Both my friend and I had had a long day. I was in the company of a renowned colleague on the US speaking circuit, a person I’d emailed months before to tell him I’d be in the United States later that summer.
“Could I hang out with you for a few days while you’re working?” I’d requested.
“Sure” said Jack, the hospitable Pennsylvanian. He sent me his schedule and I rooted my itinerary to coincide with his.
Jack spends over 120 nights per year on the road – or one third of the year away from home. Almost all of those nights see his head rest on the pillows of a particular hotel chain, the same chain of hotels that we were in that night. He was nothing, if not loyal.
He’d been on his feet for most of that day, inspiring and educating business owners on the topic of culture, the very thing we’d end up discussing over dinner.
We ordered our food at the bar, a simple meal. We were like two friends just hanging out after a business day. I was particularly keen to learn from the older and wiser American.
Jack, who loves his wine, caught the bartender’s eye.
“Do you have any Australian cabernets?” he enquired. ”I’d love a glass if you do”.
“Yes” came the response.
Jack shuffled contentedly on the bar stool – a long day was about to serve up a satisfying reward.
“But we only serve it by the bottle” added the bartender.
The bartender I am referring to was extremely friendly but I could see that he had no idea that Jack was a little put out by such rigidity. They were not in touch with how a good organisation would have detected that a rule could be broken to make a customer feel special – to ensure he would have a feel-good factor and return there again.
As we tucked into our starters, Jack told me just how many loyalty points he had from that hotel chain.
It was in the millions.
“Every 10,000 gets me a free room” he told me as he sipped his glass of house wine, which wasn’t exactly to his liking.
He mused over the glass in my direction: “How hard would it have been for the bartender to do the right thing there. Fine, charge me a dollar more, but don’t refuse me something that’s available, just because of rules.”
Without realising it, his head shook from side to side as he contemplated the refusal.
Months later, as I sat down to write this chapter, I went back to Jack’s notes on culture that he had shared with his business audience earlier that day and to the page entitled ‘Empowerment Process’.
In it, he suggested that employees should be liberated to ask themselves the following questions in such a similar scenario.
- Is it right for the customer?
- Is it right for our company?
- Is it ethical?
- Is it something for which you are willing to be accountable?
- Is it consistent with our company’s basic beliefs?
Then, he inserted a footnote to offer direction on what to do then. “If the answer is yes to these questions, don’t ask – just do it.”
I don’t know if Jack still stays in the same hotel chain. What I do know though is that customers remember everything … and they talk.
They talk with their mouths and they talk with their feet.
Make sure they are talking and walking towards you, not away.