Through most of my corporate work career I’ve been associated with the “hospitality industry:” hotels and resorts and all the amenities they are made of, e.g. restaurants, retail and recreational outlets and the like. The hospitality industry is a labor-intensive one, where the majority of employees do come face-to-face with the customer. Within it, nearly every manager can tell you how they will limp their way through the dreaded monotony of daily pre-shift meetings, sometimes called “the line up.” For most of the hospitality industry the purpose is the same: 10-15 minutes at the beginning of a work shift to keep staff as up-to-date as possible, and in-the-know enough to have a decently savvy stage presence for the customer.

Coming up with engaging conversations for pre-shift was this on-going game with me; I took it on as my own personal challenge to make the 10-15 minutes as entertaining for all of us as possible, while sharing the knowledge everyone needed for the day ahead. If we had to have line up, we may as well enjoy ourselves and learn something useful at the same time.

One of my favorite line-up routines was to do a 5-minute brainstorm we called “How to drive a customer crazy.” We talked about what not to do in a way that had most of us rolling in laughter at the possible outrageous scenarios. However it was also very effective in actually speaking out loud those reminders of bad habits we really shouldn’t do. The staff would throw out suggestions that sounded awful, but usually they were possible: They really were big no-no’s, and saying them out loud, even in jest, kept us aware of them enough to keep them at bay.

Here are some samples of what would come up for us:

How to Drive a Customer Crazy.

Pretend you haven’t noticed they are there.
Stay in first gear, especially when they are rushing.
Let them overhear your personal phone call, and make no attempt to end it.
Open late. Close early.
Say “That’s not our policy.”
Say “That’s not my job.”
Say “I’m not allowed to do that.”
Say “I have no idea.”
Say “Are you sure that’s what you want?”
Slouch. Chew Gum. Twirl your hair between your fingers.
Give them a blank stare, or worse, roll your eyes.
Fidget distractedly. Appear bored.
Finish whatever other task you have at hand, while they wait for you to attend to them.
Talk story with other employees. Laugh at an “inside joke” they are not privy to.
Speak in a monotone. See how long you can go without smiling.
Be late for their appointment or with their reservation.
Take shortcuts with your service, saying “you don’t really need this part do you?”
Make excuses.
Have a quick comeback for every point they may wish to make with you.
Offer mechanical, routine service that is so uneventful, so ordinary, that they expect to pull a number and listen for you to call out “Next!”
Look at them with open disapproval or impatience.
Speak so softly, or in such a rush, that they need to keep asking “What was that?”
Give them directions so involved or confusing they have to write them down.
Give them “scenic” directions that take them out of their way when they really wanted a shortcut.
Ignore the very young and very old in the group, talking only to the ones you assume are the “responsible ones” – or the paying ones.
Assume that all customers are the same, and you already know what they want.


Is your pet peeve here?
What would you add to the list? What drives you crazy when you’re the customer?

Rosa Say, author of Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawaii’s Universal Values to the Art of Business and the Talking Story blog.

Previous Thursday Column: From Mistake to Marvel.

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