I asked “How long have you worked here?”

Feb 19, 2013

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The Event

Like many of you, business travel provides me with great learning opportunities. I frequently use them in my consulting and training as similes or metaphors. This one taught me the most.

A few years ago, General Motors held a grand training for their prestigious Cadillac Division at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel, renown for customer service. The reception was amazing; typical of Cadillac and Ritz Carlton.

The corridors were adorned in fresh bouquets of cut long-stem roses, the hotel greeters were smiling authentically and as I was guided to my room, I found the bedding kindly turned-down and the veranda curtains open to the ocean view. The hotel assistant wisely reminded me of the training schedule for the following day and mentioned that she had “placed an extra chocolate by the bed.” She then asked if their was anything else I needed. I declined and thanked her for her hospitality.

The Hot Chocolate

During morning breakout, having been impressed by the high caliber training and obvious preparation of sound and video, I set out to thank the media crew and procure a hot chocolate. The morning had been brisk. Cocoa sounded good. In my search, I found none in the breakout room and proceeded into the lobby. Once there a women passed by me wearing a business jacket carrying a two-way radio at her hip. She looked informative. I quickly asked “Could you please direct me to where I could find a cup of hot chocolate?” She paused, introduced herself (Stephanie as I recall), and then sought my permission to serve me by asking: “May I assist you in obtaining that hot cocoa? I am confident that I can make that happen for you?” Wow. She was impressive. I acknowledged in the affirmative anticipating what might come next.

Stephanie spoke into her radio and requested that a hot cocoa be created for a gentlemen guest; me. I felt important. She invited me to enter the main ballroom to mingle, which I did. She instructed me that the attendant would bring the drink to me. “How” I wondered, “will they find me,” not realizing that I was likely the only person at the event not wearing black! I didn’t get the memo.

Moments later I was approached by a very professional looking young woman carrying a rather large cup wrapped in a paper heat shield. She explained that she had created the hot chocolate herself and that she had taken the liberty to add a little cream milk to enrich the flavor. She smiled and reminded me that it would be very hot initially and asked if I needed further assistance. I felt like I had received a key to the city. “No, thank you very much,” I answered sincerely.

The Lesson

Hours later during the afternoon break, I saw Stephanie, the woman with the radio who first assisted me. “Stephanie,” I blurted as she briskly walked by, “Thank you again for the kind help you gave me earlier.” Smiling genuinely with a sense of satisfaction she replied ”You are welcome, sir. It was my pleasure. Did you enjoy your hot chocolate?” I couldn’t believe she remembered me. She must have answered hundreds of questions that day. “Yes I did, very much so,” came my reply. “How long have you worked for Ritz Carlton?” I asked. And then the lesson: “Oh, I don’t work for Ritz Carlton,” she replied. “I run the limo service that is assisting guests today. I was just walking through the lobby when you asked for directions. I knew I could be of service to you. I wanted to make that happen.”

I was astonished by Stephanie’s kindness and professionalism. I was momentarily speechless. Finally, I thanked her again. She responded, “The girl who brought you the cocoa works for me. She is fantastic. When I originally contacted her, she walked back into the kitchen and helped them make it!”

Notice the level of customer service. Also note that Stephanie gave the credit to her employee. I felt very important that day and moreover, impressed. You too can impact your environment and culture. You can “make that happen” as Stephanie so aptly stated.

Personally, this experience raised the bar. I am now more driven to help others.

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