Customer Service and the Importance of Role Models

One of my all-time favorite leadership quotes comes from Tom Peters:

"The problem isn't that your people don't know what you're doing; the problem is that your people do know what you're doing."

Employees know what their leaders value simply by observing their actions. When a leader says something is important and yet his or her behaviors contradict their words, behaviors will trump the words. If, for example, a leader says treating people with respect is a company value while regularly and publicly chewing out employees, chewing out employees will quickly become an accepted part of the culture, regardless of what's listed in the company's statement of values.

If an organization's leaders want employees to provide great customer service, leaders must demonstrate great customer service. If the organization's leaders want employees to pay attention to detail, a leader picking up a stray piece of trash or straightening up a cluttered environment is infinitely more powerful than any memo or training program focused on the importance of attention to detail.

I always appreciate it when a client organization sends me stories and examples of "walk-the-talk" leadership behaviors. I recently received the following example from Springfield Clinic of Springfield, Illinois, appearing in one of their internal publications. While a healthcare organization certainly has the traditional management structure of CEO and department heads, physicians play a vital leadership role and can set the tone for the success or failure of any service initiative. I had the opportunity to meet the physician highlighted in this example and can tell you this certainly isn't an isolated circumstance, Dr. Chris Wottowa is a person who models service excellence every day. The letter was written by Amy Niehaaus (pictured with Dr. Wottowa):

"While working the front reception desk, I looked up to greet an elderly patient who was being pushed in a wheelchair by Dr. Chris Wottowa. The patient was accompanied by the patient's wife and a friend carrying a walker. After Dr. Wottowa left them at the counter to be checked in, the ladies told me they were struggling to push the wheelchair, carry the walker and their purses when this nice young man stopped and offered to help them. We later found out Dr. Wottowa was the "nice young man."  He was on his way out of the building to go to a meeting and saw the ladies needed help. What a great example to all of us that it only takes a few moments of our time to make someone's day and create a "WOW."  I know it made my day a little better and I felt a feeling of pride knowing there are employees out there willing to go the extra mile to help our patients."

My guess is that Dr. Wottowa would say, "It was no big deal, it was just the right thing to do." But that's the point; it was the right thing to do and he did it. And walk-the-talk leadership behaviors like this have a ripple effect with employees - "This really is part of the culture."

When your employees observe your behaviors, what would they say that you truly value?