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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 February 25, 2020

    Face Adversity with a Smile

    Face Adversity with a Smile

    I told my friend Graham that I often cycle the two miles from my house to the town centre but unfortunately there is a big hill on the route. He replied, ‘You mean fortunately.’ He explained that I should be glad of the extra exercise that the hill provided.

    My attitude to the hill has now changed. I used to grumble as I approached it but now I tell myself the following. This hill will exercise my heart and lungs. It will help me to lose weight and get fit. It will mean that I live longer. This hill is my friend. Finally as I wend my way up the incline I console myself with the thought of all those silly people who pay money to go to a gym and sit on stationery exercise bicycles when I can get the same value for free. I have a smug smile of satisfaction as I reach the top of the hill.

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    Problems are there to be faced and overcome. We cannot achieve anything with an easy life. Helen Keller was the first deaf and blind person to gain a University degree. Her activism and writing proved inspirational. She wrote, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

    One of the main determinants of success in life is our attitude towards adversity. From time to time we all face hardships, problems, accidents, afflictions and difficulties. Some are of our making but many confront us through no fault of our own. Whilst we cannot choose the adversity we can choose our attitude towards it.

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    Douglas Bader was 21 when in 1931 he had both legs amputated following a flying accident. He was determined to fly again and went on to become one of the leading flying aces in the Battle of Britain with 22 aerial victories over the Germans. He was an inspiration to others during the war. He said, “Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense. Make up your mind, you’ll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything. Go to school, join in all the games you can. Go anywhere you want to. But never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible.”

    How can you change your attitude towards the adversity that you face? Try these steps:

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    1. Confront the problem. Do not avoid it.
    2. Deliberately take a positive attitude and write down some benefits or advantages of the situation.
    3. Visualise how you will feel when you overcome this obstacle.
    4. Develop an action plan for how to tackle it.
    5. Smile and get cracking.

    The biographies of great people are littered with examples of how they took these kinds of steps to overcome the difficulties they faced. The common thread is that they did not become defeatist or depressed. They chose their attitude. They opted to be positive. They took on the challenge. They won.

    Featured photo credit: Jamie Brown via unsplash.com

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