerk could have calmed their concerns immediately by letting them know there were rooms available.  Then, she could have handled the details.  But, she didn’t.  The Efficient Clerk had missed the point.

Do you miss the point?  Are you so mired down in your daily tasks that you forget the reason for the tasks – the customer or the employee?

Are you so busy filling out the paperwork for the customer that you don’t look at the customer and make eye contact?  Are you so focused on quickly processing information that you forget to develop rapport with the customer and make him/her feel welcomed and valued?  Are you so busy managing, that you miss an opportunity to listen to an employee’s feedback?

Remember that part of customer service is the customer.  And, you can’t be a leader if no one is following.  Don’t get so absorbed in accomplishing things that you forget to look up occasionally and notice the people.

What is poor communication costing your company?  Discover how to improve profitability and productivity at

Kelly Watkins, MBA, is President of Expressive Concepts based in Louisville, Kentucky, USA.  She is an international consultant who helps companies develop their leaders and improve their customer service to compete in a global market.

Kelly is the author of 5 books and 125 articles. +1.812.246.2424 or


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