Creating a culture of appreciation and kindness in your organization – ideas “from the field”

I was staying at a hotel called Skytop Lodge with my husband recently, and we both noticed how truly NICE all of the staff were – from the servers in the restaurant, to the housekeeping staff, to the concierge and the front desk people. “I wonder how they make that happen,” said my innocent husband. I, of course, was certain they had a superb training program that focused on appreciation and service.

But on the first night at dinner, the Night Manager, Tim Harkins, asked how we were enjoying our experience. Now you have to understand that my life is constantly and very willingly devoted to “research” from the field – about what makes corporate cultures work, and what has them fail – using my experience as the customer! This one was clearly working, and so I began my research.

I told Tim what Bob and I were experiencing, and asked him how they made that happen. Was there a training process that all of their employees went through, had they secretly (unbeknownst to me) all read “The Power of Acknowledgment” or “Grateful Leadership?” He said they had all been trained in making the customer experience the  be all and end all, but that it went farther than that. He said, “We only hire nice people!” Wow, I thought! That’s a pretty cool and simple solution, but not one that every company knows how to do or even if they do, succeeds in doing it. He said they worked very hard at it. So that was an interesting piece of “research” for me.

Soon after that “customer experience,” I was flying to Seattle, WA and got into a deep conversation with a fellow passenger about what made the Alaska Airlines climate so welcoming. I had been greeted with a warm smile by the Customer Service Agent when I first checked in, and every person I interacted with on the flight could not have been more attentive or nicer. I even spoke to a flight attendant, Hailee Trapold, about the airline’s corporate values and she said that their priorities are safety first and customer experience next. She and all of her fellow flight attendants, Captain Tony (I know he could do standup comedy if he were looking for another career) and the CSA were all big, natural, not phony smilers, and I felt very welcomed and cared for. Hailee’s brass name tag even reads, “Hailee Trapold, Committed to Kindness.” Was that ever true! She said she got to choose to have that on her tag.

A fellow passenger, a retired General Manager at Costco, Michelle Cavett, said her philosophy was and had always been, “You don’t hire people to be nice, especially in the customer service industry. Hire nice people!” So there it is again… I really have to give this more thought and attention. I still wholeheartedly believe that you can take people who may not be displaying that niceness, who are not engaged in their work, and make them profoundly connected to it when you acknowledge and validate their unique contribution to the team, to the entire organization. But still… we do want to bring on board people who are genuinely and authentically… nice, helpful and interested in the customer experience.

So that’s both my learning and my teaching for today. Please share your thoughts and experiences about this with us.

Until the next time…

Judy Umlas