I drove to the site dreading what I was about to experience. Going into a DMV in any state you almost expect to deal with rude employees. You expect rude workers who won’t even look at your face when they are talking to you or who will shout at you like you should have known that you need 14 different kinds of ID and a blood sample to get a driver’s license. But that didn’t happen today. Literally, every person I interacted with, three in all, were so pleasant. Even though the process is a cluster and I didn’t have all that I needed and have to go back, they were all really nice and provided great customer service.
While I was waiting I studied the employees behind the counter to try to figure out what made this DMV so different. What was it that made them all very nice and easy to interact with in what was normally a very frustrating situation. It was quickly very easy to see what it was.
It was the supervisor.
She was a bundle of positive energy floating around that place. She helped employees who were stuck with a smile on her face. She was openly praising employees who were doing a great job. When things got really overwhelming, she jumped behind a counter herself and started helping customers. When she sensed an employee was getting frustrated she jumped in to make sure that customer service was still provided at the highest level. She was patient, kind and you genuinely felt like she wanted to help. That attitude permeated through each and every employee.
I was so happy when she opened a window right when it was my turn so I could talk to her. I told her what I had observed and how impressed I was. She told me that she had been with the DMV for 26 years and knew one thing to be true. She said that she could not control the process at the DMV. The paperwork, process of applying for registration or driver’s license was out of her control. She couldn’t make the process any easier for patrons. The thing she could control was their experience. She said she realized that even if customers felt like they were jumping through hoops just to drive a vehicle, they were willing to jump longer if she jumped with them.
She went on to say that she made sure her employees delivered that same level of customer service. She realized that the best way to get them to emulate that behavior was to make sure they saw it every day, in every interaction, from her. She stated that it wasn’t enough for her to tell them how good customer service could change the way they interacted with customers, she had to show them. That’s why she jumped behind a counter whenever she could. That’s why she jumped into a tense situation before it boiled over. That is why she was pleasant even when patrons were yelling.
Before I stepped away she grabbed my hand and said that more important to her than providing great customer service to customers was providing it to her employees. She expected them to display excellent customer service with every single customer, even the difficult ones. She knew that if she expected it out of them, she had better be willing to do it herself.
Leadership is as much about show as it is tell. We can tell employees all day long how we want them to act or perform. If our interactions with employees is completely opposite of how we want them to interact with customers, we can’t expect them to actually get it right. Do as I say, not as I do leadership does not work.
Sometimes leaders forget that their interactions with employees have a greater impact than just the relationship. It can affect performance, attitude and even how they treat others. Leaders often stay behind the scenes and let their employees deal with the customer facing duties. What they may not realize is that even if their face is behind the scenes, the customers may be experiencing their leadership via their employees.
The leader at the DMV understood this and because of that a normally unpleasant experience was bearable. I would even go as far as to say it was a good experience.