When leaders care, employees serve

“If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.”

—Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com

Every business leader today is asking the questions:

  • “How do we differentiate ourselves from other like businesses?”
  • “How do we secure customer loyalty?”
  • “What do we need to do to exceed the customer/client expectations?”

Care: Curiosity + Attitude + Responsiveness = Engagement

In the last number of months I have had extraordinary “customer care” experiences while traveling. I couldn’t help but wonder what it is that allows one organization to excel in customer care, while another, providing the same service or product, does not. My father’s mantra returns again!

“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”


I traveled to Pittsburgh for my sorority reunion in late March, which was a delightful experience. A few of us stayed at the Omni William Penn Hotel, a beautiful, historic building in the center of the city.

The service was exemplary, from bell service, to check in, to meals. One disappointment, though, was poor lighting in the guestroom. A day or two after returning home, I received an online request for feedback from the hotel.

How has the William Penn differentiated itself?

A request for feedback from hotels is not uncommon. What was uncommon, however, was receiving a personal thank you for specific feedback with a promise that the hotel will be enhancing the lighting in the rooms. How many times have we completed surveys with either no follow up or a generic thank you for taking the time? The William Penn got it right!

I look forward to returning to Pittsburgh and staying there once again.


At the TGIF restaurant in the Tampa Airport, I watched the server respond with uncommon care to each of the guests she was serving. She noticed when someone’s glass was empty; she asked specific questions about orders; she smiled; she made eye contact. It wasn’t what she did that was so striking. It was how she served that made the difference. She looked as though she enjoyed her job. When I initiated a conversation with her, she indicated that she had worked there for several years and loved her work, her company and the variety of people she met. Not surprising to learn, she has been asked by a number of customers to consider joining their businesses. She is content to stay where she is because she feels valued by customers and managers alike.

How did TGIF in the Tampa Airport secure customer loyalty?

I asked to speak to the manager to offer positive feedback for the service that we received and the service we observed. Like our server, the manager was energized and proud of how they treat their customers. When a customer shares good news about service at that restaurant, they ring a bell and high five the server. We enjoyed participating in the spirit and energy of appreciation. We will return!


There is a wonderful gift shop in the Pittsburgh Airport. ZoZo’s carries a wide variety of unusual cards and gifts. I enjoyed a shopping spree there with extra time before a flight. I looked forward to offering both the cards and gifts to family and friends. However, when I arrived home, I realized that only half of my purchases arrived with me. I suspected that they may have been placed in another customer’s bag, or left behind the counter.

When I called to explain my dilemma, I was more than surprised when the salesperson apologized and said that they would make it right by sending the gifts that I had purchased. I expected a “fight.” She said that mistakes happen and they just want to be sure that the customer receives what she purchased.

What did ZoZo do to exceed customer/client expectation?

I was impressed with the authority the salesperson had to “make it right.” In a conversation with her manager, I offered feedback about her uncommon responsiveness and learned that the salesperson has been with the company for 15 years. Her manager expressed appreciation for the salesperson’s level of professionalism and indicated her high regard and trust in decision making. She too, was focused on customer care, assuring me that they would send the merchandise at their expense.

I will return!


The way people are treated inside an organization is reflected in how they treat their external customers/clients. In two of the scenarios described, the service providers expressed great appreciation for the leaders they work for and the company that supports their best work.

Engagement on the part of employees is the result of leaders who CARE about them. When leaders care, employees serve.

Karen Vernal is the president of Vernal Management Consultants LLC, a Milwaukee-based leadership and organizational firm dedicated to “igniting the spirit and skills of leaders.” The company is one of two firms in the nation to be certified in Emotional Intelligence through the Institute of Health and Human Potential. For additional information, visit www.vernalmgmt.com.

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