Prior to a recent road trip, I had never heard of the regional hotel chain that a bank had lined up for one of my presentations.
When my buddy with the bank found out I planned on staying there, he said, "Hey, thanks for saving me money, but you don't have to actually stay at that place. I'm not. They just have the best price on the big meeting room we need. I'm staying at a nicer place down the street."
His warning made me a little apprehensive, but I joked with him that I would "tough it out."
This particular hotel was a little older, with pretty dated décor (unless you're a fan of multiple shades of brown). The carpets were noticeably worn in places, and the furniture had seen better days. And there was one open electrical outlet in the room.
So, yes, at first blush, this place didn't exactly have me feeling the joys of travel. And if not for possibly losing a deposit, I would have likely rolled my suitcase down the street to a newer hotel.
But when I did a quick inspection, I found that the place was clean. Sure, it was old… but it was clean. It wasn't even dusty. I've stayed in scores of "new" hotels that seem to be dusted about once a season. And if anything rolls under the bed… give it up. Don't ever look under the bed. I'm not kidding.
When I found the complimentary coffee thermos in the lobby was empty the next day, you would have sworn there was a fire drill. Before I knew it, the manager of the restaurant was bringing me a cup from her area while they brewed more.
The lady in the gift shop chatted with me like I had been a resident there for a month. And on the morning I checked out, you would have thought the desk clerk was auditioning for a Four Seasons gig.
Now, the guy was dressed like he may have moonlighted as a Waffle House cook. I think he had the kitchen stains on his shirt to prove it. But he was friendly and engaging and went out of his way to make sure I got a free cup of coffee (they're proud of their coffee) while I waited for their airport shuttle.
As I sat there, I had a much unexpected thought. I'd probably stay there again.
The experience reminded me that facilities are important, but not the most important factor of a customer experience. It's the moving parts (otherwise known as people) of an organization that make the most important impression.
How accommodating are your moving parts today?
In recent presentations, I've joked that one of my wife's favorite bands makes sage observations in one of its songs.
The band is Bowling for Soup and the song is "High School Never Ends."
Those Texas boys hit it on the head when they complain that life after high school still consists of peer pressure, fads, gossip, in-crowds and cliques. I joke that whether or not you go to college, the year after high school graduation begins a perpetual 13th grade.
After folks usually laugh and throw in their own two cents on the subject, I tell them that there are aspects of that phenomenon that are more harmful than others. And one of my personal pet peeves (and soapbox topics) is one of the more common "high school-ish" practices frequently found.
A team of people are working together. Then, one of them gets a break or goes to lunch or whatever. Instantly, the main topic of conversation among those who remain becomes the person who just departed.
If it hasn't changed by the time that person returns, it instantly will when he does.
When the next person leaves, he then becomes the new focus of conversation. I've lost count of how many "Mmm hmmms" I've received from groups when pointing this out.
Jokes aside, it damages our culture. And hey, aren't banks pretty big on promoting a culture of trust with our customers. I point out that it's hard to create a culture of trust with customers when there isn't a culture of trust among team members.
Sure, folks working in tight quarters can get on each other's nerves now and then. But the rest of the team shouldn't be used as a grievance board.
The culture and behaviors displayed between teammates almost always shapes the culture and behaviors then shown to customers.
Whenever a manager suggests that gossip is just human nature, I point out that so is going shoeless. But we seem to be able to overcome that natural instinct just fine.
I then tell them that I don't think an official meeting or memo is necessary. Someone (preferably the manager) just has to play the role of the "adult" in the room and begin making it clear that your team will treat people fairly and professionally – whether they are standing in front of you or not.
Help your team graduate to more productive topics of discussion.
They may even thank you for it.