“Son, you don’t usually need to bother to complain. Whatever you’re about to complain about, usually somebody else already complained about it. There are lots of people who are happy to do that job; so the world doesn’t usually need you to do it too. But I’ll tell you what not many people are willing to do: there aren’t very many people who will praise people who do their job right. So praising people for doing well — that’s a job you always want to do, because nobody else is taking care of that job.”
I don’t suppose my dad ever used those exact words, but the spirit and the message were something he drilled into me throughout my childhood. I’ve tried to pass the same knowledge on to my children, though I don’t know how successful I was. But yesterday and this morning I’ve gotten proof of the principle, and you can bet my kids will hear about it, with the appropriate moral drawn.
My last trip to Singapore, I stayed at the Mandarin Oriental, and the staff were simply beyond outstanding. The best service I’ve ever received at any hotel, and I’ve logged literally millions of air miles over the course of my career and spent countless hours in beds not my own. (Wait a minute…I’m not sure that came out quite right…well, moving right along…) So, as my parents taught me, after I got home I took a few minutes to write a letter to the manager of the Mandarin Oriental. And since one of the things that had struck me was how much trouble literally every staff member in the hotel took to both know my name and to recognize me on sight so that they could greet me with a cheerful, “Hello, Mr. Pierce,” I went to some trouble the last couple of days there to make notes of the names of as many of the staff as I could so that I could return the favor in that letter.
As an aside, the list of staff members I wanted to mention was longer on the female side than the male side because female staff members rather significantly outnumber male staffers at this hotel. But it was much easier to collect the names of the men. This is because the nametags at the Mandarin Oriental are largely useless — they are very tastefully discreet brass things with dark engraved letters, and they fit very well with the dark uniforms the staff wear. But, um, the problem is you can’t actually see the letters without sort of getting fairly close to the nametag and staring at it for two or three seconds to let your eyes adjust…and you know without my telling you exactly where all the ladies wear their nametags. Seriously, you can’t lean in toward a young lady’s bosom and stare intently for three or four seconds and then say, “Oh, sorry, I’m just trying to read your nametag” even if that’s really what you’re doing. So when I got an opportunity to ask the ladies’ names without being afraid they’d think my next question would be their phone numbers, I just asked them; but there weren’t many such opportunities so I couldn’t thank as many of them as I would have liked by name in that letter.
At any rate, I mailed the letter (letters of appreciation always have far more effect when sent by snail mail than when e-mailed), without worrying about how long it would take to get here. Then I found myself travelling to Singapore again a little sooner than I had expected; I’ve been back at the Mandarin Oriental since Monday. Still very pleasant, and people recognized me from my last stay, and remembered that I eat my olives with chopsticks and don’t eat sugar cookies at all…pretty much what I expected.
Then on Thursday evening I got a note asking me to please call the hotel front desk manager; and after some phone tag he managed to find me in my room very late Friday afternoon. Now that thank-you letter was pretty much out of my mind at this point; so I assumed there was some sort of problem. But no, he wanted to tell me that they had received my letter on Thursday, and he wanted to tell me how much they appreciated it. And could I perhaps join him for lunch on Sunday (Saturday being his day off)?
I thanked him, but have had to decline the lunch invitation because my plane leaves Sunday at 9:30 in the morning. He thanked me about six more times and told me that he had just been reading that letter out loud to the general manager of the hotel. I told him I had said nothing that they hadn’t deserved, and we parted on excellent terms.
He had caught me just as I was heading down to the hotel’s jazz lounge for a few more hours’ work and for an evening of listening to Melissa Tham and Joshua Wan and (as it turned out this evening) Hiro __-__-___-___ (Ms. Tham only said his last name once and about all I caught was that it was Japanese and four syllables). So, having hung up the phone, I went cheerfully down to the lounge. Somewhat to my surprise, the lounge was devoid of waitresses; only Nick, the assistant manager in charge of the lounge, was in view. He saw me coming and came to meet me and help carry my computer to my usual seat. I sat down and hooked up the laptop and got set to work, and all the while he stood patiently by. Then, once I was settled, he asked somewhat diffidently, “Mr. Pierce, did you and your wife send an e-mail to the hotel?”
And I said no, because I was assuming some married couple had sent in a letter of complaint or something, and that wouldn’t be me and Helen because Helen hadn’t been with me and it wasn’t an e-mail. But then he looked so confused that I realized maybe I was confused, and so I said, “I did send a letter saying thank you for the good job you all did the last time I was here.”
He smiled, “Yes, I thought that was you. Thank you so very much — the entire staff are back in the kitchen right now having that letter read to them. A letter like that gives us a reason to keep working hard.”
Then this morning I came down for breakfast. I was in a huge hurry because (a) I had overslept and (b) I hadn’t thought about the fact that since it was Saturday they probably expected people to sleep longer and might have extended hours on the breakfast buffet. I ate my two omelettes and my two sausages and my three strips of bacon and my bowl of yogurt and my three slices of chicken-and-mushroom ham with cheese in about five minutes, and that’s not an exaggeration — because I was afraid they would stop making Belgian waffles before I could get there. But just as I was polishing off the yogurt, I noticed something: they were still seating people who were just getting there. And when I went to the waffle girl at 9:29 and placed my order, there was no line and nobody seemed to have any urgency at all. Hmmm…I walked over to the three young ladieswho take turns greeting you as you walk up to the breakfast buffet room (and whose names, I now know, are respectively Nancy, Soleil and MaLou, the last being a Filipino shortcut for “Maria Lourdes”). They all looked up and smiled: “Hello, Mr. Pierce.”
“Good morning,” I answered. “I have a quick question: how long do you serve breakfast this morning?”
“Until 10:30,” MaLou answered.
So I had a good laugh at my own expense. But then MaLou, clearly taking on the role of spokesperson for the three, added, “Mr. Pierce, we just wanted to say thank you so much for the letter you sent. That was so nice of you and it meant so much. We all read it this morning and it was wonderful.”
I assured them that I had said nothing they didn’t deserve, and then they plied me with questions about my family and my children, and we had a very nice friendly chat for about ten minutes, during which ten minutes my waffle got given away to somebody else. I ordered another one and went back to my table and sat down…
…and as soon as I did, the manager of the cafe came up to my table. He was another person I had singled out in the letter, though I had not been able to remember his name, and by this time I was not surprised in the slightest to find that he wanted to thank me for writing that letter. He and I chatted happily for another ten minutes or so, and then I ate a somewhat chilly waffle (which this time the waffle girl had carefully set aside for me), and left for my room to a chorus of “Goodbye, Mr. Pierce, have a good day.”
You know, that letter just didn’t take me very long to write; but it absolutely made the day of at least twenty or thirty people. And in the end, it made my day, too, both yesterday and today.