I recently spoke at the brand new Hotel ZaZa just outside Houston, Texas. It’s a boutique hotel chain that currently operates two hotels in the Houston area and one in Dallas, with construction underway on a fourth in Austin. The day I arrived marked the one-week anniversary of the hotel’s opening so the facility was immaculate. No surprise there. What was shocking, however, was the cheerful, competent, friendly staff that operated with efficiency as though they had been in business for a decade. Valets not only met me at my car immediately, they greeted me with a smile and conversed pleasantly. The check-in process was smooth. Bellmen came promptly when called and housemen had the stage all ready for my evening presentation before I arrived, (which was 10 hours before my speech)! But the most salient feature they shared was their friendliness. All of them acted like they’d known me for years.
     As I departed the hotel the following morning, I came out of the elevator and was momentarily confused as to whether I should turn right or left to find the exit. Immediately, a smiling man to my right (who was dressed in such a way that I couldn’t tell whether he was an employee or another guest) said, “Looking for the front door?” I nodded. “Right this way,” he said, gesturing with his right hand. With that, he proceeded to walk me to the front door and asked me how I had enjoyed my stay. He handed me his business card saying, “If you ever need anything at any of our hotels, give me a call.” I looked at the business card as best I could without my glasses on, and couldn’t make out his name. But I could make out the word, “President.” I said, “You’re the president of the company?” “Man of the people,” he joked. I couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to tell him how brilliant their service had been, especially for a property that had been open only 7 days, and he told me his secret.
     “We want to be your best friend when you’re on the road,” he stated. I asked, “But how do you get them to be so consistently friendly?” His reply was, “We only hire people who are naturally friendly, cheerful and outgoing. We can teach people to answer the phone, carry bags, park cars, and check people into the correct rooms, but you can’t teach friendliness.” Building “The Magic Touch” into your company requires that managers model the behavior they want their frontline staff to demonstrate. If leaders quietly retire to their ivory towers and become progressively more remote from customers, frontline staff members will unconsciously infer that desk work is more important than customer interactions and behave accordingly.
     The Disney companies, likewise, have always made it their priority to hire nice people. Their interview process was designed in such a way as to identify people who have positive attitudes and are quite comfortable interacting with others. It’s much easier to teach a friendly person how to wait tables, sell popcorn, or run a cash register than it is to force a wallflower to act like an extrovert, or a pessimist to pretend to be upbeat. It is quite difficult to make customers happy when those serving them are dour and downbeat. So… hire friendly people! You can teach them the rest later.


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