Quite simply, customer service begins with kindness. Excellence in serving customers starts with leaders who value employees and model quality service.

Leaders who respect and build relationships with staff establish the foundation for great service to thrive. Excellence in service does not begin with customers.

Where does customer service begin?

I expect great service whether I am at a supermarket, an airport, or my doctor. This link between leaders and staff played out one day while I was shopping.

As I walked into the store, I overheard the manager. His questions to the staff sounded anything but kind, even if he was just wanting to explain what to do. Tone changes everything.

In a loud voice, he barked. “This display won’t work here. Why did you set it up this way? Can’t you see that it will block the entrance and flow for customers? Do this over, now.”

The manager saw me, and turned to me smiling, “We are so glad you came into today. I just took over as manager and want to meet your needs and ensure we have the products you need.”

What a contrast! My first thought was, “I don’t believe you.” His welcome lost credibility with me. I wondered how the poor stocking clerk felt when he saw the sharp change in the manager’s behavior.

In this supermarket, cashiers rarely look up to say hello. They continue side conversations, complain about their hours, or whine because their feet hurt.

I seem invisible to them—an interruption to their bantering. If this scene is typical, it does not give me hope that the attitude of most of the employees will improve or that my shopping experience will ever meet, much less, exceed my expectations.

What is your vision of service excellence?

I do not know the mission of this store, which is part of a larger chain. Nothing within the environment of the store suggests that mission. For 13 years, the store operated without any immediate competitors.

I had few choices, and the store had a captive audience. During every visit, I would find understocked shelves and employees who may or may not assist me. Rarely, did they complete my transaction with a smile.

When you are the only store, hospital, school, cleaners in town, the risk of complacency increases.

A new supermarket opened a few months ago. They have a full parking lot. The atmosphere of that store hits you immediately.

You know that everyone from the manager to the custodian understands the mission. They see me. They listen to me.

I am not invisible.

How will you begin to build customer service today? Remember, it starts with leaders.

And always—

Be kind. Be brave. Be you.