Recently, I walked into a small printing store and took my place in line behind two other customers. The three of us patiently waited while overhearing an energetic conversation occurring out of sight, but well within ear shot of the three of us.

An employee was being reamed out by a supervisor for arriving late. After the shouting subsided, a young man came to the front counter and proceeded to wait on the three of us. He was unfriendly, minimally verbal, and clearly aggravated. Behind him was a sign on the wall which read, "Our Customers are our Number One Priority."

Who could blame this young man for his demeanor? Although I am an avid fan of self-discipline, it is hard to dismiss the circumstances that led to his poor customer service skills. Yes, a good employee consistently arrives on time for his job, but this doesn't justify the supervisor's behavior.

Time after time I am reminded of the critical relationship between the internal environment at the plant or office and the perception of customer service by the external customer.

When a salesman angrily calls dispatch, when a customer service representative unloads on a driver, when a manager openly disciplines an employee, there are consequences for the customer. Behavior is affected by how people feel. An unprofessional culture begets unprofessional behavior-and the customer bears the brunt of it.

Producers who say customers are a priority without taking a good, hard look at the behaviors allowed in the internal culture are kidding themselves. Simply, we can't give what we don't have. We can't give amazing service to our customers without an internal environment of respectful communication.

Joan Fox is a customer experience consultant to the Ready-Mix industry and a popular conference speaker. Telephone 513-793-9582, or e-mail joan@joanfox.com.