The Gift Of Empowerment

Empower: To give power or authority to; to authorize; to enable to permit.

In one word “trust.” Empowerment is sometimes the blessing or curse of any company. Where there is no empowerment, generally there is bad service, and the quality of the product begs positive attention.

Yesterday, I went into one of my favorite produce markets. I’m a frequent shopper at this market, but, after yesterday, I have some reservations about ever returning. Towards the end of my shopping trip, I came across the most amazing cakes: red velvet, German chocolate, strawberry, and pineapple. The store sold these cakes as wholes and as halves. My eyes finally landed on caramel! Yay!! Oddly enough, the bakery had whole caramel cakes, but not halves. So, I asked the lady behind the baker’s counter if I could have the caramel cake in half. She answered right away.

“We don’t have any. You need to buy what’s there.”

I was taken aback. The other cakes were being sold in halves, so what was so special about this one? I explained that my family is quite small and that an entire cake was a bit much (and a waste, we would never finish it all!). I spoke up.

“Is there a way to have half sliced?”

“I don’t think so.” She replied. She didn’t make an attempt to honor my request. She didn’t even care that I was a customer with over $100 dollars worth of groceries in my cart. It obviously didn’t register that I had options and choices of where I could have shopped. She had not one shred of empathy.  This, of course, did not rest well with me. As a professional in the service insudtry, I immediately knew that the issue was not with her–it was with how the store was managed. So, I very nicely asked her if there was anyone else who could help me? She reluctantly told me to wait one moment.

The manager came out, and I asked her the same question. Right away she said, “No problem! to which I replied: ” Well it was a problem a few minutes ago! I asked the manager why the other associate couldn’t do that and she stated,

“She’s not a manager.”

“It’s cake.” I retorted. I had just stood there for 15 minutes begging the other associate for half of a cake and she couldn’t cut it without permission?

I then asked: “How would you feel if I left this entire cart of groceries because you all roughly stole 15 minutes of my life that I will never get back?”

The manager apologized, smiled, and said, “You’re right, it’s cake.” I giggled with her and mentioned that if they trusted and empowered their team just a little, the store would see huge results! Empowerment is good morale booster for the team, and the customers would be pleased, not just content.

How many of us have been in situations where we are working or managing in handcuffs? It is not fun for us or for guests. No one wants to have to wait for a manager. This is what we (hoteliers) have trained and taught travelers, and it is the number one reason why guests will request a manager for the most minute things–things that team members can make decisions on, like late check outs.

A manager’s time needs to be focused on bettering the brand, creating memorable experiences, driving service scores, and revenue, not granting late check outs or extending reservations. While no manager is ever above doing these things, their time can certainly be used doing other things. If we trusted and empowered our team members, we would in turn have happier teams and happier guests. This all starts with the culture of the company. A little trust goes a very long way for morale, and a long way for morale leaves more time for managers and supervisors to work on other things.

Here is a fun fact: The next time you are in a situation where you think you may need a manager…..before you ask for a manager,  understand that many times the person in front of you can probably help with requests that are not too big.

For all of the companies and associations who choose not to empower your teams, good luck looking up to see bottom. You will never get ahead, win awards, or drive service scores by not trusting your teams to make decisions on behalf of the client or guest. If the employees are given the tools they need to recover service when there are fractures it only make the company, the GM and bosses look good.

“Sneeze Guard Effect”

Have you ever been to a restaurant where they have “sneeze guards”? These nifty devices are in place to protect open food from germs and dirty hands. I for one am grateful they are in place! Subway, Chipotle, Quiznos? Have you ever watched and monitored your behavior or the behavior of people around you when ordering?

I actually never paid this any attention until a friend of mine mentioned it to me. When you step up to order you start to tell the person preparing your food how you would like it,what kind of meat, toppings ect. How many times do you actually look up at the human being preparing your meal? Many of us don’t. We look up when it is time to pay for the food. When we acknowledge the person taking our money. Somehow this person deserves our attention more than the person handling the food? Why is that?

This is the same way in hospitality. We have stopped having authentic conversations with the service agent processing the interaction. Whether we are checking in or out of a hotel, there is an invisible sneeze guard up. This is not true for everyone but for many of us it is. The agent on the other side is insignificant until there is a service challenge or issue then we take notice. We get names and give eye contact. Why is that?

Have we as hoteliers groomed society to treat service people this way? Is the guest going off of the vibes the agent is putting out? How have we gone from a polite, kind people to over indulged, entitled selfish humans?
How do we reverse the “sneeze guard” attitude and bring back positive warm dialog and exchanges?

Guest are not numbers and service professionals are definitely human with human emotions and needs. That old adage is true: “You win more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”. Starting today, make a conscious effort to make eye contact and talk to the person assisting you in the service industry! It will go a long way for you.

This Thing Called “Hospitality”

Do you ever wonder how we existed before online travel agents? You know all the travel sites that end with .com? What did we do when we wanted to book a hotel room? Who did we call? How did we choose? Was it word of mouth? Brand familiarity? Sales? Deals?

20 years ago I was fortunate enough to work at the front desk of a large brand. They had a loyalty program that started at basic and plateaued with diamond. If you were invited by the president or general manager you were labeled a black level member. Each level had specific perks based on the number of stays accumulated in a calendar year. People were nice. Service was important. The golden rule actually worked both ways.

Guest reached out to travel agents (people) who booked rooms for them with hotels that did not necessarily give a great rate but was known for service and the style said guest was accustomed to. There were corporations who had administrative assistants and travel departments that made arrangements and acquired negotiated rates. Travelers both business and leisure were happy and satisfied. (Nice) Then 911 happened and we entered a hospitality world that demanded that we do MORE, BETTER, WITH LESS.

We welcomed our online channels as they were keeping hotels afloat. Properties went from 20% reservations being booked online to 60% of them being booked online. At some point during all of this, we forgot how to be human to one another. The word hospitality and service have now become bastardized by travelers who are not respectful of the human being on the other side of the desk there to service them. The training programs have become obsolete and the people behind the desk are working jobs and not necessarily interested in a career. How are we to turn the page from this dilemma? How do we bring back the passion on both sides?