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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.

    More by this author

    Rosa Say

    Rosa is an author and blogger who dedicates to helping people thrive in the work and live with purpose.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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