Can Your Customers Spot “Professional Presence”?
Business woman in an office. Crossed arms

We don’t always know exactly what professional presence is, but we know it when we see it and your customers will too.


Earlier this week I traveled to the mid-West to deliver a two-day seminar on leadership effectiveness.

When I arrived at the hotel I was informed by the woman at the front desk that they had no record of a reservation for the hotel and me was very full. I showed her my paperwork and confirmation code and she said gently, “You’re right, that’s our hotel name and address, but that’s not one of our codes.”

Then she paused and said, “Let me see what I can do.” She found me a room for one night and promised she’d give me the first shot at any cancelations for the second night. Here’s what I noticed: Smiling face, excellent eye contact, gentle, caring voice, can-do attitude. So, instead of feeling upset, I felt cared for.

About 45 minutes later, after unpacking and ordering dinner, my colleague phoned to tell me that a group of us were, in fact, sent to the wrong hotel and we needed to move across town. Once again, the woman at the front desk was lovely. She not only called me a taxi, but she drastically reduced the hotel’s mandatory 50% room charge to a simple cleaning fee.

Fifteen minutes later I arrived at the new hotel. Now I’m tired — traveling all day, packing and unpacking, etc. There were three women at the front desk, two of whom were helping customers. I approached the third woman and asked if she could help me check in.

When she finally looked up from her paperwork, she sighed loudly and in a flat voice said, “Last name and photo ID.” That’s it. Not even a hello.

So, here’s what I noticed this time: No smile, minimal eye contact, no common courtesies like please or thank you, and I would equate her tone of voice with that of a world-weary cop fingerprinting his 25th “perp” of the day. And here’s how I felt: Angry, marginalized, and unwelcome. Isn’t that ironic?

They had my reservation, the room was ready and waiting, and yet in just 90 seconds I was left feeling frustrated and unhappy.

You don’t have to be an expert on professional presence to assess these two experiences.

Both women were obviously well trained and qualified in all aspects of running the front desk. They both had the site knowledge, computer aptitude, and process skills needed to do the job.

However, during our brief interaction, the second woman did not demonstrate any willingness or ability to connect with me as a person. Presence is about making those connections. It’s being fully present, other-conscious, and self-aware enough to know exactly how one’s face or eyes or voice are coming across, no matter if it’s a good day or a bad day.

Next page: Think about your customer-facing employees


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