Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 139: March 2011)
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Techniques for balance
I’m at the Peninsula Hotel in Manhattan, and can’t get one of the TVs to work. There are two remotes with approximately 1400 little buttons, and the onscreen instructions have 45 options, none of which, apparently, has anything to do with watching television.
I call the desk and in less than five minutes a gentleman rings our bell. He actually gives a small bow when I open the door, and he is wearing a white lab coat that would be the envy of the chief of surgery at the Einstein Medical Center. He asks permission to enter the room, and then permission to proceed to the bedroom. Calmly—EVER so calmly—he shows me the only three buttons on the remote which really matter, and has me practice. On the way out, he notices the picture on the living room TV is not optimal, and offers to adjust that.
We bid each other a good night, and I’m actually sorry to see him go.
It’s not a lack of problems that make us happy, since we seldom comment on our unremarkable good fate, and problems are eerily omnipresent in our lives anyway. It’s the RESPONSE to problems that floats our boats. That’s why I’ve probably stayed at Peninsula Hotels around the world upwards of 60 times to date. Things are usually terrific, but when they’re not, they set about restoring the terrificness. (And in Hong Kong they’ll pick you up at the airport in a Rolls.)
What’s required here? There is a service standard, e.g., respond within X minutes of a guest’s concern. There is the individual’s skills and competence to quickly diagnose and remedy the problem. Then there’s the person’s behaviors, which are supportive, service-oriented, and polite. But there’s also outstanding management, which finds the right people, creates the right standards, and monitors the operation for compliance to those standards (viz.: the Ritz-Carton creed—we are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen).
When you’re treated well, you give the other party the benefit of the doubt when things go south (so long as that’s not a daily occurrence). When you treat people well, they give you that same benefit. That’s what relationships are about. But if you treat me with disdain or discourtesy, even if I have no current problems with you, I’m not going to give you the benefit of the doubt when something does go wrong, and I’m going to be amenable to being romanced by someone else.
You don’t have to wear a white smock and bow. But it certainly does make a great first impression.
The human condition: Upgrading
I’m sitting here on the Acela heading for New York at an occasional 150 MPH. The first class car is stuffed like an unopened jar of olives, and I had to dash upon boarding to cut my way to a small table the two of us can share.
Seated across the aisle are two men sharing a similar table but strangers until this ride. They are engaged in the deeply inducing ennui of comparing their hotel points programs, and how one is maximizing Hilton and the other Marriott. They are complaining about the lack of upgrades using points in advance, despite their loyalty.
My wife and I are headed to a large suite in the Peninsula in Manhattan, one of the outstanding hotel chains in the world. We were able to get this because, well, I paid for it.
Now before you send me emails and notes tied to rocks about my egomania (please get in line and be orderly), hear me out. I would suggest that people spend more time trying to “work” systems and “game” programs than they do trying to excel. In other words, the only guarantee of a great hotel room, first class airplane seat, supporting your kid who was accepted at a world-class private university, and taking a vacation on impulse, is to have the money (financial resources) and wealth (discretionary time) to do so.
I’ve watched people sweet-talk gate agents in airports, pander for a luxury car upgrade at Hertz, sneak into unoccupied better seats in the theater, and try to finagle a free pass to a high-ticket charity event. Many are successful. Nonetheless, I continually wonder what they’d be able to legitimately afford if they addressed that same passion, energy, and perseverance at their job outputs and results.
People are aghast at how stupid most criminals are. They stand in full sight in front of security cameras, are beaten off by outraged grandmothers (a recent huge news and YouTube video), and often leave their wallets and identification at the scene of the crime. But if criminals were really smart, why would they have to be criminals?
The guys across the aisle have run out of stories about trying to get upgrades in mid-level hotels, which they stay in exclusively no matter where they are to maximize their hoard of points. Imagine traveling the world and solely staying at Hiltons? It’s like visiting great restaurants and solely ordering chicken and merlot. What a waste.
A balanced life is one which enables you to afford what you deem to be comfortable for your lifestyle. Occasionally, you’ll use upgrades because you can’t afford not to. (I sometimes have a million points on American Express.)
But that’s the icing, not the cake.
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Copyright 2011 Alan Weiss. All rights reserved.
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