Duh! A No-Brainer Guide to the Essence of Service

The obscure we see eventually, the completely obvious takes longer."
-- Edwin Newman

First I had an "ah-hah!" experience. Then I had a "Duh?" experience when, a few days ago, I realized that all my passion regarding customer service is nothing more than "Duh." As in "Duh, I know that," or "Duh, of course, it's so simple!"

Service is based on foundations that are so basic it's almost ridiculous, and yet even though it's simple, when it comes to consistently providing high levels of hospitality, it's easier said than done. It requires that we go inside ourselves to discover some very important -- and necessary -- information. Most importantly, what are the things that customers do to push our buttons and cause us to react in a way we're not proud of? Is there a way we can notice we've become reactive, and can we move into the higher and, yes, the "duh!" level where true hospitality occurs?

Living in and operating out of a high level of hospitality requires an in-depth understanding of "Duh." But what is "Duh?" Here are some of its principles...


If you don't care about the feelings of others, if you are not interested in their "story," if their opinion of you has no value to you, it will simply not be possible to function at a high level of hospitality. Duh!


Apathy is not the path to empathy. One of the basic principles of dealing with difficult situations requires first that you must care.Duh!


You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. You have to open your heart and connect with someone else beyond the perfunctory performance of a job. You have to be willing to go beyond your ego. You have to be willing to stay present and open, not protective or vindictive. Without the willingness to do such things, it is not possible to function at a high level of hospitality. Duh!


This is a simple but difficult quality to demonstrate, especially consistently. People try our patience, and many service encounters can be described as "the irritable interacting with the irritated." Patience requires that we know how to listen, it requires caring empathy, and willingness, and it requires that we don't take everything personally. Duh!


Yes, love! There, I've said it. Everyone tells you never to mention love when you're talking about business, but I say ... Duh! It's the truth! If we would just remember to act more lovingly toward each other, we would be able to operate at the highest level of hospitality. The truth is to reach the minds of our customers, servers must operate from the heart. Duh!


It is each of our responsibilities to know our products and services. It is simply not enough to be nice. We must also be knowledgeable. A sincere service person who doesn't have information is still unacceptable. It is important to understand that just because we do things correctly, it doesn't mean we're delivering good service. It isn't enough if we don't actually connect with the person we're serving. The only way service magic can be created is through connection; we must stay with people without the myriad distractions that cause customers to feel rushed and unimportant. Making customers feel good, letting them know you appreciate their business, and being able to understand and answer their needs: these are the fundamentals that make them return. Duh!


In order to serve, we have to pay attention to our own feelings as well as to the feelings of our customers. We have to pay attention and heed that little word: "think." So many people don't think before they act. They simply react, setting up a negative experience for everyone. If we paid attention and took the split second to notice our customers in a deeper way, we could fill our time with rich relationships instead of rote activities. Duh!


If you say you are going to do something, do it! If you promise something, deliver it, and don't promise what you can't deliver. Following through means acting on something right away. It involves handling situations before they become huge nightmares. It means we have to see a job through to completion, and not pass it off to the next person and then forget about it. Follow-through requires accepting personal responsibility for every phone call we answer and every request we receive. Duh!


We must first be organized if we have the intention to be of service. Most businesses are not set up to serve. Information is not readily available, and often times peopleare scrambling to find the answers. Downsizing has put
tremendous pressure on existing employees to have all the answers, and a common problem is blamed on inefficient staffing. While this is oftentimes true, it is also true that most places are not set up to serve properly in the first place. A good place to start to understand what is needed is to ask the people who actually do the serving. Duh!


Find humor in your work. Without a well-developed sense of humor it is entirely impossible to maintain the attitude needed to work with the public. But first you have to recognize and believe that humor is a choice. A sense of humor is your most powerful tool. It will get you through the most difficult situations. It is all in how you look at it. Duh!


Four simple little words -- "Thank You Very Much" -- combine all the principles of "Duh." We don't say these words enough as customers, and we don't hear them enough as service providers. If we were jazzed when we heard those words as service providers, and we were generous in our appreciation as customers, the entire service process would flow from its original and proper source. Duh!

"Duh!" is just that. Duh! So then, why should something that's so obvious remain so elusive? After 20+ years of customer service indoctrination in the U.S.A., we're still having difficulty putting these simple values into action. When all we have to do is . . .

D eliver service with
U nderstanding and
H eart.

About the Author

Holly Stiel, M.A. is a pioneer in the field of customer service. Twenty five years ago, she walked into the international convention of Les Clefs d'Or in Vienna as the first American woman admitted to the exclusive international concierges' association. In 2004 Stiel was presented an honorary membership for her lifetime of service to the profession.

Stiel single-handedly started the concierge department at San Francisco's Grand Hyatt, and was the chief concierge for 17 years. Her leadership served as the model throughout the Hyatt corporation. Holly Stiel's company Stiel Media, LLC developed the customer service training program for 1500 Hampton Inns and Hilton Garden Inns delivered on state of the art, interactive DVD. Other clients include: Bellagio Hotel & Resort, Bank of America, Hilton Hotels, Hyatt Hotels, Disneyland, Nordstrom, Loews Hotels, Marriott Hotels, MGM- Las Vegas, Nortel, Premier Resorts, Advanced Micro Devices, Sheraton Hotels, Sonesta Int. Hotels & Westin Hotels & Resorts.

Stiel's company has produced three comprehensive customer service DVD training products: The Neon Signs of Service, Taking the High Road of Service and Concierge Express. Stiel is also the author of 3 books on customer service. Ultimate Service, The Complete Handbook to the World of the Concierge, considered to be the definitive work on this topic. Thank You Very Much- A Book For Anyone Who Has Ever Said, "May I Help You?" and her most recent book, The Neon Signs of Service Getting to the Heart of the Matter in Customer Service. For more information, visit www.stielmedia.com.