One of the slides I use in many frontline banker and manager presentations usually gets a mix of knowing smiles from some and puzzled looks from others when it comes up. The caption reads, “The most important people in or around a branch are the ones not being paid to be there.”
As groups almost universally nod and affirm that statement, I tend to smile and suggest that everyone says they agree with it. But it’s sometimes hard to find conclusive evidence of it out in the field.
I explain that I’ve had countless opportunities to visit branches over the past couple of decades. And usually, I’m being shown around by a middle or senior manager in the organization.
As soon as we walk into or up to a branch, it’s impressive how team members stop what they’re doing and focus on us. Even if they’re mid-sentence in a conversation, everyone hits their personal “pause button” and makes sure we know that they know we’re here.
After a minute, and obviously in a kidding way, I suggest to the managers or whomever is “in charge” there that, really, I don’t rank. Heck, I don’t bank with them or even live around there.
I also joke that the senior manager I’m with isn’t the most important person in the joint either. No, the people who are paying for everything – their salary, that building, the boss’s salary… heck, even my salary if I’m on a work engagement, are the folks standing in those lines or sitting in the waiting area.
Folks universally laugh at that and say they agree. But 99% of the time, they still are more focused on making sure their boss is smiling than the aforementioned folks (customers) who are paying for everything.
And I get it. It’s human nature.
When senior managers say things like, “I totally agree! I don’t want them fretting over me. I want them focused on the customers!”, I suggest, “That’s easy. Make sure they see you doing it.”
Whether it’s the branch manager or the president of the institution, when the most senior person in a branch gives priority and attention to customers in their presence, asks how they’re doing and thanks them for their business, all soon follow. No amount of “training” is more impactful than that.
Customers aren’t the necessary drudgery of our job. They are the very reason we have one.
Let’s try to always show them we recognize that.
I was reminded again last week that even the most ornery of folks tend to reciprocate goodwill.
We had a scheduled camping trip for our Boy Scout troop at one of the only sites within 100 miles of home with a lake and canoes to rent. A couple of our boys needed it for an Eagle Scout requirement.
When our trip was cancelled at the last minute due to “lake conditions,” I was frustrated. When a rescheduled trip was then similarly threatened at the last minute, I became more so.
The ranger I reached on his cellphone was annoyed that we wanted canoes. Apparently, it’s a bit of work to get those things out to where we needed them. He told me that “main office” said there would be no canoes that weekend.
I reached the office and had a chat with a flustered lady who started telling me about office politics (Really?) and that the ranger was wrong. Their boss said we could have canoes.
But, I was warned that the ranger was and “old coot” and might not be the most pleasant guy to deal with.
I laughed and said, “So, you’re telling me that I should expect to fight with a park ranger in front of a bunch of Boy Scouts? Nice.” She apologized and said, “Well, you know, about the only thing I know that guy likes is root beer and riding in his truck.”
My initial thought was, “Well, I guess I’m going to have to battle the troll of the park.”
But then I thought about the fact that I needed this guy more than he needed me. An argument that I’d likely win might make me feel good for a minute, but the boys might pay the price for it.
When we rolled up late on that Friday evening, that ranger and his crew were seated at a table in the station. When I cheerfully greeted them, I didn’t feel a lot of love in the room.
As they began processing us, I went to the ice chest in my truck and took out a 6-pack of root beer. When I handed it through the window and said, “I appreciate what you guys do,” you’d have thought I handed them hundred dollar bills. Smiles broke out everywhere.
Those guys basically became our concierges for two days. Even that head ranger drove his truck out a couple of times to make sure we were good.
I was reminded of the impact simple gestures and signs of respect can have. And they can make life just so much more pleasant for all involved.