A Classic Post from the NSCBlog Archive
Originally posted on September 5, 2007

A smile, a nod, a quick acknowledgement: Effective use of non-verbal communication. Much has been made of EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) of late, as a rounding out of the older IQ concept (see Daniel Goleman’s 1996 groundbreaking book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ”).

IQ primarily deals with math and verbal skills; vital and important, but in today’s increasingly interdependent world, where the fast-growing service sector increasing dominates and global organizations cross cultural lines with regularity, perhaps emotional skills are almost as important. After all, the service sector sells experiences and memories as much as aught else, and it takes a heightened degree of sensitivity to communicate effectively across cultural divides. The world and the organizations and systems that make it function are increasingly complex. An elevated understanding of the motivations and emotional drivers of the people who comprise those organizations may be vital to success in the coming century.

The Story
On a much more mundane level, I walked into a Baby Gap store the other day, gathered up a few items and walked to the checkout counter. There was a one clerk with just one person before her, and I figured for a fast transaction. It was the lack of a crowd in the store that had initially seduced me to stay and shop for a few impulse items. Nice but not necessary consumption, in part motivated by the prospect of a painlessly quick in and out.

As I approached the counter, I saw that the solitary person before me was doing a multi-item return and that the store’s procedures were such that it was not going quickly and easily, so neither would my wait. I paused in indecision. I had put some effort into making my selections but I’m no fan of waiting in lines. Should I stay or should I go? In that moment, on the edge of decision, something critical happened, something that swiftly swayed me.

The clerk looked straight at me and then looked away. Or perhaps it would be more precise to say she looked right through me. She had “seen” me but that was it.

She did NOT

  • make eye contact
  • smile at me
  • nod at me
  • or even send a friendly, “I’ll be with you shortly, sir,” in my direction.

In fact, she in no way acknowledged I existed. She did not make me feel

  • welcome, or
  • special, or
  • appreciated, or
  • valued, or
  • desired

Actually, quite the opposite. By refusing to acknowledge me as another human being, by not greeting me in even the slightest way, she devalued and dehumanized me at some level, she made me faceless. So back went the stuff onto the racks and on my way I went. And as I exited, with me went enough profit margin to pay for a few hours of a counter clerk’s salary. All for want of a one-second smile.

I’m not saying I would have stood there for twenty minutes in return for a smile but, yeah, I would have hung around for a bit. Throw in a, “This may take a few moments, sir. If you want to browse a bit more, I’ll have those items rung up for you when you return,” and I’d have been hers for life!

She may have been having a hard day (or had a hard night, it was mid-morning, just past opening time), and we have all had days when we are off. I might have hit her on one of her off moments, and everyone else that day may have had an exceptional customer service experience.

The Take Home
In any case, I had no bone to pick with her. My beef is with Baby Gap’s training program.

Not everyone is born with a stellar EQ. It is up to us as managers and leaders to train people into a deeper understanding of the importance of creating a pleasant customer experience. Training them to understand the vital part that acknowledging someone’s presence plays, and how the little things can add up to big things and create a lasting customer relationship.

The good news is that unlike IQ, the maximum of which scientists believe is largely set at birth, you can raise your EQ. Lord knows I’ve spend lots of time and energy trying to educate mine and in this, as in many other things, I teach/share what I most want to know.

Every organization is the shadow of its leadership. I find that an awesome responsibility, a tremendously challenging stewardship. And we are all stewards and leaders: for our children, our spouses, our neighbors, our friends, our community, the earth.