I recently heard a true story about Robert Henry who went into a sports/recreation equipment store to shop for a pair of binoculars.
As he walked up to the appropriate counter, he noticed that he was the only customer in the store. Behind the counter were two salespersons. One was so preoccupied talking to "Mama" on her cell phone that she refused to acknowledge that Robert was there. At the other end of the counter, a second sales person was unloading inventory from a box onto the shelves. Growing impatient, Robert walked down to her end of the counter and just stood there. Finally, she looked up at Robert and said, "You got a number?"
"I got a what?" asked Robert, trying to control his astonishment at such an absurdity.
"You got a number? You gotta have a number."
Robert replied, "Lady, I'm the only customer in the store! I don't need a number. Can't you see how ridiculous this is?"
But she failed to see the absurdity and insisted that Robert take a number before agreeing to wait on him. By now, it was obvious to Robert that she was more interested in following procedures than helping the customer. So, he went to the take a number machine, pulled number 37 and walked back to the salesperson. With that, she promptly went to her number counter, which revealed that the last customer waited on had been holding number 34. So she screamed out, "35!...35!...36!...36!... 37!"
"I'm number 37," said Robert.
"May I help you?" she asked, without cracking a smile.
"No," replied Robert, and he turned around and walked out.
And you know what...they will walk out of your business, hospital, clinic or non-profit.
I sometimes wonder if we're losing the spirit (or importance) of serving customers. Has the customer become an interruption in our busy day? What ever happened to service?