Make the Choice!

A dear friend and long-time client recently asked me whether I felt we in the United States were peculiarly afflicted with poor service. I had to confess that hotels and airports here do seek to redefine “rancid” in terms of service. He regaled me with a story of an endlessly snaking check-in line at his hotel after a long flight. When finally, with a glacial pace that would have done any immigration inspector proud, he made it to the front, he heard a canned greeting: “Hello sir, and how are you today?”

It was clear he was seething, had been inconvenienced, and the last thing he wanted was to exchange banter about his state of health. A more situationally observant service provider would likely have said, “I’m SO sorry for the long line, let’s get you to your room right away…” And then having aligned on that priority, very likely having somewhat defused his frustration, rapport could have been more naturally built as the inevitable check-in process chugged along. Scripted, mechanically delivered inanities are not service, any more than what you hear in the elevator is really music.

Truth be told, most countries have service blind spots. Nitwits abound everywhere, as do stars. It comes down to a fundamental choice.

And service isn’t just smiles and bedside manner, it’s also what’s delivered. A famous hotel in Singapore abounds with gushing smiles, and yet delivers substandard croissants, despite being a legend in the industry. A small inn in the Languedoc in France, delivers that same croissant, moist and glistening with buttery appeal. The morning smiles are a tad more restrained at the inn. Which is providing the better service? Well, it truly depends. Singapore is not necessarily famous for breakfast croissants and Nasi Lemak there is pretty good. Add that to the smiles, and you can give them a pass (though truly, a Julia Child cookbook could cure the problem). The inn isn’t known for morning cheerleading sessions, and yet the staff is attentive, friendly and IS in a region known for exceptional croissants. Service is as service does. It’s situational to a large extent and depends on what you’re after and the expectations created.

However, the really diabolical service is usually not the failure of expertise, but the unwillingness to make a key choice. That choice is this: whether this is a job you wish to continue in, whether you rail against an imperfect cosmos for obliging you to take such a job or not, it is not the fault of the person you are serving! Hence, for the sake of God and Mammon (more on this momentarily), don’t take it out on them! Choose to have who you are reflected by how you serve.

If instead, you take your life not being perfect out on customers, you’ll drive them away, your gratuities will diminish, and you’ll be another commodity. Instead make the choice, that while you are here, you will shine, and make people grateful and glad to interact with you.  Commit to being a rock star in this role, and you’ll command more revenue, your prowess will likely be noticed, and you’ll cultivate critical interactive and responsive skills for whatever higher calling you may aspire to. Why do people who feel they could be so much more, insist on acting like so much less?

I went to Boston to deliver a speech. For my sins, I had to stay at a Sheraton (no other hotels at a sane distance, believe me), deliver at a Conference Center about 20 minutes away, and then return late night, and back home the next day. I booked a car service. Everything was duly confirmed back to me. Arrival at Boston, no problem. Trip from Sheraton to Conference Center, fine. At 10:30 pm when I emerged…no car. When I called I was told, “We don’t have a booking for you.” This was said as if it settled the matter. I asked if they’d like me to forward the confirmation I received. Silence. Then, a grudging confession: well that’s done out of LA and they’re supposed to fax us the confirmed runs. Fax? As I asked if they had checked the century we were in recently, they finally sprang into action, and got a car there in 30 minutes. Great! But it was 30 minutes longer than I needed to be hanging around. It was stress and aggravation that I was paying them not to have to endure (by calling a local cab company, which probably would have done the trick otherwise).

It’s this kind of service gaffe, which takes place every day, where you have to continuously check to see if people have ‘clicked’ to things they’ve confirmed to you, that makes you despair. On the other hand,  for those making the alternative choice, it means there’s ample room to shine…and scant competition.

We often in New York run across bartenders and wait-staff who are aspiring actors. Many are charming and clearly talented, at least insofar as you can intuit from their repartee, voice modulation, alertness and more. But some sport an attitude, as if to convey that we should consider ourselves fortunate to get their antipathy and churlishness. I am often tempted to say, “You say you can act? Prove it, try acting like a waiter. Put on a show for tonight called “I’m here to serve.”

We all have bad days. Never take them out on people you serve. They deserve better. And delivering that service, despite being down, despite the vicissitudes in our own personal lives, is the essence of being a professional. And thereby you build your brand. So be impeccable. Offer enthusiasm — generate it by delivering it if it’s in short supply naturally that day. Empower yourself to make someone’s day better.

Make the choice!