The Problem is … Care

“You give loyalty, you’ll get it back.  You give love, you’ll get it back.”  –Tommy Lasorda

I was traveling out of the San Francisco airport this week and had the opportunity to experience a new American Express Centurion Lounge. As a cardholder, I’ve received lots of direct mail pieces in the last year advertising these new clubs, but hadn’t yet visited one. Since I got to the airport early and the club was near my departing gate, I thought, “Why not?” I qualified for free entry and anything had to be better than sitting in a gate designed for 50 people―even though most flights carry at least 150 passengers!

As I checked in to the lounge, the woman behind the counter asked me if I’d ever visited the club. Since I was a newbie, she carefully shared all the amenities I could enjoy. More on that later.

I was in absolute awe. The facility had beautifully designed aesthetics and limitless free (high quality) food and beverage selections. This felt like one of those “too good to be true” moments. Before I left, I took a survey because I purely wanted to express, “Please don’t ever take this amenity away!”

With the visit now behind me, I immediately reflected on my last “too good to be true” moment, which happened at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay. When my wife and I checked in, we acted like giddy children because of how excited we were; the property was gorgeous! The man behind the counter welcomed us, and then surprised us with a simple and direct question: “Can I offer you a complimentary room upgrade for your visit?” I looked at my wife and she looked back at me as if we were just asked a trick question. Simultaneously we said, “Yeeeaah, we’d love one!” He topped off the checkin process by asking, “Can I offer the two of you a glass of wine?” Now we were really pinching ourselves.

It’s natural to read these stories and jump right to a place of thinking, “Duh! These amenities are all benefits which result from being a premium American Express customer and a guest at the Ritz Carlton.” However, I saved the punchline for you. Remember the woman behind the counter at the American Express lounge? That’s where the truly special and magical part of the experience happened.

As soon as she heard I was a first-time guest, she was beaming with pride to curate my visit. She was so kind and patiently walked me through all the options I should explore, even though she delivers that spiel hundreds of times a day. Honestly, I felt like a guest in her home.

The same was 100% true at the Ritz. And it didn’t end with the man behind the counter. Every team member we encountered were all just as insanely nice and helpful―from the restaurant servers to the bartenders to housekeepers to groundskeepers.

There are many ways to explain those experiences. Since I’ve been an executive in the hospitality space, I naturally walked through the options. First, it was easy to believe what I experienced was a product of brand standards and good training. After all, I’ve heard other people say, “I don’t understand why I’m getting such poor service. It’s just not that hard!” What they’re implying is that it shouldn’t be hard to have a standard for good service and for team members to know and follow those standards.

But to me, the problem isn’t … hard.

I believe a lot of companies do have standards which address service. And I don’t believe their team members have difficulty remembering the standards or deliberately choose to ignore what’s expected of them.

I think the problem is … care. If you want customers to love your brand, it starts with your team members loving your brand.

And love is a strong word. As an example, you could give a newly married couple a contract of expectations (think standards) that outlines all the musts and must-nots of the relationship. However, if there isn’t an authentic love between the individuals, the rules will likely get broken and the relationship will be compromised.

The same is true with a company and its customers. Team members who authentically love a brand will create customers who love a brand. Team members who like a brand will only create customers who like a brand. Team members who hate a brand will certainly lose customers who grow to hate a brand.

I think the same could inherently be said about an individual’s work with internal stakeholders, too. Despite whether or not you are good at your craft, people will notice if you love, like, or hate your department or team.

It’s hard to hide a state of like or hate with solid work quality alone because stakeholders don’t just judge the things you produce―they also judge how you treat people in the process.

So, if the problem is care, how do leaders get their team members to care? Unfortunately, there’s no universal, Holy Grail answer to this question. If you’re a leader, I would ask: what would it take for you to love the organization you serve? Certainly, you wouldn’t expect your team members to love an organization you don’t love. If you do love where you work, is it possible for your team members to love it for the same reasons? (As an example, your pay and status isn’t something they can share in.) If so, authentically share those values. It may make a huge difference in their journey to … care.

Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a best-selling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

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