For many customer service professionals, “How are you today?” is really just another way of saying, “Hello.” It’s a rote question where the expected response is “I’m fine” and the person asking is totally unprepared for anything different.
You can miss out on some pretty big opportunities when you ask a question like this without caring whether or not you get an answer.
Last week, I saw firsthand how powerful it can be when someone actually listens to how their customer responds. I was checking in to the Westin Portland where Liza greeted me at the reception desk. She recognized me from many past visits and said, “Welcome back!” in her usual cheerful way.
She then asked the question as she started the check-in process. “How are you today?”
The truth is I wasn’t fine. The tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon earlier that day had left me feeling sad for the city and enraged at whoever did it. I spent several years living in Boston, including two years just a few blocks from where the bombings occurred, so the scene felt particularly vivid. I was also worried because I hadn’t yet heard from all my family members and friends who live in the area or were there for the marathon.
I deviated from the script and told Liza the truth. “I’m sad.”
Liza asked me why and I told her I was thinking about Boston. We proceeded to have a very nice conversation where Liza’s empathy and attentive listening were comforting. It’s amazing how simple human interaction can lift our spirits.
I went up to my room and dropped my bags before heading right back out for dinner. When I got back from dinner later that night I was surprised to find this waiting in my room:
The card contained a handwritten note from Liza letting me know that she hoped all of my family and friends in Boston were okay. It was an amazingly thoughtful and kind gesture and yet another reason why the Westin Portland is my favorite hotel.
Liza’s warmth and caring provide a great reminder that we should care about the answer if we’re going to ask a question like, "How are you today?"