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Taking the Lead to Serve Those Who Serve

Like many of you, I have tried to picture how I could apply what I’ve read in books and articles about leadership to my day-to-day activities throughout my career, whether serving as a branch retail store manager, deployed general manager or when assigned to headquarters.

“Not only are you a leader for your customers, but you are leaders to your fellow associates as well.” 

What I’ve learned along the way is leadership is not defined by job title. Every one of us has an opportunity to lead. The Army spouse who needs help loading a large purchase into his or her car, the Airman who has a question about a refund and the retiree who needs help locating an item views you as a leader. Your actions, compassion and willingness to go the extra mile will determine their satisfaction and loyalty.

The Exchange teams’ actions before, during and after the recent hurricanes have been a study in leadership and dedication beyond belief. You were there, side by side, with our customers, waiting out the storms and opening at the first possible moment. Even though many suffered significant personal losses, associates came into work, not knowing if there was even electricity or the condition of the building. Each of them has shown their “We Go Where You Go” commitment to service members and their families when support was been needed most.

It doesn’t take a natural disaster to demonstrate leadership and make a customer’s day better. My monthly “Operation Shout-Out” messages are full of inspiring stories of associates who have gone above and beyond in the service to our customers. We also receive many positive customer comments a week, highlighting how seemingly simple actions make a lasting impression.

Here are a few:

  1. “I wanted to recognize one of your employees Christina for her fantastic customer service. She is always friendly and positive with customers. Yesterday I left a small item (under 2 dollars) at the checkout corner. This morning when I walked in, she recognized me and gave me the product which she had locked away with the receipt attached. Please send my compliments to her!”
  2. “Miss Charlene and another young lady were working on the evening of 18 Sept at Charley’s, my children and I went to get dinner at about 1940 and given they close at 2000, I was rushing in and explaining to my children we had to hurry up, order and eat before closing. That wasn’t the case at all though, we were greeted politely, no one rushed our order and they had a great attitude. Miss Charlene at Charley’s was such a delight that I had to make it a point to make a positive comment about her. She is the type of person that will bring people back and in the 14 years we have been living the lovely Army life, we have come to appreciate these types of people because sometimes they are hard to come by. I hope that if she hasn’t already been recognized, that she is recognized for her hard work and great attitude!”
  3. “This comment is long overdue, but we were in the middle of a PCS. I don’t have the individual’s name, but on June 30th at 1335, I purchased a washer dyer set from a woman at the exchange. She was great. She made sure to let us know about all the deals going on, answered our questions, and even directed us to products she thought we might be interested in. She really went above and beyond to ensure we had a good experience and bought what we wanted. We are very happy with our purchase, and in the future if we make any other big purchases, we will be looking for her to assist us.”

Not only are you a leader for your customers, but you are leaders to your fellow associates as well. It’s easy to forget as we go about our day that people are watching how you do your job. When you’re friendly with the mom and kids whose husband is deployed, your fellow associates notice. When you take time to chat with retirees about how their weekend went, your fellow associates notice. When you are patient and understanding while managing a frustrated customer on the phone, your fellow associates notice. Each one of us makes a leadership impact daily and all it takes is a little extra care and attention.

As I review our customer comments, I am surprised at how easily many could be rectified had we taken just an additional moment to really hear what the customer was saying or adjust the tone in our voice or expression on our face. When resolving customer complaints, a good rule of thumb is to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. What would you reasonably expect if you were them? How would you want to be treated? Our customers have more shopping options than ever in this day and age. Our success and survival depends on how we take care of our customers.

Think about the ways you can start making a difference in your facility or work area today. What is that one extra step you can take to demonstrate your leadership abilities? 

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