In the early days of my management career in the hotel industry, there was a standard practice that seems to have fallen by the wayside, and I can’t imagine why. Well, I take that back, I think I know why. It’s a thing called ‘cost’ when the cost of a lost opportunity isn’t factored into it for the over-riding veto power it has.
Used to be we didn’t waste the lost opportunity of an empty hotel room. If we didn’t fill it up for the night, we couldn’t save up that lost ‘room night’ and sell it later; if you have a 400-room hotel, it’s always a 400-room hotel; not a 320-room hotel on Tuesday night and a 480-room hotel on Wednesday.
There was a greater benefit to having someone enjoy a good night’s sleep in that room as opposed to keeping it empty, so we’d fill it with one of our employees and their family. For that night we conveniently forgot they worked for us and treated them like the most important guest there was. In the process we gave them something priceless: Empathy for the guest they’d be serving the next day they went back to work.
Allowing staff to wear the shoes of the customer as often as possible is the very best training there is. With empathy they sharpen their anticipation of what the customer will need or may want before that customer has to ask for it, or wonder why it’s missing.
Think of the times you’ve sat in a restaurant and wondered why your waiter didn’t bring you the right utensils, or that extra bowl to share a salad course too big for any normal human being to eat by themselves. Think of that customer service agent who can’t understand your frustration level, when you finally get them on the phone after a good five minutes of navigating their automated voice systems. Think of all the times you’ve wondered why the hotel housekeeper keeps giving you fresh towels when you take the time to hang your once-used ones so neatly on the towel bar like that turn-down service card says (put on your bed by the shift she’s never worked on.)
These are things that are so obvious to you; Mr. & Mrs. Normal Customer. Why not to them?
Better anticipation is just the half of it: Empathy is the germinating seed of new ideas with which to serve your customer in ways that seem too small to be considered mission-critical strategic initiatives, but taken altogether give you a competitive edge in the sea of mediocrity that degrades ‘industry standards.’ Raising that bar with customer service may be as easy as asking your staff to pilot the ideas they thought of while they took their own little road trip through your product offerings.
Look for every opportunity you have for your employees to be the customers you practice on, and then milk that experience for all it’s worth. Ask them to share everything about it they can with you: What could have been cleaner? What could have been faster (or less rushed)? What was missing? Was anything a hassle or inconvenience? Did they have to look for something themselves, or ask for something that should have been graciously offered? What can they think of to improve what they enjoyed? Did they enjoy it, or was it just so-so? If they had paid full price, would they have felt it was worth it? Did anything blow them away? If not, why not? Was there any way they used their ‘insider’s advantage’ revealing the missing elements that first-time guests need to be clued in to?
Believe me, empathy is the trainer you should be paying overtime premiums to!
Hmmm … odd that this coffee-maker in my room is nowhere near an electrical outlet.
Related posts: (Mālama is the Hawaiian value of Caring and Empathy.)
Rosa Say is the author of Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawaii’s Universal Values to the Art of Business. You can also visit her on www.managingwithaloha.com where she regularly writes about value alignment in business, as with Mālama.