By Doug Kennedy
As a hospitality industry trainer specific to the lodging industry, I am always interested to learn what the word itself means to people across the spectrum of culture, language, and other human demographics. When I started out years ago, I first researched the word itself. Various dictionary definitions told me that it meant “Treating guests with warmth and generosity.” When I researched the root of the word, which originates from the Latin word “hospes,” I learned that it originally referred to both the guest and the host.
For decades now I’ve challenged our workshop participants to write up their own definitions and have heard some truly great ones, such as “Caring about as well as caring for others.” Core themes echo with workshop groups, such as “treating people as if they were guests in your own home” and someone always mentions some version of The Golden Rule: Treat others as you would want to be treated. My mentor, friend, and industry legend Howard Feiertag put it simply in a speech you can still see on YouTube. Howard said “Hospitality is simply about making people feel good! And,” Howard added with great emphasis, “When THEY feel good, YOU feel good TOO!”
Four years ago, when M. Cathy Cook, KTN’s Executive Director of Training & Development, and I sat down to create her Front Desk “Heart of Hospitality” Certification program, together we came up our own definition that we have now used to award 1,000 CHH Certifications: Hospitality is human kindness, especially to strangers.
Over recent months as I’ve been out there on the road more than ever, experiencing the current era in the travel industry where just about every airline, restaurant, coffee shop, airport retail store, and nearly every hotel is dealing with a surge in demand at the same time as a shortage of staff, this simple definition of “human kindness to strangers” seems increasingly relevant every day.
Hopefully, we as humans aspire to be kind to our family, children, spouses, and others we hold close such as co-workers, neighbors, and friends. But kindness to strangers has become, to me, the single most attractive quality of human existence. Now, it is easy for us to be kind to strangers when things are going well for us, but the true test of our humanity is when we can still be kind to others even when we are all under duress.
So, when the lines are long, when the computers are slow, when the phones are ringing, and when the guests who are waiting are staring impatiently, that’s when we truly have to dig down deeper into our hearts to mine the gold that formulates The Golden Rule. It does not say “Treat others the way they are treating you,” but rather as you would want to be treated. So, how would most of us like to be treated? Above all, with kindness.
Yes, we need our room keys or the entrée to be plated-up or the luggage to be delivered, but more, much more than that, we all crave, and we all respond well to kindness. Such a simple concept to understand intellectually, but so very hard as a foundational principle for our everyday actions.
Kindness that starts with lasting eye contact and not a quick glance; kindness that causes a warm smile to emerge simultaneously on both faces. Kindness that brings down everyone’s emotional intensity; kindness that causes that warm, fuzzy feeling that both parties get in their hearts when it is exchanged; kindness that motivates a spontaneous handshake, or for those who we are mutually comfortable with, perhaps even a request to give a hug.
Now, since all hotels are in business to pay the bills and hopefully generate a profit, let us also remember that kindness which fosters guest loyalty turns into revenue from repeat business, social media posts, and online guest reviews. Kindness creates far more brand buzz than any point-based loyalty program or catchy ad campaign.
As a hotel industry trainer, I have often heard leaders say “You can’t train hospitality, you have to hire it. Either a person has it or they don’t.” I have never agreed with this. Yes, we surely can recruit and select candidates who are high on the emotional intelligence scale and who seem to have a strong sense of empathy for others. But even if we do find those candidates, if they are then stuck in a company culture where no one cares, no one notices, they will either move on quickly or their spirit of hospitality will eventually be diminished (at least at work.)
No, we cannot train it, but we can most definitely nurture human kindness in others. I believe that behind whatever mask of a gruff personality they are wearing lies a human who just like the rest of us will respond to kindness. All we have to do is get them thinking about the stories playing out every day on the other side of the front desk, bar, dining room table, phone conversation, or email/text exchange.
Well, there is also one more thing we must do. If you want your staff to be kind to your guests, be kind to your staff. If you want your staff to remember and use guest names, make it a point to greet by name. If you want them to go above and beyond for the special needs of guests stuck in quandaries, go above and beyond for them when needed.
As to the bigger picture, if you want the world to be kind to you, be kind to the next stranger you encounter in the lobby, corridor, or parking lot of your hotel. Kindness is even more contagious than the latest strain of the Coronavirus, so let’s go and infect the world!