I went to the supermarket to pick up a few items. Not wanting to wait in line, I found a cashier who was without customers. She had her back turned as she was shuffling a deck of coupons. I approached her and stood there expecting her to stop what she was doing to serve me. She did not. She continued to organize the coupons and never said a word to me or attempted to make eye contact. She placed a rubber band around the coupons, put them in the drawer and without saying a word, started to ring up the two items.
It was like I wasn't there.
Viewing this as an experiment in communication, I said nothing. Neither did she. After ringing up the groceries she spoke for the first time. "$6.07, " she said. As I was digging for change she turned and talked to the other cashiers. I paid the bill and left. Talk about feeling invisible.
Yes, she was a young person being paid minimum wage but that's not an excuse for being rude. (Although I doubt that was her perception). I've had friendlier and more helpful service from others in her position. It made me think about what was being communicated by this cashier. By not acknowledging that I was standing in front of her I felt ignored and not valued as a customer. She had no idea of the impact of her silence and lack of friendliness. By not greeting a customer and avoiding eye contact, she tarnished the brand of the store. There was little difference between doing business with her and scanning my own groceries in the self service line. I left with a negative feeling about the supermarket although I've shopped there many times.
My husband reminded me that he doesn't like going to our local Thai restaurant even though the food is good and inexpensive. He dislikes the waitress who doesn't smile and looks annoyed all the time. He calls her "a pill". Think about it. He doesn't want to eat where the food is good because he doesn't like her attitude. She non-verbally communicates that the customers are an annoyance to her. She's creating a negative feeling.
How often do we minimize soft skills in the business world? Something as seemingly basic as greeting a person or making eye contact can have a big impact. It's part of your presentation. In graduate school, I waited tables at a New York City fast food restaurant in the middle of Times Square. (That's another story). I quickly learned the ROI of interpersonal skills. A greeting, friendly tone, and a smile could yield a better tip.
There's a barista at my local Starbucks named Gus. He remembers everyone's name. When I walk in the store, he starts making my green tea because he knows my order. Gus makes customers feel special and I always ask for him.
So the point is this. We are always presenting ourselves and the organization we represent. McDonald's understands this. Every entry level worker greets each customer by looking at them and saying "Welcome to McDonalds". They are well trained because the company recognizes that communication impacts their brand. It's the intangibles that drive the tangible. The next time you have a meeting or presentation, be fully present, acknowledge the other person and whatever your topic, serve it up with a smile.