You just never know who you’re going to run into. The fellow in the Starbucks lineup turns out to be your next client; the lady in the chair next to you at the salon is your old kindergarten teacher; the guy who just about smoked you on the highway ends up being your boss’ husband. That’s why I never flip people the bird when they cut me off in traffic because you just never know

So it always pays to be on your best behaviour. For one thing, you’re representing yourself – your own personal brand.  For another thing, someone may be listening…

I was listening recently while in the process of buying a new phone from a local cell phone retailer. There were two clerks in the store, one serving me and the other helping another woman. Maybe “helping” is the wrong word here – “deflecting” might even by generous. Her problem? She was wondering if the cell phone she had ordered a few weeks ago had finally arrived. The clerk told her that a shipment of phones had come in but had already been sold to other customers. It was immediately obvious by the tone of her voice that the customer was annoyed. Apparently she had put her name and contact information on a list and had been promised a phone call when the phones were in.

What happened next was unbelievable. The clerk serving me raised her head and announced, in defence of her co-worker, that she had, indeed, called this woman and had left a message. The tone of this clerk’s voice indicated quite clearly that she thought it was the customer’s fault for not having responded to the message.

Wow. Them was fightin’ woids.

What ensued was a 5 minute argument between this arrogant young clerk and the customer over whether or not a message was delivered. The clerk had “You’re an Idiot” written all over her face and it was more than obvious in her tone of voice. The customer finally left – infuriated and sans phone. To make matters worse, the two clerks proceed to discuss the issue with each other IN FRONT OF ALL THE CUSTOMERS STILL IN THE STORE! One look around at all of the raised eyebrows spoke volumes to me but the self-righteous clerks were completely oblivious.

My next stop was at the local bakery where I had placed an order which was supposed to be ready by this time. Upon arrival I discovered that only the half the order had been prepared. What did the clerk do? She leapt into service mode without hesitation. First she checked the order and discovered that it had been recorded correctly – the baker had erred. Then she offered to have the second half made up immediately. I was running out of time and couldn’t wait so she quickly offered a substitute – free of charge. In the end, while I was disappointed that I hadn’t received what I had ordered, I still left feeling “served”.

And this is the whole point.

When mistakes happen, and they will, it makes sense to exercise due diligence to figure out what went wrong. Hopefully you can avoid a similar situation in the future. But to get into an argument with your customer over whose fault it was is suicidal. Fault is irrelevant…how people end up feeling is critical. The customer went away feeling angry and, presumably, let everyone in her social network know about her horrible experience. Bad for business. More importantly, the clerk presented herself to everyone in the store as being rude and argumentative. Her quality of service was exposed. Take note here: her quality of service, not her store’s.

Maybe she hates her job, maybe she was having a bad day… maybe maybe maybe. She needs to realize that her attitude and behaviour are a reflection of her personal brand (which she just torpedoed in front of me and the other customers in the store). This is the stuff that personal reputations are built on. I will continue to frequent this store because it’s the only one in town – for now – but will move heaven and earth to avoid being served by Attitude Girl. Who needs that?

The bakery clerk really didn’t do anything extraordinary – she simply did the right thing. But in comparison to the phone clerk, the difference was phenomenal. You never know when you’re going to get an opportunity to impress. Your next customer could be your next boss or business partner. How you present your own brand is the best business card you could ever hope to offer.