The Power of Presence

Several of my previous blog posts have focused on the differences between employees who do their jobs with a "task mentality" versus employees who do their jobs with an "experience mentality." I stress this topic so heavily because it is at the heart of what separates great service providers from the rest of the pack. Those employees who focus on creating great experiences make customers feel welcome and valued. Those who focus on merely completing tasks make customers feel processed.

The word that bridges the gap between a task mentality and an experience mentality is presence. In order to create a positive customer experience, an employee must be present for the customer and, at least for the moment, that customer only. Then, and only then, can the employee notice the customer's body language, tone of voice, word choice, facial expression or any of the hundreds of other possible signals the customer may be sending, thus providing clues for delivering personalized service.

Employees who are not present for the customer don't catch those signals; they just go through the motions of completing the task. They're thinking about the next customer, the previous customer, their spouse, the paperwork, their supervisor; anything but the customer they're dealing with at that moment. And the customer perceives the employee's attitude as one of indifference.

A couple of nights ago my family was having dinner at a very nice restaurant. The food was great as was the restaurant's atmosphere, but our server was clearly more focused on completing his tasks instead of creating a memorable experience for his guests. He would look at one of his other tables as he served us, whisk by without comment as he dropped off or picked up our bread basket, comment to another server while he refilled our water glasses, and headed to the kitchen as he wordlessly set the check on our table.

As I observed this server's performance, the word "presence" popped into my mind. That's what was missing - he wasn't present for his guests. He certainly performed his tasks efficiently. He was prompt, he delivered the correct orders, and the food was terrific. But for the prices we were paying, we deserved more. We deserved his full attention for those relatively few moments that he was actually interacting with us.

It wouldn't have taken much for him to have created a very different impression. A smile while filling our water glasses, a comment on our meal selection as we ordered, eye contact as he set down the bread basket; any of these gestures would've take no additional time, but would've made a world of difference.

I mentioned my restaurant experience to a participant attending one of my presentations this week. He asked if my experience would keep me from returning to that restaurant and I had to admit that no, it would probably not keep me from returning. But if we do go back, it won't be because of the service, it will be in spite of it - and that distinction is important.

In today's economy, businesses of every type need to set their sets higher than just delivering service that doesn't drive customers away. All of our businesses need to focus on giving our customers excellent reasons to definitely come back and to sing our praises to friends, family and colleagues.

If we want loyal customers, we have to be present!