The touch of personality can be a magnetic attraction for customers.
My wife is a lifetime loyal customer of a local grocery store (where the prices are actually higher) because of the fun interaction and friendship she has with two employees. The personality of these women, at checkout, is a highlight of her shopping experience.
Sometimes employees have a fun personality behind closed doors with their co-workers, but present a professional (stiff) image to the customer. I understand that. If you work for a funeral home and someone has died, you can't laugh about the situation. There are situations where you have to be discerning about personality. There are also cultural considerations here.
But I wish I could free up employees to let their unique personality shine with customers. I find we often hide who we really are behind a mask of "acceptable" performance. I love the story told by Robert Fulghum, in his wonderful book,
All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts On Common Things
Giants, wizards and dwarfs was the game to play.
Being left in charge of about eighty children seven to ten years old, while their parents were off doing parenty things, I mustered my troops in the church social hall and explained the game. It's a large-scale version of Rock, Paper, and Scissors, and involves some intellectual decision making. But the real purpose of the game is to make a lot of noise and run around chasing people until nobody knows which side you are on or who won.
Organizing a roomful of wired-up gradeschoolers into two teams, explaining the rudiments of the game, achieving consensus on group identity-all this is no mean accomplishment, but we did it with a right good will and were ready to go.
The excitement of the chase had reached a critical mass. I yelled out: "You have to decide now which you are-a GIANT, a WIZARD, or a DWARF!"
While the groups huddled in frenzied, whispered consultation, a tug came at my pants leg. A small child stands there looking up, and asks in a small, concerned voice, "Where do the Mermaids stand?"
Where do the Mermaids stand?
A long pause. A very long pause. "Where do the Mermaids stand?" says I.
"Yes. You see, I am a Mermaid."
"There are no such thing as Mermaids."
"Oh, yes, I am one!"
She did not relate to being a Giant, a Wizard, or a Dwarf. She knew her category. Mermaid. And was not about to leave the game and go over and stand against the wall where a loser would stand. She intended to participate, wherever Mermaids fit into the scheme of things. Without giving up dignity or identity. She took it for granted that there was a place for Mermaids and that I would know just where.
Well, where DO the Mermaids stand?
All the "Mermaids"-all those who are different, who do not fit the norm and who do not accept the available boxes and pigeonholes?
Answer that question and you can build a school, a nation, or a world on it.
What was my answer at the moment? Every once in a while I say the right thing. "The Mermaid stands right here by the King of the Sea!" says I. (Yes, right here by the King's Fool, I thought to myself.)
So we stood there hand in hand, reviewing the troops of Wizards and Giants and Dwarfs as they roiled by in wild disarray.
It is not true, by the way, that Mermaids do not exist. I know at least one personally. I have held her hand."
Be the Mermaid you really are with customers. It's wonderful, magnetic and unforgettable.