Holidays are rarely all they’re cracked up to be. The promise of endless golden beaches and glorious sunny days. A band of happy people just waiting to share the good times with you…
When you’re planning and booking it all looks so enticing, but it too often leads to disappointment – the picture-postcard slice of heaven little more than a marketing mirage. So, as I prepared for my latest vacation, I knew I would be a fool to hope for anything different.
Except, this time, I’ve been proven wrong.
A Glimpse of Paradise
This time, I’ve come home dazed, wondering what just happened. But for all the right reasons.
I seem to have glimpsed paradise, and it had nothing to do with white sandy beaches and crystal clear water. In fact, I was love-bombed into submission by unrelenting human warmth, and what looked suspiciously like people taking pleasure in my pleasure.
In the first hours and days of my holiday, I lapped up the luxurious experience but struggled with cynicism nonetheless.
Surely the 24-hour smiles were a facade, and the attention to detail just a product of their training? I was, after all, a paying customer of a commercial corporation. And its workers, despite their evident skills, were likely relieved to drop their masks at the end of each shift.
But gradually it dawned on me. There was no chink in the company’s armor of serenity – no problem too difficult, no whim too indulgent. These people were actively looking for opportunities to surprise and delight, and even to melt the heart.
The Ultimate Customer Service?
When the person serving you breakfast remembers your room number, asks you what your plans are for the day, and gives you tips on places to visit in the hire car, you can see the mental checklist she’s working through.
But when she goes on to talk enthusiastically about her best friend who works in the cafe in town, to reminisce about them growing up together – is she directing your business to a pal, looking to get a bit of commission? Or is she sharing something personal, with no strings attached? On this trip, it began to feel like the latter.
Small disarming incident followed small disarming incident: from an unexpected, “How are you?!” (delivered with a broad smile by the woman sweeping the stairs), to the restaurant manager getting down on her knees to play with a toddler.
My defenses crumbled. My questioning mind stilled, and I finally relaxed and accepted my fate. The staff at this resort were going to do everything in their power to make me happy. And they were going to win.
Back to the Real World
Now I’m home again, I’m shaking my head in renewed disbelief. How did they do that? And why?
Was this the local culture shining through? Did the effort to please stem from a basic need for employment in a damaged economy? Were the chef, window cleaner and receptionist all equally inspired by a charismatic leader to pull together toward a greater purpose? Or, was this just normal and I’d been missing out over the years while I slummed it in campsites and budget hotels?
These factors may well have played a part. But there was something else.
The Secret to Customer Care
You can provide all the training you want, but to reach the next level there needs to be an environment that nurtures those most basic human characteristics: kindness and care.
The mantra I heard, literally and metaphorically, all week was, “You are on holiday!” This translated into an investment in the infrastructure that made it possible to give the time and energy to deliver, to bother, to connect.
You can’t serve a customer, let alone care about a customer or share something of yourself, if you’re doing the work of three people, or constantly firefighting to avoid catastrophe. But if you’re equipped, trained and supported, you can create a situation where, remarkably, the customers start smiling and giving, too.
For one blessed week, I was swept up into the embrace of a kind and competent community. Unfortunately, that left me somewhat naked in the harsh outside world – but also determined to help to recreate the magic in my own workplace. I want more!
Have you experienced customer service at this level? Do you work in a public facing role (and if so, what’s your secret for success)? Join the conversation in the comments section below!