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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 October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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