Santa wasn’t so jolly.

We spent the weekend visiting my aging grandparents. It was a fantastic opportunity for them to spend some with their great-grandchildren. Their small Ontario town was bustling with Christmas. We saw Santa arrive at the Welland Canal by a tugboat and then make his was over to a city building for photos.

Santa’s photoshoot was to last from 1-3PM. We arrived at 2:30 pm to find a family of four (including two sad looking children) leaving. They told us Santa was done with taking photos and had decided to quit early. But my kids were excited and still wanted to catch a glimpse of the jolly old fat man, so we went in and inquired anyways.

As it turns out, Santa was upset with too many moms snapping photos with their cell phones and too many crying children. He had enough, and he was leaving. The photographer warned us, if any of our kids were crying, Santa wouldn’t have anything to do with them, but I pressed on.

I pleaded with Santa and the photographer, flashed some money, and was able to get a fantastic photo of my daughter, Avalon, with Santa. My other daughter, Ella, was nervous so she stood back and watched. Moments later, Santa got up and abruptly left the building.

Suddenly, Ella worked up the courage as if she would miss her opportunity to tell Santa she was wishing for droves of dolls and babies. She chased him outside without her winter coat, but it was too late. We watched Santa get into his sleigh-a navy blue, 90s Buick Regal-and he sped away.

“Why does Santa drive an old car, Daddy?”

Of course, as you would have guessed, there’s a valuable lesson that this grumpy Santa inadvertently gave to all of us. In fact, there’s a lot to be learned from every Christmas. For example, we could question the relationship between Santa and those who paid for his presence. Was he overpaid, underpaid, or treated poorly? Were expectations unclear for Santa and those running the event? Perhaps the customers really were to blame. All important questions, but I think those are secondary.

The most important lesson here is that Santa was on the front lines dealing directly with customers and if he’s unhappy, everyone is unhappy. It’s as simple as that. And if he leaves early, there’s nobody there to take the customer’s money. How often is a grumpy Santa turning away your customers and revenue?

You’ve heard me harp on this time and time again. Many companies often say things like, “We put quality and customer service above all else,” but frontline experiences often seem directly antithetical to those lofty statements.

It’s easy for companies to say that they’re committed to creating world-class customer experiences and to ensuring that everyone throughout the organization continues to improve their skills in these areas. But when budgets are tight, and deadlines loom, or other issues get in the way, it’s just as easy to let Santa put a damper on everyone’s Christmas.

Every company says it’s a learning organization, and every company says that it puts customers first, but that’s usually not true. As we wind down 2016, I would pose the following challenge which you’ve heard from me over and over again. During this busy holiday season while we’re busy shopping and wrapping gifts, be sure to shop your own business.

Commit to doing something over the next 30 days to see how the customer’s actual experience matches up with the one you believe you’re delivering.

Answer the phones and talk to customers.

Work with the guys responding to RFPs.

Get out and visit a few customers.

Spend some time on the shop floor with your employees.

Run the front desk or the service counter for a day.

Have someone from the outside talk to your customers. I do this for many of my clients, and there’s always immensely valuable insights gained.

And if you absolutely must, get that big red suit on, pucker up and give me the best, jolly “Ho, Ho, Ho” that you’ve got.



P.S. Don’t get me wrong. This is quite frankly the best Santa I have ever seen, and he’s got a busy few weeks ahead. This picture is just magical. She told Santa she was wishing for “a million kitties.”