Guest Service: What To Do If There's Nobody at Home
By Steven Ferry Chairman, International Institute of Modern Butlers | October 28, 2008
If being in the moment is so important, why can't or don't more of us do it more often? How come our minds keep wandering, we become impatient or angry with the person in front of us, or bored, or any other attitude? These are all a departure from being there comfortably in front of another person and really tracking with what he or she is saying, doing, and needing.
Well, 20th Century pill-pushers have most of us convinced that these modern potions and elixirs will fix our wandering attention. Yet every single person I have seen on these legalized drugs or trying to shake their addiction is a mass of random thoughts and introversion that make it very difficult indeed to be in the moment, observing calmly, computing and acting rationally. With 80% of the US population on these drugs and the rest of us beginning to enjoy them in our water supply, I'd say we had one reason people's attention is not always in the moment. Obviously, street drugs, some of which are as powerful as their psychiatric cousins, have the same effect, but we tend to try discourage street-drug-popping employees from remaining employed. So this may not be a factor, except in the case of employees who have indulged a bit too much in the past-drug residues remain locked in various parts of their anatomy and occasionally go into circulation and thus effect.
Another element that makes it hard to be in the moment is thinking we understand something while not actually doing so; or not understanding something at all. If this guest with a big issue uses words we do not understand, or mumbles something so we cannot hear it, or uses a word for which we understand the wrong definition, or has a limited ability to express himself, there is a subtle disconnect on our part from the guest, and if enough of these non-comprehensions occur, we start to feel frustrated or worse at the guest, compounding the problem that we are not understanding their problem and so are not going to be able to deal with it to their satisfaction.
Or maybe we have had an argument with a significant other. That's an upset and a problem and maybe, if we have something we did to him or her that we haven't come clean on, also a source of anger toward them (paradoxically): the end result is attention anywhere but on the guest.
Many more factors compel a person out of the moment, but rather than belaboring the point, suffice to say that trying to beat in SOPs over these distractions does not resolve them and so success remains ephemeral. 1 When employees walk around with an unfortunate attitude or serve salami in the soup instead of croutons, then one has to cut back and fix the "ability to be in the moment" before one can make any progress with "Well, this is what really goes in soup," and "This is the kind of attitude guests tend to appreciate when servicing them." The ability to be in the moment no matter what is going on in one's own head (such as dislikes of certain types of guests), one's private life (such as financial problems), or one's body (such as pains, or drugs numbing or speeding up life), is the desired end goal. Handling the different elements that drive one out of the moment is of course the best long-term fix. But this lies outside the scope of a hotel executive's purview.2
By definition and requirement, British butlers are a phlegmatic3 group tasked with observing what is in front of them so as to anticipate and provide invisible service. That was my starting point as a butler, so meeting with shortfalls in those under my charge in terms of superior service, I realized the basic issue was this question of inability to be there in the moment and thence observe what is right in front of one's face. Under-butler standing behind a guest who has just lit a cigar: does the under-butler observe that the room has no ashtray, thereby predicting an imminent need and so acting swiftly and discreetly?4 No, he is off in the stratosphere about goodness knows what, reason unknown. So the inevitable happens: the guest has to ask for an ashtray, about which the under-butler may or may not have an attitude, and then the guest has to focus on calibrating the required angle of his cigar to accommodate a one-inch length of sagging ash while the cigar slowly extinguishes itself and the under-butler tracks down an ashtray in a flurry of coattails and perspiration.