How does your oppressive helpfulness manifest?

That ain’t Mr. Johnson’s wife

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When I worked in the guest service department at a luxury hotel, we were trained to anticipate and fulfill people’s needs and wishes, both expressed and unexpressed.

That was the frontline brand. If you went out for a job in the middle of the summer, the doorman would be waiting on the front drive with an ice cold bottle of water and a towel.

Now that’s service.

Unfortunately the one skill that human resources failed to cover during orientation was, there’s a fine line between customer attunement and oppressive helpfulness.

It’s one thing to have your radar on and antenna up, but not at the expense of annoying, offending or even violating a guest.

I’ll never forget the time I checked in an older couple who were staying at our hotel for the weekend. Eager to please and perform and impress and surprise and delight, I took a quick peek at the surname on the man’s luggage and immediately used it as he got out of the car.

Oldest bellman trick in the book.

And of course, the man warmly smiled.

But when I walked around to the passenger side and used the same last name to greet the woman he was with, she looked at me like I had just stomped on her cat.

It was definitely not his wife.

Guess I can forget about the ten spot on that one.

That’s the danger of being oppressively helpful. Our bottomless desire to be needed, hoping that people see us as impressive, clouds our ability to discern their boundaries. Our pathological need to be useful, waiting with baited breath to see if the crowd is pleased with our work, blunts our better judgment.

Because we’re not listening, we’re anticipating. We’re not dancing in the now need, we’re performing for approval and applause.

Customers leave negative reviews about this very experience every day. I stumbled across a consignment store whose customer wrote:

My friend and I were interrupted by the owner four times over the course of three minutes to be given the same information we had already been given about their deal of the day.

I also found a hotel whose frustrated guest shared the following experience.

You take a sip of coffee, they refill the sip of coffee, you use a pat of butter, they replace the pat of butter. It’s a little unnerving, especially because they want to chat while they’re doing it, and continue chatting for about five minutes afterward, resulting in an awkward silence. We’re switching hotels.

The point is, not every gust requires an extraordinary customer service experience. Sometimes the most helpful thing we can is leave them alone.

It’s a judgment call on the part of the employee.

Because there’s a time to surprise and delight, and there’s a time back away and ignore.

True servants can do both.

How does your oppressive helpfulness manifest?

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author. Speaker. Strategist. Inventor. Filmmaker. Publisher. Songwriter.

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