THINKING BUSINESS
a blog by Chris Barrow

The Shangri-La – episode 2 – breakfast with Rahul

So we left the Shangri-La hotel in Sydney, Australia on Friday evening, having recovered Lawrence Neville’s car from valet parking despite the best efforts of the concierge to make our customer service experience as indifferent as possible.

We weren’t on his list.

The following morning I found myself joyfully walking at a brisk pace back across the city centre from my hotel in Darling Harbour, returning to the Shangri-La for the second day of the Extreme Business workshop.

I had previously arranged to arrive early and meet for breakfast with one of the workshop delegates, the lovely Dr. Rahul Pankhaniya, who had traveled all the way from Perth with his two Practice Managers to hear me speak.

I was full of the joys of the Australian winter, soaking up the early morning sun as the city woke, listening to The Anjunadeep Edition on my headphones.

I arrived at the hotel for 07:30 and Rahul was there to meet me in reception and walk up to the breakfast restaurant on the first floor.

At which point we met the maitre d’i.

A stunning smart lady, dressed to kill and looking as if she wouldn’t even blink if you told her she was the new CEO of Shangri-La world-wide.

So begins my second customer service experience.

“Can I have your room number please?”, she politely asked as she looked down on Rahul and I (do they have a tall employee policy, or am I just short?).

Rahul responded with a smile, “Yes, that’s room 1702.”

What followed was that pregnant pause as she looked down her list.

Another list.

My heart beat was audible – b’dump, b’dump.

A scan of sheet one of the list produced nothing.

Tick tock.

Sheet 2 – nothing.

Tick tock.

Returning the sheets slowly to their original configuration, she looked up from the paperwork and fixed Rahul with a steely expression.

“You don’t have breakfast included in your room rate.”

Silence.

Time slowly ground to a halt.

I’m sure if there had been a pianist, he would have stopped playing and all the other guests would have paused from their mastication and stared.

Tick tock.

Rahul soon recovered and responded.

“Yes, we would like to buy breakfast please?”

She smiled the same predatory smile that our concierge had used last night when he knew he had us cornered.

“Well, there are two choices – a buffet breakfast at $30 or a hot breakfast at $42.”

My only thought at this point was that for $42 I could get a night at a Travelodge including a good feed – but I held back my gasp of astonishment, not wanting to reveal my lack of breeding.

Rahul, by the way, is the perfect gentleman and asked me which breakfast I would prefer.

Being a Northern lad, the idea of a cold breakfast would be an anathema if I could spell it, so I improvised quickly with:

“Well I am quite hungry.”

Our attention had been distracted by these culinary choices and our maitre d’i was waiting to publicly deliver her killer blow.

“So you are both guests in room 1702?”

That, of course, would have been a rather odd couple (no offence Rahul) but she clearly enjoyed the moment, once more smiling to herself in a reptilian way.

Rahul, God bless him, did a good job of explaining that we were, in fact, having a business conversation and not on a romantic weekend for two.

She seemed satisfied with the explanation, although not entirely convinced.

Having had her fun, she decided it was time to prepare for her next victim and, thus, guided us reluctantly to a nearby table and handed us over to her minions, as she swept across the shag pile like robot lawn mower back to her charging point.

Breakfast, by the way, was super and our conversation worth the effort of getting up early after a long day.

OK – I’ve been having some fun with two connected customer service experiences in the same location.

The moral of both stories is that “lists” are essential (Black Box Thinking) but also that human nature leaves a more lasting impression than compliance to a system.

Efficient is doing things right, effective is doing the right things right – but memorable is what happens when somebody cares.

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