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The Trainer named Empathy

The Trainer named Empathy

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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.)

  • To Mālama, Address the Basics: The Six Basic Needs of Customers
  • Mālama for the Customer who Complains: Seven Steps for Handling Complaints
  • Post Author:
    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.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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