Cultural Inspiration on Service

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Aloha! Kia Ora! Hey y’all! Bienvenidos! Bienvenue! Saa wee da ka or Saa wee da krap! Welcome! What happens when these words of greeting from different cultures are uttered? What do we associate with those greetings and the people in those states or countries who say them? How do they impact us emotionally and do they change the way we perceive and receive our experience in that place?

Cultures around the world have many insightful and practical traditions and styles that can benefit a service mindset and in turn enhance service delivery. Let’s take a look at certain cultural traits and their potential impact in today’s hospitality world and guest experience management.

Consider how hospitality and business leaders and their teams may adapt some of these cultural traits and examples to benefit their own teams in guest and customer interactions. Note how these examples may serve as inspiration and motivation for a stronger service culture and more engaging guest experiences.

The Spirit of Aloha: The Hawaiian Style of Hospitality

I had the opportunity to live in Hawaii as a young girl. While there, I studied and performed Hawaiian dancing which required me to be completely immersed in and part of the Hawaiian culture and in turn the Aloha spirit. My teacher showed me how to tell stories through my hands, my eyes and body language in each dance that she taught. I learned first hand how Aloha is a way of life, an attitude and an authentic style of communicating from the heart. Thinking back to those moments and talking to those who experience Hawaii today, there are strong applications for that Aloha spirit in today’s service environment. This Hawaiian way of thinking offers unique insight into a way of interacting with others that touches emotions and leaves lasting memories. Aloha is a word that means so many different things in the Hawaiian culture including hello, welcome, good bye and even love, compassion and friendship.

According to Aloha International in an article by Curby Rule, within the root words that make up Aloha the following meanings are:

  1. “alo” – meaning sharing and in the present
  2. “oha” – meaning joyous affection, joy
  3. “ha” meaning life energy, life, breath

Mr. Rule notes that using Hawaiian language grammatical rules this translates to “the joyful sharing of life energy in the present” or simply “Joyfully sharing life”. What a wonderful approach to training people in hospitality or any service delivery environment! When guests or customers come to a new destination, a new property, a new restaurant or a new attraction, they want to share life in a way different than the place they just left which is why they came. They want to make a connection. They want to feel the energy of the place they have chosen. They want to have joy or other positive emotions as their reward for choosing that location.

Taking this line of thinking even further, in 1973, Serge Kahili King conceived ‘The Aloha Project’ as a way to join people together in a spirit of Aloha based on the wisdom found in Hawaiian philosophy and culture and focusing on physical, emotional, environmental, mental harmony. Again, great application for any hospitality environment as creating experiences that yield physical, emotional, environmental and mental rewards are the ultimate goal to engage and delight guests. The key is understanding how to trigger these applications and this spirit in employees. Employees need to “feel it” too and have that same joyful energy in sharing life experiences in the places they work along with the people they serve.

Applying the Aloha spirit Debra Cooper, Principal of Fresh Connect Solutions, receives a Hawaiian Lei while on business in Florida

Applying the Aloha spirit Debra Cooper, Principal of Fresh Connect Solutions, receives a Hawaiian Lei while on business in Florida

Many islanders witness mainlanders coming to the islands with hectic and overworked demeanors. Hawaiian locals call it “mainland attitude.” Once exposed to the Hawaiian lifestyle, slowing down and opening up to that spirit of Aloha, the transition happens and they don’t want to leave. Even the simple gesture of a Hawaiian lei, a handmade ring of flowers, usually plumerias, makes locals and visitors alike feel so welcome and so happy. Imagine how hospitality leaders and their teams could apply the Aloha spirit to inspire a similar transition in guests so they don’t want to leave either, may stay longer, spend more and can’t wait to come back. Say Aloha to a service culture that starts from the first point of arrival through every moment until departure. Welcome a powerful guest experience management strategy.

Kia Ora! New Zealand Style

When I landed in Queenstown, New Zealand last year, something felt different, even in the airport. Students from the Queenstown Resort College were there to greet me and other attendees and delegates for the 60th International Congress of Les Clefs d’Or Concierges. They welcomed us with “Kia Ora” which I soon learned was a Māori language greeting meaning, “be well and healthy” and serves as an informal “hi”. It is also used as a farewell and a thank you, similar to Aloha. It was that feeling of “informality”, that “hi”, tinged with an authentic interest in my well being that introduced me to the New Zealand style of hospitality from the first moment. Even with an unfortunate mishap with lost luggage, that spirit of caring beyond the procedural issues of locating my baggage was evident with the Air New Zealand baggage team. They reflected genuine interest in my arrival, not just the logistics of my lost items. Jonathan McNay of Limousine Line Queenstown provided my transportation from the airport to the hotel and showed tremendous pride in being the first person to introduce me to the beauty of Queenstown. He shared little anecdotes that he thought might more strongly connect me to the New Zealand experience. Jonathan showed that informality combined with authentic interest for me to be well during my stay. Checking in to the Crowne Plaza Queenstown, the friendly greetings continued with the front desk team, the early and late bar staff and a personal greeting and welcome from General Manager Reinier Eulink and Chef Concierge Fiona Lawson. Each of these touchpoints continually reinforced that Kia Ora spirit and a feeling that each of the people in these different roles cared. It was so consistent.

Mayor of Queenstown, Vanessa Van Uden is pictured with Roberta Nedry, President, Hospitality Excellence, Inc.

Mayor of Queenstown, Vanessa Van Uden is pictured with Roberta Nedry, President, Hospitality Excellence, Inc.

Mayor of Queenstown, Vanessa Van Uden, told me that they had spent a lot of time uniting the Queenstown hospitality and retail community in that caring feeling. When locals see visitors or guests taking photos, locals are encouraged to ask if they can take the photo so the entire guest party can be together. Little proactive gestures like that reinforce that the whole culture cares and that it’s not just about tourist or hotel dollars, it’s about a feeling of welcome and that each individual experience matters.

That spirit of caring about the experience and informal friendliness continued on a visit to the neighboring village of Arrowtown, a historic gold mining town. First a purchase of longhair cow boots at Woolpress Arrowtown on Buckingham Street, allowed me to meet owner Bruce Gibbs, who carefully explained the store’s environmental commitment to the area along with where my boots were made. A visit to Betty’s Liquorstore to purchase Zumwohl, a New Zealand made German-style Schnapps, resulted in meeting Brendan who promised to research ways for best enjoyment and followed up almost immediately with an email of recipes. That extra effort, the extra interest, that extra bit of caring about MY experience continued in each shop I visited.

Fiona Lawson, Chef Concierge and 10 year member Les Clefs d’Or, Crowne Plaza Queenstown, Roberta Nedry, Hospitality Excellence, Bruce Gibbs, Owner, Woolpress Arrowtown

Fiona Lawson, Chef Concierge and 10 year member Les Clefs d’Or, Crowne Plaza Queenstown, Roberta Nedry, Hospitality Excellence, Bruce Gibbs, Owner, Woolpress Arrowtown

Even when I was leaving and worried about some extra baggage, Jochen Wauters, Event Manager from Sole Events, jumped in to help me and called airlines to ensure I would have an easy journey back to the United States. He even followed up by phone to make sure I was comfortable. I left Queenstown and New Zealand feeling so emotionally rewarded by a culture that seemed to care about me being “well” every step of the way!

Each hospitality and business environment can apply a Kia Ora approach when orienting, training and inspiring employees in a service excellence philosophy and in turn, culture. Service does not have to be formal; it can be as simple as “hi”. And, when everyone in the experience is oriented to that culture, whether it be “Kia Ora” style or something else, the consistent reinforcement of that culture yields amazing positive results and reactions. Service cultures start with caring which then leads to making a commitment to certain types of behaviors. Those behaviors lead to making a connection and those connections lead to engagement. Engaging guests is what will lead to the emotional rewards that lead to the business and bottom line rewards of guest loyalty, positive reviews and referrals. Committing to that mindset and then training employees and teams to deliver the behaviors to support that mindset are essential for that cultural impact.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”, he introduces the cultural impact of the paesani culture of southern Italy, which was transplanted to the hills of eastern Pennsylvania in the town of Roseto. Gladwell introduces the study done by physician Stewart Wolf and sociologist John Bruhn, on the “Rosetans”, originally from Roseto Valfortore southeast of Rome, in Italy, and how they defied all odds in their health and social structure. The Rosetans had virtually no or minimal heart disease and attacks, lower death rates, no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction and very little crime. Their fascinating findings stunned the medical establishment by causing them to think about health in terms of “community” and the impact beyond the individual on others-the culture of which they were part- instead of genes, eating and exercise habits. Their concluding statement was that we now need to “appreciate the idea that the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are.” WOW! Proof that identifying, establishing and inspiring a unifying culture, reinforced by a supportive environment, really works and can lead to amazing results.

On the other hand, without that reinforcement and unified culture, sporadic good moments lose their impact and leave both employee and guest without the positive experience both desire. At a ski resort in North America, celebrations were in place for a historic anniversary. On the day of the anniversary, many events were planned and skiers, dignitaries, guests and employees showed up for the festivities. Resort representatives were positioned all over the area to be resources and celebrants with guests. Guests continually asked various employees about the schedule of events throughout the day and were often met with the response, “we don’t know exactly, they didn’t tell us the details of the whole day”. Amazing. So much work leading up to the celebration and all the events and yet the people on the line were not completely informed or inspired by what was taking place. They did not share the same values of the organizers or feel as connected as they could have been to this important event. These employees were frustrated and left out and then did the same for the guests asking the questions. The culture was not defined or in place which yielded a less than desirable result.

Whether Guests and Employees Hear

“Hey y’all” in the South of the United States (southern hospitality), “Bien Venidos “in Mexico (festive, lighthearted and genuine), “Bienvenue” in France or Canada (appreciation for the details, elegance and savored moments), “Saa wee da ka or Saa wee da krap” in Thailand (gracious and genuine hospitality), a feeling of welcome, a unique style and a passion from that culture will come across and reveals wonderful examples and applications of how an experience can be defined by a single word or phrase, explained in a way that is meaningful and that reflects an overall philosophy for how to make people feel. Words and feelings that come from a culture, not from a dictionary, developed over centuries, can cause entire populations to change the way they think and behave. This can be a shortcut to craft touch-points and guest experiences that you want in your hotel and organization and can provide creative opportunities to adapt elements of that culture to create unique hospitality cultures within an organization.

Think about what you want your front desk to convey, how you want your food and beverage team to interact with guests, how each department works with each other and what effect the whole organization can have on each employee delivering the experience. Create great excuses to inspire and move employees to deliver unforgettable experiences and to connect to the emotional elements of their role and what it means to others. Make it meaningful to those employees as well.

Take your employees on an emotional journey and travel to new places in guest experience management through some of these cultural inspirations. Inspire your own culture and commitment from top to bottom and inside and out. Feel the passion from shared beliefs and values and pack your bags for success!