Blogger’s Note: I wrote the following personal essay as my entry into a contest with Towne Park.
Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on the television show NCIS has a list of rules he lives by. He is as fictional as the CBS program, but his rules make sense in the real world. I know a man whose three rules make even more sense.
Blair Wright sells proprietary software for hospitals and large medical practices. I would say he is driven to serve. Blair’s infectious smile and calm manner are not the byproducts of sales training and a career of wooing clients off the fence to the table to sign contracts. I learned his principles by watching his life, how he interacted with others, and how he led me. When I donned the hat and whistle as doorman at the Renaissance Nashville Hotel [twitter | facebook], his principles became my daily marching orders.
Principle No. 1: Everyone has a Story
Julie’s* cab arrived from the airport about dusk. I opened her door and welcomed her but felt pulse waves of stress as she climbed out of the minivan. Something had gone wrong. I opened the trunk to retrieve her luggage but she said, “There’s nothing back there.” She paused and then added, “The airline lost my suitcase.”
I directed Julie to the registration desk and later sent a snack and a handwritten note to her room. I wondered if there might be more to this page of her story than a lost bag.
She checked out two days later and thanked me for my gift. “This weekend was my 30th birthday,” she said. “My husband surprised me with a weekend away with my best friend. My daughter got sick right as I was leaving for the airport, but I left anyway. I felt guilty all the way here from Dallas. The airline lost my luggage then I found out my friend’s plane was delayed.” She looked like the dam of emotions was about to breach. “I had sat down on the bed and started to cry when room service knocked on the door. I read your note and I knew everything was going to be okay.” She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Thank you.”
I replied, “You’re welcome… And happy birthday!” She waved as the taxi accelerated away.
Julie’s weekend reminded me that every guest has a story. We should watch for them—and our role in them. The guest’s story doesn’t start when he pulls onto the drive in front of our hotel. The story has been building and bending for years.
Rick*, Cheyenne*, and their five children arrived very late one Sunday night. They drove up in two SUVs with clothing to fill three bell carts and enough diapers for an army of infants.
“We just moved into our new house,” Cheyenne said. They lived in an exclusive, gated community. “Our house is built into the side of the hill overlooking the lake but the house started to settle.” She cursed like a sailor with Tourette’s. “Our builder tells us if they don’t do something now, the house will fall off of the hill. We’re going to be here for two weeks while they fix it.”
I couldn’t imagine building my dream house only to have it on the brink of collapse.
Over the course of the next 13 nights, I had to remind myself—sometimes hour by hour—of Blair’s second principle.
Principle No. 2: I Am Second
This principle grows out of a Bible passage:
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Philippians 2:3–4, niv
Rick and Cheyenne parked wherever they liked, talked on their cell phones with the urgency of commanders in our country’s ICBM silos, rarely offered a gratuity, and asked for the moon but expected the satellites to be delivered as well. As I served them, I reminded myself, “I am second”—sometimes through gritted teeth.
At moments, it’s difficult to look out for the interests of others while they complain loudly in your face, but others are watching. After a difficult departure with Rick and Cheyenne, a guest stopped me and commented, “Some people expect a lot, huh?”
I looked at him and replied, “It’s not a problem. They’re our guests. They deserve my best.”
He nodded. “That’s why I stay here.”
Whether or not we are treated with respect, we should strive to put our guests in front of ourselves, our comfort, and even our tips. That wasn’t a challenge with Tim* and Agnes*.
Tim and Agnes arrived on our front drive in a well-loved Lincoln Town Car. As I helped them with their valet ticket, Tim let me know that they were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. I congratulated them and offered my help during their stay. As I watched them explore the lobby, Blair’s third rule came to mind.
Principle No. 3: Everyone is coming out of a crisis, in the middle of a crisis, or heading into a crisis.
Tim and Agnes spent their four days shopping, seeing the Grand Ole Opry, and even boot scootin’ at a honky tonk on Broadway. (I would’ve paid good money to see that.)
When they checked out, Tim pulled me aside for a minute. He shook my hand but didn’t let go. “I don’t know if we’ll make it to our 41st anniversary.” My eyebrows formed a question mark. Tim continued, “Right before we left, the doctors told us that Agnes isn’t in remission anymore. She starts another round of chemotherapy on Monday.” He gripped my hand even tighter. “I just want you to know that everybody helped us have a great time. I’ll always cherish this weekend.”
None of us knew Tim and Agnes’ story when we retrieved or parked their car, cleaned their room, made dinner recommendations, or opened doors. We put them first throughout their stay. Today, Agnes is in the crisis of her life. We unknowingly gave her a gift—the memory of a cool spring weekend in Nashville.
*Names and circumstances have been changed to protect the privacy of our guests.