They are watching. So you best pay attention.

I travel a lot. Most of the time, I wear my company badge (a Benjamin Franklin the Punctual Plumber pin) on my lapel.

It improves my behavior.

You see, when I don’t wear the badge, I am more likely to descend into poor behavior. If the plane gets delayed, or an airline representative starts to get chippy, well, I may get chippy myself. I might swear, or insult or browbeat somebody. If I am wearing the badge I am more conscious of a behavior-improving fact: People are watching.

Even if you aren’t “working,” people are watching you. They see you when you filet the coffee shop waitress for delivering cold eggs. They see you elbow your way to the front of the line. They see you when you neglect to say, “please” and “thank-you.”

Wearing the company badge reminds me that “they” are watching. And “they” are our customers and prospective customers. “They” are our prospective employees.

Eyes Everywhere

At work, your employees are watching you. When you talk about honesty at the company meeting, they notice when you neglect to correct the salesman who mistakenly undercharged you for materials.

When you pick up the shovel and help dig the water line, your employees notice that, too. When you hold the door for the next person, when you offer your seat on the bus, people notice that.

A few years ago, I attended a presentation by a best-selling author and motivational speaker. If I told you his name, you would recognize it. I had always been a little star-struck about this fellow. His program was great! His message involved responsibility and respect. I was impressed -- until I watched him interact with one of the members of the audio-visual team after the show.

He was petty and mean. He shouted and stamped his foot. (I had read about “stamping feet” but never actually seen it until then.) All this over an imperceptible microphone snafu. The speaker’s on-stage message was nowhere to be found in this behavior. I promised that I would never buy another one of his books. I watched him in action, when he didn’t realize I was watching, and it wasn’t pretty.

Contrast that with my pal Dan Holohan. Flip back to his article and read it again. Note how he sounds like he is talking to you? He sounds just like that when you are sitting across from him at a friendly watering hole. And, yep, more than likely he will have a beer and a book or a notebook with him.

He will tell you stories and ask you to share yours. (Beware! Those stories may be in the pages of this magazine someday.) The point is, Dan is Dan. Watch him on or off stage and you see the same sweetheart of a guy. Funny, nice, observant, opinionated, tolerant and genuinely delighted by the human condition. Those of you who have had the pleasure of his company know what I am talking about. He makes you want to buy his books. He makes you want to keep the conversation going.

People are watching. What does it say about you when your customer service rep lies and says you are not in when you really are? You could establish a policy of rigorous honesty at your shop, right down to the never harmless “white lies.” Could they say you are not available to take a call at that time? You have the power to declare yourself not available.

Mission Observation

Recently, I went to two top-five U.S. cities on a recruiting mission for Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. My intent was to qualify prospective franchisees and to sell franchises in those areas.

Also, I am always looking for good stories to share in my column. Nothing makes me happier than spotlighting a good business or a successful person. I called the trip the Girl Scout campaign because it was a door-to-door canvassing of the local plumbing companies.

Well, I did some watching.

In the plumbing business, you go to your customers’ homes. But, just in case, shouldn’t you keep your shop clean enough to welcome your guests?

Wow. Most of the shops I saw were scary dirty. At one shop, I saw the dirtiest plumber I have ever seen. He was the owner of the business and neither he nor his clothes had been washed in weeks. Sigh.

And what’s up with the “No Solicitation” sign? What does that mean? Does it have something to do with prostitution? Does it mean that YOU can sell, but other people can’t? Ignoring the sign, I walked in unannounced.

Here was my greeting: “Hi, I am Ellen Rohr, president of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing and a columnist for Plumbing & Mechanical magazine. We are planning to open a Benjamin Franklin Plumbing company in your market and I was hoping to visit with the owner about it.

“Also, I am always looking for great stories for my column. Is there anything you guys do exceptionally well that may be of service to the readers of Plumbing & Mechanical magazine?”

Now, as the owner of this small shop, how would you like your employee to respond to that? At the very least, would you want the CSR/receptionist to at least say “Hello?”

Gosh, I got snubbed. And ignored. And lied to. Are you really so important that you are never to be interrupted? What if the Pope stopped by? Or the President of the United States showed up selling war bonds? Even if you didn’t want to buy, wouldn’t you say “Howdy?”

While I am not comparing myself to the Pope or the pres, I could be writing some pretty complimentary things about (you?) right now. If the CSR hadn’t responded with, “Didn’t you see the No Solicitation sign?”

Was I watching you? Your shop? I imagine most gatekeepers think they are doing you a favor. You better make sure they are representing you and your company in the best possible light.

On the phone, are you or your CSRs rude to telemarketers? Telemarketers are customers, too. They are watching. Bonus: You may find a terrific CSR to come work at your company. The average job tenure for a telemarketer is three months. Be nice and tell them, “No thanks. But if you are looking for a more rewarding career, or a helpful plumber, give me a call.”

I watched some pretty bad behavior. The good news here is if you think the competition is tough, think again. You can take ‘em.

And, while you didn’t realize I was watching, I’ve seen you on your best behavior, too.

On the Girl Scout campaign, I met a couple of new friends. We visited, exchanged a few ideas, and I left encouraged about the state of the industry. (One of those relationships turned into a franchise sale!)

On a ride along, I watched a plumber oil a squeaky cabinet. Just natural as can be, and it was a nice thing to do.

Once upon a time, Max broke his leg on a trampoline. While I was downstairs doing laundry, our house painter helped take Max to the bathroom.

When my brother’s house blew away in a tornado, a coffee shop employee packaged coffee, rolls and juice and put it in my car to take to him and his family.

I saw a fellow help an old man who was suffering from dementia get off an airplane. He grabbed his bag, and held his hand and shuffled him off. He had his company shirt on. And the rest of us travelers were watching.

I know a dozen plumbers who are also firefighters. After a 12-hour day, if the alarm goes off, they go.

And we watch.