Leadership Skills

My Crusade for Workplace Kindness

While staying in a hotel, I requested a converter-plug.  It was delivered to me on a silver tray within 5 minutes.  This amazing level of service reminded me that I was staying in a luxury level establishment.  We have all been through difficult economic times and for some things seem to be getting worse.  That is precisely why we all should take a little more time to be kind to each other.

You immediately get an impression of a place when you arrive and landing in Reykjavík Airport in January at 6 AM is no exception.  The promotional travel video playing overhead while you go through the first of many screenings states that there is one person per every 3 km in the country of Iceland.   If that is true, why aren’t they happier to see me?   This is what an IKEA Airport would look like.  There are cool blondes in tailored black suits and jack boots, but no attempt at human contact while passing through three passport controls.  What would you think of a place that bears an eerie resemblance to James Ingo Freed’s Washington DC Holocaust Museum?  Turns out, dark grey can be an overused color and incessant new Age music does help matters.  The land of fire and ice is a well deserved title.  At the passport control gate number four an agent barked, “Come back later.  There is nothing in the terminal.”  As there was nothing outside the terminal either, I decided to take my chances.  “I just want to sleep.”  I said.  “Oh.  OK then.”  He replied, “First I must stamp your passport.” Click-thump.

How many people are trying to come here?  Would more be interested if service warmed up a bit?

When teaching customer service classes, I often hear, “Kate, you don’t understand.  It is not in our culture to be friendly.”  My response is, “Well, if you plan on doing business with others, you must understand them and cater to their wishes.”

If you are thinking that culture ignorance is limited to other countries, think again.  It is also a class, race, and gender issue.  Once after a handling customer complaints session, a woman came up to me and said, “Thank you for a fun afternoon.  I always assumed that rich people are all the same but you pointed out that they have feelings and problems too.”  A simple truth no one had taken the time to point it out to her before.

Remember the converter on a silver tray I mentioned?  I was recently at a luxury hotel in transition.  It had been a mid-priced hotel, but after being sold and bought by different companies, the property is now trying to upgrade its image.  (This happens in every industry with mergers, acquisitions, and management changing hands.  I could probably be kept very busy with this type of challenge alone.)  I was discussing with a group of employees the different expectations based on a hotel’s level of luxury and used the converter as an example:

  • A regular hotel would send an employee to the guest’s room and he would hand the converter to the guest.

  • A better hotel would deliver the converter on a plate and say, “Here you are Mrs. Smith.”

  • A luxury hotel would deliver the converter to the guest room within 5 minutes on a plate and say, “Here you are Mrs. Smith, may I install it for you?  Is there anything else I can do at this time?”

In fairness, none of the employees in the room had signed on to work at a luxury hotel.  They did not all like the fact that their jobs had changed overnight.  One employee had a few choice words for me and stormed out.  (It is rare, but sometimes I lose one or two.)

There was however a bright ray of light in the room.  An employee who admitted while walking into the meeting that he was not feeling well and that he had recently suffered a personal tragedy.  When his co-worker left he said, “Some people just don’t want to work.  When they see something to do, they scatter.”  I asked him why he thought that was and he said, “They say things like, ‘I hate this place.’ But I don’t.  I love this place.  This job puts a roof over my head and food on my kid’s table.  If it is luxury or not, it doesn’t matter, I will always do my best.”

How could I clone this employee’s attitude?  How could I inspire others to be willing to take on more work?  Over the next couple of weeks I will attempt to answer these questions.  Do you have a story like this?  If so, please write to me and share.

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