Do your employees take orders or do they educate consumers? What is your employees’ perception to this question? No matter what products or services our organization provides, we want our employees to go way beyond just taking someone’s order. We want them to truly help consumers and change their lives for the better.

The difference between an order taker and an educator is often clear. A recent experience with a car rental company desk agent at an airport in a major Northeast city made that abundantly clear.

After landing and getting my baggage, I took the car rental agency bus to their main facility. A short wait in line soon had me in front of a front-line saleswoman. The exchange helped prove the distinction between order-taker and educator quickly.

Most people that have rented vehicles are familiar with the litany of questions one must endure at the counter. Do you want to upgrade to this? Do you want this kind of insurance? What about a GPS, DVD player, heated leather seats or a dashboard hot chocolate maker? She pinged the questions off me like a submarine sonar.

What was unpleasant about the exchange, however, wasn’t so much the questions as the way she posed them. As an agent, it’s her job to help me get the vehicle I need and maybe an additional product that will help in my travels. What left a sour taste was her presentation and interaction skills. She was obviously reading off a screen. Her demeanor, unfortunately, was brusque and robotic, cutting me off in several mid-sentences and leaving awkward silences.

I was plainly dealing with an order-taker, someone just trudging through what her supervisor or system makes her do. There was no real interest, charisma or energy in her approach, all hallmarks of the order-taker syndrome.

For any organization, including banks and credit unions, to survive and thrive in our evolving service economy, front-line staff must adapt and take on the role of educators. How do you best cross-sell products and services consumers might not be aware? By asking guiding questions in a way that helps consumers benefit from one your products. The best educators ask the best questions.

This must be done, however, in a polite and sincere manner, not in a stale and machine-like one. Consumers pick up on this and are instantly turned off. Educators dig deeper than order-takers, benefiting both consumers and the organizations that serve them.