Have you ever heard of the Aesop Fable about the North Wind and the Sun? In case you haven’t, I’ll provide a quick overview. The North Wind and the Sun were having a conversation about who was stronger of the two. Deciding to put the challenge in motion, they tried their theory on an oncoming traveler to see who would be the one make the traveler remove his cloak. First, the North Wind blew. As the traveler continued on his way, he wrapped his cloak tighter around him. Up next was the sun. The sun shone brightly. Overcome by the heat, the traveler removed his cloak and continued on his way. At the heart of the fable is this: warmth, or persuasion, is better than sheer force.
I work in the fashion industry. Because of it, I have the pleasure of being able to travel quite often and rely heavily on the service of others. I several occasions I have taken the redeye into JFK for New York Fashion Week. Arriving at 5am, with little or no sleep (I’m not one of those that can easily sleep on the airplane), I’m always saying a little prayer that can check into my hotel room early for a quick nap. At the front desk, I always pay attention to how the check in process is going in front of me, and then when called upon, I do my best to set the right mood, always smiling (no matter how tired I am) and asking how the associate’s day is going. It’s not always the case (I know there are times when a room is simply not available), but I’ve been so fortunate on a number of occasions that I’ve been able to check in first thing in the morning. On one occasion, the front desk associate truly went above and beyond. Citing that there wasn’t a room currently available upon check-in. However he instructed me to check my bag with bell service, go have breakfast (as well as provided a verbal list of nearby eateries) and return in two hours to see him. At that time, my room would be ready, and it was. I was so grateful because I could rest and properly get ready for the BCBG Max Azria runway show. When I find a hotel that truly caters to the traveler, I am loyal and stay there whenever I am in town.
On another trip a few years back, I have to say I actually witnessed the North Wind and Sun fable in action. I was traveling to Phoenix on a holiday weekend for a girls’ trip. It was all about shopping, cocktails by the pool and catching up. We were in line at the rental car counter when the man in front of us was having issues with his car rental. Acting as if it was the agent’s fault, he berated him. The agent tried to explain the process and was trying very diligently to remedy the situation. The customer wouldn’t have it and upon leaving the counter, belted, “You’ve lost me as a customer.” My friend and I seeing this just looked at each other in embarrassment for this man. I really wanted to respond to his outrage by saying, “I’m sure they’re happy to see you go.” Instead I waited patiently to be called up to the counter. When we were asked to step forward, I empathetically said, “good morning” and felt like I had to apologize on behalf of all customers because of his outburst. We chatted while waiting for him to process our reservation. He asked us why we were in town. We explained to him that we hadn’t seen each other in a while and thought it would be fun to take a girls’ trip. He handed me the keys and my contract. He proceeded to tell us what stall our vehicle was in and wished us a fantastic weekend. We thanked him and wished him a better day, not really paying attention to the key, we walked out to the lot. I had reserved a mid-sized car assuming the vehicle would be a sedan like a Toyota Camry. However, the car that was in our reserved stall was a bright red Ford Mustang. I double checked the stall number he wrote on the sleeve of my contract, then the keys, and was floored. It was not expected, but so appreciated. As I always do when I receive exceptional service, I made sure to share my customer experience and specifically his name on social media, and on the feedback survey I received. He not only provided great customer service but provided a wonderful experience for this trip.
I do understand that people who work in the service industry are human. They have “off days”, just like you and I, and they have bad days or there are some that really shouldn’t be interacting with other humans. On my most recent trip to Los Angeles for Fashion Week, at the request of the airlines I had to change my travel arrangements to an earlier flight. I was having breakfast with a friend, when I made arrangements for an Uber to pick me up from the restaurant in Pasadena and take me to LAX. It’s quite a trek and of course traffic in LA is the worst. Instead of focusing on traffic and trying to figure out if I’d make my flight on time, I decided to start up a conversation with my driver. We talked about the reason for my trip, my work, our families and all things LA. She said her main hours driving were the mornings during rush hour and it wasn’t uncommon for her to go back and forth between Pasadena and LAX. I gave her kudos for driving it on an almost daily basis. She said for the most part that her customers were pretty even-keeled and knowing the traffic situation, most of the time they built in extra time to ensure they made it to the airport with time to spare. However, there was the occasional customer that didn’t account for rush hour traffic. She talked about the time she picked up a woman to take her to the airport. The woman had called for a previous driver and for some reason or another that driver didn’t pick her up. She was already running late and highly irritated when this driver arrived. As the woman got into the car, she started to share how upset she was and needed to get on her flight. They started out and of course hit traffic right outside of Pasadena. The woman voiced her annoyance that she wasn’t going to make it. The driver kept her calm and explained to her that she drives this route almost daily and that she would do her best to SAFELY maneuver the vehicle through traffic. She would do what she could to make sure she delivered her to the airport on time. As they were on their way, the passenger began to lighten up and at one point, the driver mentioned to me, they even had a laugh. When they finally reached the terminal, the woman apologized and thanked her for her service. She made it on time. The driver said that passenger gave her a raving review, but more importantly she felt good that she could turn around what could have been a bad situation.
It’s pretty incredible what simple kindness can do. I hope you’ll not only remember that when traveling but also in every day encounters, you never know what it will lead you to.
The “A” List