I am honestly beginning to believe that thanks to the fear and isolation of the pandemic that people have forgotten how to interact with others. They have forgotten basic rules of grace, and frankly I wonder if they even want to interact with people at all.

Case in point… My husband and I are currently on a road trip helping our daughter move across the country, which means hotel stays.  On the first night, the lovely local inn which had received very high reviews on Trip Advisor was dark when we arrived. I had made the reservation online and received a confirmation email.  I called midday when we were enroute to confirm the reservation and tell them our estimated arrival time. However, there was no human to answer the phone, only a recording that said they’d call me back. Six hours later – never having received a call back – we arrived to a dark office, locked door and a sign that said we should call one of two phone numbers if we are looking to check in.  There were lights on in guest rooms so we knew the hotel was actually operating.  I called both numbers repeatedly only to get the same recording. We rang the “ring doorbell”. No answers. Only darkness.  Thankfully there was a Marriott Courtyard nearby which had a room.

I, of course, sent an email to the inn notifying them that we wouldn’t be staying there, and that we would call the credit card company to reverse the charge.  Early the next morning I received an email from the hotel apologizing but stating that they never received any of my messages and asking why I hadn’t walked on into the building for the envelope that had been left on the table.  Would you ever walk into a business where the lights are clearly off and nobody is home… and the sign on the door says to call for assistance? And would you ever accuse your customer of “doing it wrong?”

Me neither. 

If you care about your customers.. be there for them.  Notes on the door and voicemail is not customer care.. nor is it connecting with your guests.

Hotel number two was another perfect demonstration of a hospitality business that had zero empathy for their traveling clientele. Here was just one of our interactions with the desk clerks….

Us: “Do you have luggage carts so we can unload the car?”

Desk Person at Check In: “No.”

Us:  “You really don’t have luggage carts to help get the luggage to the room?”

Desk Person at Check In: “No.”

My husband asks the same question to someone at the concierge desk while I am completing the check-in.  Concierge response: “I have wondered the same thing for a long time. But no. We have none.”  Meanwhile we are told that we have been assigned to a 3rd floor room and there are no elevators!  (FYI, for assorted reasons we had an unusually large amount of luggage – normally we easily deal with all luggage on our own.)

Here’s the fascinating piece of the puzzle that both the desk clerk and concierge left out: The hotel was one of those garden apartment style series of buildings where you park right next to the staircase to your room. Yes you need to carry the luggage up the stairs, but a luggage cart would have been of very little use under these circumstances.

What the desk clerk should have said: “I have good news and bad news.  The good news is that you will actually park right near your room. The bad news is that we do not have elevators.  Because of these two factors, a luggage cart would not be of assistance to you.  If you need help carrying your luggage upstairs, we can send someone to assist you.”

What a difference – one version provides rational explanation and demonstrates empathy for the weary traveler.  One version is dismissive and makes clear that the hotel lacks understanding or interest in really welcoming their guests.

A popular and growing chain of restaurants, bartaco built its reputation on providing great inexpensive Mexican food, with a playful method of self-ordering your meal using a do-it-yourself paper form that resembles a miniature golf scorecard. Yes, it was DIY, but the servers were friendly and attentive. The form was their “Schtick.”  Not unlike other restaurants, during COVID they adopted an app for viewing the menu and ordering. The only problem is that the staff at the restaurants thought COVID safety meant that they no longer had to provide service at this table service restaurant even though they were expecting table service tips.  Getting water, silverware and a visit at the table to be sure everything was ok after the food is delivered requires customers to practically stand on their chairs and wave their arms for attention.  On more than one occasion we got up and helped ourselves to items from the server station… now we simply don’t go there anymore.

We have a huge labor problem in America right now. It’s not a labor shortage. There are far more jobs available than workers.  But we have workers who seem to have lost interest in working, let alone doing a good job. What happened?  Some blame the supplemental unemployment payments for discouraging people from working- why get a job when you can make more money staying at home?

But I fear that it’s something deeper.. a message of entitlement, a deep fear that has been instilled in a population fearful of the COVID plague and corporate America who has sacrificed corporate culture for maximized profit in the face of economic challenges …all of this combines to create resentful workers who worry more about their personal frustrations than enjoying or doing a great job.

We already had young people who didn’t understand the need for them to start at the bottom of the ladder and suffer through the climb up, resentful of last minute late night requests, the silly rules of their office, and the overall pressures of “adulting.”  All of the things that are simply part of starting at the bottom.

Working from home during the pandemic was perfect for them.  Flexible hours. Flexible location (many traveled the country with their portable offices – aka laptop and a WiFi connection) and they could stay in their pajamas all day.  Having a taste of what they view as work-life-balance, this entitled group is now resentful of being called back to the office, threatening to quit should traditional demands be required of them.   In a survey by Bloomberg, 39% of all respondents are willing to quit their jobs if employers weren’t flexible about remote work … but 49% of GenZ and Millenials would walk away from jobs that they viewed as forcing them back into the old work paradigm.

That same Bloomberg poll showed that approximately ⅓ of workers use their fear of illness as a reason to avoid returning to the workplace.  Have we created a population of fearful neurotics who have become cave dwellers afraid to re-enter the world for fear of illness? What does all of this mean when the next flu season comes around?  More fear? More resentment that those evil bosses are actually expecting work from their employees?

It’s a sad spiral that businesses seem to be on…but there is a glimmer of hope.  There is also joy to be had in returning to work.  My daughter had an in-person meeting last week – the first she has seen her co-workers in 16 months. She left the day inspired by the enriched conversations of the in-person environment and the reconnection with friends and co-workers. Rather than “absence making the heart grow fonder,” in the case of remote work I would argue that absence makes the heart grow distant providing social isolation to individuals and leaving them free to swirl in their fearful and indignation-filled fantasies of miserable victims.

We have lives to live and a world in which to live it. Reach back to your memory banks and overcome the fear and paranoia that has been impressed thoroughly in all of us.  Instead remember the joys of connection, the stimulation of human interaction, the fun of idea sharing, how important you are to your customers. 

At every level and in every industry you have customers who are excited and appreciative that your business is still in existence. Many friends and loved ones lost jobs and business during the past 18 months and would gladly trade places with those who are employed or have businesses that are still functioning. If you have a job to go to and good people to do it with, consider yourself extremely lucky.  Get up.. go to work…put a smile on your face, and make those someone’s very happy today.