Professional Zeal Keeps Customers Buoyant
“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.”
— Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), German philosopher
Communication is weightless—but it has gravity.
On journeys by plane, ship, train or bus, it shows in the manner that staff interact with passengers. Aboard flights, rote repetition by cabin attendants ("Pretzels or biscuits?") reveals a dispiriting, cookie-cutter approach to customer relations. Dispensing juice in a plastic cup as solemnly as the Eucharist only exposes the thinness of such hospitality.
During a recent ferry voyage aboard the M.V. Northern Expedition, a more uplifting version of that gravity was in evidence. When placing a lunch order, I encountered the Secretary-Treasurer of my Toastmasters club. Christa is a senior steward on the vessel and was managing the cafeteria. After exchanging greetings, I requested a chicken sandwich, saying I'd heard from a friend it was the most palatable item on the menu.
Christa's facial reaction to my statement was comical, clear and refreshingly candid: while the sandwiches are pleasant, I shouldn't expect cordon bleu. Then, upon hearing that no staterooms had been available at my time of reservation, she prompted the ship's purser to double-check. The result? I booked a berth and got a solid rest.
I was far from her sole beneficiary. Despite severe COVID constraints, Christa greeted every visitor with bona fide cheer, calmly acquiesing to a breakfaster who demanded an oatmeal top-up. In the midst of sanitizing tables, she paused to query guests about the quality of their onboard sleep.
It was exemplary public speaking in the workplace: her body language, tone and choice of words conveyed care and authenticity.
How did her communication alter my own emotional trajectory? When I returned for supper and scanned the bill of fare, I automatically spoke the first words that came to my lips: "Tonight I think I'll try the beef."
Then I laughed in delight, realizing that Christa's influence had raised the act of ordering a humble hamburger to the rank of haute cuisine.