By Doug Kennedy

One day a few months back, the main phone line rang at our headquarters office. Can you imagine the surprise when our receptionist heard a man’s voice saying this: “Hello, this is Doug Kennedy calling for Doug Kennedy.”  At first, she thought it to be a prank, but thankfully she did not hang up on him, because it was in fact Doug Kennedy, President & CEO of Peapack-Gladstone Bank, which is a regional bank based in New Jersey that offers personal banking through its branch network, robust wealth management services and commercial banking solutions.

As it turns out, Doug Kennedy had been personally spearheading an internal initiative to take his relatively small but mighty bank to even higher levels of service. They had already formed a task force, implemented the best practices of industry leaders such as Disney and Ritz-Carlton, and launched a company-wide service excellence program they named “White Glove Service,” but Doug sensed there was still more to be discovered.  Can you imagine how surprised Doug Kennedy was when his Google Search led him to another Doug Kennedy!  He reached out after purchasing my book, “So You REALLY Like Working With People?” and reading it on Kindle while on a flight to Ft. Lauderdale airport where, upon landing, he realized he was only 3 miles from our headquarters office. Unfortunately, I was out training a resort in New Mexico, so we did not get to meet that day.

Very soon thereafter, I was on a plane for what I thought would be a one-hour meeting at their corporate offices because, after all, he was a busy bank President. Four hours later, after an engaging, collaborative meeting, we had a handshake deal for me to present 9 days of on-site training for his entire company, covering 500 colleagues across all levels, divisions, and roles.

As with all KTN clients, when rolling out the training we also offer free consulting as a value-added service, so part of the process is to ensure that our hospitality training is “nested” in a culture where it will thrive. Therefore, I began to ask questions about ongoing training, communication, empowerment, innovation, and recognition. Amazingly, all of the necessary “infrastructure” was already in place.  Here are but a few examples:

•  White Glove Innovation Lab. Any team member can submit a suggestion on how to improve any aspect of operational procedures for consideration by a committee.

•  White Glove Wednesdays. Every division and department head holds team meetings to discuss and reinforce living their Hospitality Standards & Core Principles.

•  High Five Recognition. Anyone can formally recognize any colleague for going above and beyond.

•  Doug’s Bucks. Anyone can spend up to $500 to right a wrong, meet a client’s special needs or to do something special in unusual circumstances.

•  Informal “on the spot” recognition of fellow team members can be submitted by way of a short video spotlighting “One Team” behaviors or hospitality excellence.

On top of that, I learned that they have had record growth for 10 of the past 11 years, with the only exception being 2020 of course, and that they had been named by American Banker, as a “Best Banks to Work For” for 5 years in a row (2018-2022), moving up higher in the rankings each year.

Soon it became clear that Doug Kennedy never rests, and he will always lead this bank in an ongoing journey to excellence.  The Japanese have a word for this: Kaizen.

As those who have attended my training know, our workshops are very interactive, and we encourage participants to share their stories.  Here are but a very few of those that surfaced over the course of 13 half-day workshops I’ve presented thus far.

•  I have heard at least a half dozen stories of staff who routinely drive documents over to clients who cannot make it to the bank to sign documents requiring notarization. (Move over, Taskrabbit!)

•  One of those who delivered a document noted that her homebound client mentioned she had not been able to get to the grocery store in a very long time. After obtaining her client’s shopping list, she picked up those items for her. (Move over DoorDash!)

•  More than one participant mentioned staff who have changed tires or driven clients home to pick up a spare car key that was locked inside. (Move over AAA!)

•  Several participants reported personally delivering replacement debit cards, including for one client who was about to leave on a long vacation. (Move over FedEx!)

•  Apparently some older clients, who do not use GPS, have had a hard time locating their branch office. On more than one occasion, bank staff tell them to stay put, then drive out to find them and have the client follow them back to the bank. (Move over Google Maps!)

•  There are lots of banks that will send automated birthday greetings, but many staff here call clients directly on their birthdays!

•  A single mom called a bank teller from the grocery store checkout line to find out why her debit card was declined. Turns out there was an auto-pay transaction that came in earlier than her expected payroll deposit had arrived. It was Friday and she had young kids with her. The bank teller sent a $250 gift card over so she could buy those groceries.

•  At 10 pm one night, a corporate client realized he had been tricked into authorizing a very large wire transfer to an account in China that was now in progress. Since the bankers routinely give out their mobile numbers, he called his contact who sprang into action and had a team of several take extraordinary measures to halt the transaction before its final stop.

A closing on a residential mortgage that was set for the morning of Christmas Eve was delayed. Several staff from the bank stayed after hours to ensure that the family would get the keys to their new home for Christmas!

While the situations and circumstances may be different, those who work in the hotel and lodging industry encounter opportunities every day to initiate similar gestures of hospitality for our guests. Here are some reminders:

•  Consistently remind your staff that they are empowered to go above and beyond to meet the special needs of guests and/or to offer symbolic gestures.

•  Ensure they understand what they are authorized to do and how to account for any funds spent or fees waived.

•  Recognize staff who initiate these gestures and celebrate these instances company-wide, therefore encouraging more of them.

Surely, such gestures are good for businesses and will undoubtedly lead to guest loyalty, word-of-mouth advertising, and social media buzz. But more importantly, these gestures help foster a hospitality culture that will encourage staff loyalty too. Afterall, we humans are social creatures and most of us want to be part of a company with a heart.