I already had my article for this week written by last Thursday evening and was just waiting to edit it one more time Sunday night or Monday morning before I published. I finished the article early because my wife and I were going to be leaving Friday night after work to head to Michigan to see our daughter, son-in-law, and the grandkids, and I didn’t want to be spending any time while I was there doing anything work related. But as you know I am always on the lookout for solid business improvement lessons that pop up in our everyday lives—little reminders or sticky notes that are all around us, begging for a bit of attention. And lo and behold we encountered something so strange and fantastic that I’m going to put off the other article for a week or two and devote my attention this week to the following story.
We got a later start than I was hoping as we both had some pressing issues that needed to be finished up before we left. That way we didn’t have anything hanging over our heads over the weekend. We didn’t have any concrete plans until the following morning at 7:30 when we had to pick up one of our granddaughters for a little field trip, so there was no time pressure. Late rush hour traffic can always be a bummer, and tonight it was complicated by an accident on our route. This was going to be a longer trip than we planned. By the time we got through traffic and onto the less crowded highway in Indiana, we needed gas, I needed a rest-stop, and both my wife and I were hungry. We didn’t stop at any of our usual spots, so even though “road-trip” food is usually pretty mediocre, this particular stop had even fewer decent options than our normal haunts. The most appealing spot to us was Jimmy Johns which is a sandwich/sub chain similar to a Subway. We were tired, not really chipper, and our expectations were low.
As we walked in, we were greeted loudly by a rather large fellow behind the counter with a big smile on his face. I responded quietly and without matching his enthusiasm and asked for a moment to consider the menu. Once my wife and I were ready she nodded at me to go first and I placed a rather unremarkable order for a small classic Italian sub with chips. The gentleman behind the register belted out “That’s the best my man!” and he raised his hand and we exchanged a high five. I didn’t even have time to hesitate, and after the smack I just started laughing. I mean when’s the last time you high fived with a fast food counter employee? I couldn’t stop smiling—it was just silly and confounding. Then he engaged me again stating that he knew exactly what my wife was going to order and told me that I knew the answer too. “Not so fast—she can be unpredictable” I said just to throw him off and see what he did, but we continued our banter as he declared she was going to get the ham & cheese. I retorted that she might just get the tuna when he burst out “when I started here, I didn’t like tuna, but my boss, this lady right back here, told me our tuna was the absolute best. So, for 2 straight weeks I had the tuna sub with cheese and bacon every day, and sometimes twice a day!” Now both me and my wife were laughing, and amazingly she ordered the tuna! His face lit up. “With cheese?” he asked excitedly. My wife nodded yes. “And bacon?” With her positive response the young man was almost giddy and told her she was absolutely going to love it—guaranteed!
Holy smokes, I have never had an encounter like that in my entire restaurant going lifetime. While we were eating, we noticed many of the other employees at this shop were pretty happy as well. Not as outgoing or boisterous as our cashier, but also not the dour and moody folks that you can often encounter at spots like this, especially at a roadside spot. The owner was there working with the crew, someone with a manager tag was also in the mix, and a couple of other younger workers were all working and talking with each other—all with smiles on their faces. And as we got up to leave the original chap smiled at us and asked if we enjoyed our sandwiches. Satisfied we were happy he boomed out “thanks for coming in tonight and drive safely—have a great weekend.” We replied for him to do the same, and we walked out with smiles on our faces and we talked about this amazing experience for another 15 minutes as we drove on down the road.
Do you have some (or even better—many!) folks that work in your organization that have the same enthusiasm as out Jimmy Johns cashier? Are people so excited about working for your company that even late on a Friday night their infectious “joy” is obvious even to the most weary and indifferent travelers? Do you yourself let others in your organization or other stakeholders “see and feel” your own excitement and joy about what you’re doing every day? That’s doubtful—and quite honestly that’s a drag—because how much better is it to be in the presence of someone who is honestly and authentically loving what they are doing for work? I know this may seem like an unrealistic expectation but as a leader you can and should be a major influence on the positive vibe that runs through your organization.
Of course, this all starts with your own attitude and actions. Your positive outlook and genuine concern for the experiences of your employees and customers will flow through the organization. You can make sure that your recruiting and training efforts are focused on those positive, supportive, infectious personalities and traits, so that your team becomes more populated with these ambassadors. And you need to communicate and recognize people who exhibit these positive actions, so that the rest of your team knows this is model behavior and will emulate this moving forward.
Customer loyalty and positive customer experiences are treasured gold for any organization. There are articles, advice, and consultants aplenty covering every conceivable angle of employee retention and workplace happiness. Get started today by being a more positive and energetic leader. Try to channel the enthusiasm and customer concern of our roadside fast-food counter attendant, and let that energy begin to permeate through your entire company. Model, hire, train, reward, and recognize this behavior in others, and make this part of your daily and weekly management routine. You’ll get happier, more relaxed and engaged employees as a result, and your team will have more skills and resources to perform the tasks that drive your business forward every day. Don’t just say it—lead by doing it.