Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Smile Can Mean So Much

It's been a while since my last post as I've been on vacation in the Caribbean for a couple of weeks - a week in St. Maarten and a week in St. Kitts. The week in St. Maarten was at a resort which is supposed to be rated as a 5 star resort while the week in St. Kitts has been at a Marriott resort. I tell you this, to relate a story about a small thing which stands out in a big way - smiles!

Though there is no comparison between the resorts which we have stayed at (though they are supposedly both rated as 5 star), the biggest thing that we notice the first week was the lack of smiles and warmth from the staff. It didn't seem to matter what the circumstances were or how friendly we were, the people just wouldn't warm up or crack a smile. It seemed like we were always waiting for them to finish something before they would greet us and ask how they could help us. We constantly felt like an inconvenience to them. This left a lasting impression on us because we knew what was waiting for us at the Marriott in St. Kitts. Beyond the facilities, the beaches, the beds, or any other factor that we considered, the number one thing we couldn't wait to experience at the Marriott was the warmth and smiles of the people. This is part of the Marriott difference and let me be clear - Marriott did NOT disappoint us.

Immediately upon our arrival, from the door man opening the taxi door, to the front desk staff, to the porter, to the activities desk, all greeted us with a smile and a welcome. Now not all the staff were perfect and as we always do when we travel, we will report all sides of the service equation, the good, the bad and the outstanding. The point is that the people at Marriott are obviously trained to make their guests feel special, feel welcome. After all isn't that the whole reason why the staff exists in the hospitality business?

Let us never forget who our customers are and how important they are to our livlihood and the successes of our businesses. Remember if you are an employee who deals only with internal colleagues within your own company and not external customers, then YOUR customers are the people who you do work for in other departments. Don't forget to make a difference in their day and you will set yourself apart. Let me exhibit this in a short story.

I once had a job in a large company and worked on a team of 7 people. The team was composed of mostly long-timers who had worked for the company more than 20 years. After about 6 weeks we had our first team meeting and I tried to be a good team player by actively participating and offering suggestions related to a couple of agenda items. When the meeting was done and my manager walked past my office, I called in her in to ask her what the team's impressions were of me. She asked me if I really wanted to know. This response took me back a little but I told her of course I wanted total honesty. The team's feedback was that they didn't think I was for real. When I clarified what they meant, I was told that I was too friendly, too happy, too enthusiastic and that the team thought my attitude would change once I'd been there for a while. This was a surprise to me, but I said to myself "oh well" they will find out who I am.

Every morning when I entered the office from the elevators I would pass the offices of two of these long time employees (one male and one female) and said my usual "good morning" in a friendly, upbeat tone. They would sometimes respond but not always, and their return greetings were seldom very enthusiastic. I got to know them a little over time as I would strike up a conversation when I had an appropriate opportunity, but by and large the interactions were not very regular. One morning I passed by my colleagues without my usual interactions. I may have had something on my mind or I may have just forgotten. About 30 seconds after sitting at my desk, my colleague Michelle came into my office and asked if I was OK. She said she was concerned because I didn't greet her with my usual warmth and friendliness and thought I might be ill. It became clear at that moment how much she had noticed my morning greetings.

And as you proceed through your day, don't forget that everyone you encounter is an opportunity to make a difference in someone's life. Greet them, smile at them, make them feel warm and special today. You will be a personal stand out.

This is your personal 1% difference.

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