"Sir, we can do anything!" These strong words were the front desk clerk's response to my "I have a special request." Before he even heard my plea, he gave me a full-frontal view of the Ritz-Carlton hotel attitude. Since it was a few days before the Christmas holidays, I am sure he had been repeatedly bombarded with way too many "May I's" and "Can we's!"
The front-line employee of any event or meeting planning organization is not only the most visible and vocal ambassador of the organization, but his or her persona also gives all constituents—attendees, vendors, speakers, and sponsors--a clear and present peephole into the beliefs of how that organization feels about those they serve. The Ritz front desk clerk's "the-answer-is-‘yes'-what's-the-question" orientation signaled to me, "We are totally here for our guests." He was wholly focused on delivering service unleashed.
Compare that bold style with my Veterans Day encounter with the check-out cashier of a large grocery store in a nearby town this year. "Are you a veteran?" the cashier asked me as I was reaching for my billfold. Before I could answer her, my wife proudly announced, "You bet he is! He was an infantry unit commander with the elite 82nd Airborne and a guerrilla tactics instructor at the Army Infantry School."
"Wow!" the cashier responded in disbelief. "We give all our veterans a discount on Veteran's Day!" But, her "I'm super impressed" temperament quickly changed to the stern disposition of a rigid auditor. "Do you have proof that you are a veteran?" she asked. I was taken aback. "What proof would I need?" I asked disbelievingly. Veterans don't carry an "I was in the Army" card!
"Oh, I don't know," she replied, "a military card or a baseball cap with a military pen. We must have proof before we can give you a veteran's discount." Paradoxically, the young man bagging our groceries grasped the irony her assertion and quietly asked her, "What about customer service?"
But, she refused to give up her stern "rules-r-us" stance when I indicated that I carried no proof. "No proof, no discount…it's the rule," she said harshly as if educating me, my wife, the bagger…and, all the other cashiers within earshot! I paid for our groceries and left, resisting my strong temptation to cynically salute her.
Think in Heroics
The attitude of event planners and their associates starts a chain reaction that shapes the spirit of an event. It is like the well-known example of butterfly wings flapping that move the air that ultimately impacts the weather on the other side of the planet. It requires "thinking in heroics." It is service unleashed and it creates an experience those served long remember as a pleasant surprise. And, just like beautiful sprinkles turn a good cupcake into an extraordinary one, it transforms a routine experience into one that recipients cannot wait to boast to others about. Service unleashed is service with spirit; support with passion.
Service unleashed means demonstrating the courage to be imaginative when the easy route would be delivering pretty good service. It means using ingenuity and extra effort to thrill a client when the safe route would be to simply satisfy. It is about demonstrating unexpected zeal and over-the-top optimism regardless of the reality that your body is sending signals to your brain to please slow down, lay down, or hunker down.
Act with Boldness
When I exited the Hertz courtesy van at the Hartford airport, the strong below-freezing winter wind bit hard. For a guy from the South, it was doubly chilling. But, the Hertz attendant had a warm smile and an eager-to-help attitude. "This is way, way too cold!" I commented. She giggled. "Now, you know that up here in Hartford we do weather as entertainment!" Ten miles down the road I was still laughing at her service unleashed comment.
The path to service unleashed comes from a pioneering spirit to blaze new trails to excellence, craft new bridges to a treasured dream, and tenaciously pursue a quest for distinction. Clients are never moved by hand-wringing excuses or made more confident by shifting the focus to the supplier who failed to deliver. Being late signals a lack of commitment, regardless of the reason. Being unprepared telegraphs a lack of caring, despite the demons one tussled the day before. "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing," wrote Helen Keller. Make all your service experiences bold, profound and productive.