You approach the counter at a fast casual restaurant, coffee shop, or bakery. You would like to place your order. The workers appear busy performing various tasks. They need to do this work in order to serve you effectively. They must wash dishes, clean counters, sweep the floor, obtain supplies from a cabinet, refill the coffee maker, etc. You understand that these tasks must be completed. However, you become frustrated very quickly because no one has taken your order. In fact, no one has even acknowledged your presence at the counter. They have not said good morning and/or welcomed you to the establishment. They keep their back turned and their head down. They walk past you several times without so much as a word to you. We have all experienced this frustrating moment... workers placing task before customer. Perhaps we have even walked away at times, when the wait seemed to be interminable.
World class customer service requires a different approach. Companies have to train employees to put customer before task. They does NOT necessarily mean dropping everything to take the person's order immediately (though that should be done if the task is not a high priority at the moment). After all, you can't fulfill a coffee order if there is no coffee brewing at the moment. However, an effective associate acknowledges the customer's presence. They greet them professionally and courteously. They ask them politely to wait one moment while they complete the particular task that needs to be done immediately. They explain what the task is, and why it is important. Managers need to help employees understand how to approach these situations. Moreover, they need to make sure they are not sending employees the wrong message, by establishing controls and incentives that might cause associates to put task before customer. Far too many employees feel pressured to put the task first because they haven't received the right message from their bosses.