"Good morning— may I get you a coffee?" My barber said to me when I entered his shop. He phrased it so perfectly. Warm and welcoming. It made it easy for me to say "yes".
If my barber had said, "do you want a coffee?", I would have been less comfortable saying yes. I might have felt like I was burdening him. "May I get you a coffee" signalled that he’d like to get me a coffee.
Guests and customers are by definition displaced— they’re in an unfamiliar place. The subtle language of hospitality makes them feel comfortable and welcomed. Let me share some examples.
Imagine your MacBook is being repaired at an Apple Store. You arrive and ask an employee if it's ready to be picked up. If they reply "I’ll have to check on that for you" you might feel like you’re a burden. But if they reply "let me check on that for you", it feels like they want to address your request.
Imagine you decide to dine by yourself at a restaurant. If the host says "just one?" when seating you, you might feel weird for eating alone. Instead the host could make a small adjustment and simply say, 'Welcome, are you ready to be seated?'
Hotel guests are in a new, unfamiliar place. Front desk works can make this unfamiliar place feel more comfortable by speaking authoritatively about it. So instead of saying "the breakfast should open around 6:30am" they could say "the breakfast opens at 6:30am."
Today, "no problem" is a common phrase. And while people generally don’t take it this way, if you think about it literally, it means “this could be a problem, but we’ll make an exception.” It’s usually better to simply say "it was my pleasure."
Credit cards inevitably get declined every once in a while. Instead of saying, "your credit card was declined", it’s better to say something like: "we weren’t able to get approval with your credit card— do you have another method of payment?"
At it’s most profound, hospitality isn’t a marketing trick to make customers feel important— it's a human thing that transcends business and money.
I recently read a beautiful story about a visibly upset woman who entered a coffee shop. The barista asked if everything was okay. Between sobs, the woman said she was picking up food for her family— she was on her way to her brother’s funeral. The barista responded, "oh, wow. It sounds like you’re dealing with enough today. Please don’t worry about paying for these drinks and pastries. We’d like to take care of it for you."
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