Is Observation Dead?

I was recently browsing the local supermarket shelves for a loaf of gluten-free bread that I was purchasing in anticipation of a weekend guest who suffers from celiac disease. Who knew there could be so many different varieties of bread?

I stood browsing for a good ten minutes during which time a young, male employee wandered past on three separate occasions. On one occasion, he even stood within two feet of me to check his hand-held radio.

No eye contact was made, however, or any attempt whatsoever to assist me in my product search. On his way into the storeroom, which was right next to the bread section, he nearly tripped on three cardboard boxes that were partially obscuring the doorway. He muttered under his breath and then continued walking, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the boxes were now more than partially blocking the doorway!

Eventually I found my gluten free bread (possibly lined with gold dust due to its exorbitant price) and made my way to the checkout. As it was late afternoon on a Friday there was plenty of activity in the store with much stocking of shelves in preparation for a busy shopping weekend.

As I queued and waited to pay for my gold-encrusted gluten free loaf, I noticed a female employee walk straight past a piece of plastic wrapping littering the floor. A second employee also walked by, this time it appeared to stick to her shoe. She brushed it off, left it on the floor, and continued walking!

Do people simply not see what’s in front of them, I wondered, or is it a case of ‘that’s not my mess so I’m not touching it’?

We all know those families who moan about their children walking straight OVER their clean washing on the steps of the stairs as they dash to their bedrooms to update their Instagram and I’ve witnessed countless waiters placing my food order in front of me and then walking back to the kitchen empty handed, past a table laden with dirty dishes.

So, this ‘selective blindness’ is not a new phenomenon. Is observation dead? Do we simply not see what’s in front of us? Or have we created a society so lacking in awareness and sensible judgement that we simply don’t care what’s around us?

I decided to create a small experiment with the help of one of my clients; a local primary school.

On the day of my visit to XXX Preparatory School to discuss our latest series of web enquiries, I placed a large, empty plastic bottle on the floor outside the head teacher’s office. We chatted about the impact our monthly reports were having on the school and Samuel, my willing 9-year-old accomplice, counted the students who walked by and observed their response.

Of 19 passers-by, only 2 students picked up the bottle and took it (presumably to the nearest bin). 4 students decided to kick the bottle and 2 trampled on it! The rest walked on by.

Unobservant or lazy? Self-motivated or self-serving? Are we simply too busy to be truly observant? And how does this translate to what we see, or don’t see, in our customer’s faces and behaviours?

The takeaways from my ramblings………How observant are you? To the needs of your customers, your team and your visitors. When was the last time you had a close and thorough look at your own premises, website or social media image?

Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean others won’t.

If you’re interested in a fresh pair of observant eyes taking a look at your business, give me a call. My powers of observation are quite good, especially when it comes to a lack of observances from others.

Jonathan Winchester

Leave a comment