Saturday, May 31, 2014

Week Twenty-two – Dignity and Respect

The infamous Red Gate of Auschwitz 

Let me start with a quote from a leaflet British Airways provided me this week, which triggered me to write this blog (and a complaint letter) - “Excellence in customer care and making you feel good are very important to us” they also have the slogan “to fly, to serve” let me assure you, they do the first, but not the second and certainly they do not care or make you feel good!

As many of you know, I don’t fly British Airways out of principle after they humiliated me and treated me disrespectfully over two years ago, something that should not be done to anyone, let alone your loyal frequent customers! I will spare you the gory details in this blog but let me give you a flavour of what they did to me back then which ties with this week’s experience.

That summer I booked a reward flight in BA with the points I had earned through constantly travelling, taking 130 flights a year and leaving my family behind. Unfortunately that morning I turned up at the wrong airport, it was my mistake and I knew it. However, I needed to get to Spain to collect my family before doing a brutal 2 days driving back to the UK, time was of the essence. I went to the so call Customer Care Centre (yes Care and not Service, isn’t that nice, not sure true…) and I asked to change my ticket to get to Madrid that day. After some clickity click on the keyboard I was told by the “Customer Care Agent” I had to buy a new ticket to the sum of 950 pounds, single and economy! Now, I knew I had to pay something for my mistake but 950 pounds? When I asked why it was so expensive I was told, “it’s because you have a cheap ticket and cannot be changed” Wait a minute! There is a difference between a reward ticket and a low cost ticket (I wouldn’t even call it cheap!) what did she mean by cheap? was she calling me cheap? (You can see how this was going to end badly). Both clickity click Customer Care Lady and Customer Care Supervisor kept on winding me up by continually calling my ticket “cheap” and refusing to help me with anything cheaper than 950 pounds! You know the Little Britain “the computer says no!” sketch? Well this was it! (If you’ve not seen it, click on this link, you’ll know what I’mtalking about

With tears in my eyes and frustrated as they would not help me I said to them “so what am I supposed to do? I’m a loyal customer taking over 130 flights a year, there is nothing you can do?” (I was prepared to pay, but not 950 pounds!) Their reply was nothing short than “that’s your problem sir, you need to pay if you want to travel today” the rest of the story I don’t need to tell you, as at this point they were not ready to help me and leave me in the streets. I remember saying to them as I left that the difference between good customer service and British Airways is that customer service starts with the customer, not your systems and processes.

Since then I rarely fly with British Airways, only out of necessity. And to show you how loyal I was and how important my custom was, two years later I am still Silver level and that is without using them! (They don’t want to see it but this cost them dearly) It seems that every time I get on a BA flight they always managed to do something to upset me, and this week was no exception.

On my way back from a business trip with a colleague we were boarding the BA flight from Warsaw to London and I was stopped and given a new boarding pass with an upgrade to business class. When the flights are full they usually upgrade Silver/Gold customers. As I am still a gentleman I offer my upgrade to my colleague as I felt she would enjoy it after a long week of travelling for which she was grateful. We boarded the plane and settled in. A few moments later she came to me and informed me that she had been asked to take a sit in economy as the ground staff had made a mistake and I should not have been upgraded, but yet the seat I was assigned was empty! You can imagine how embarrassed I was and I immediately went to see the flight supervisor. When I challenged her and told her that this was the most embarrassing situation she could ever put anyone through, all she could say was that it was a mistake and should not have happed.

A mistake? She didn’t seem to understand the embarrassment she had put my colleague and I through and that it is just simply not the way to treat people, especially if you are a frequent loyal customer! Let’s pause here for a moment and remind ourselves of the phrase I saw in their leaflet “Excellence in customer care and making you feel good are very important to us” at this point they have done none of the above, except process us like a number; “you are in the wrong seat, you are going to have to move, you should not be here” (their words to my colleague, not mine!)

What makes this even harder to comprehend is that she knew the seat was not assigned, and there were a couple of empty places in economy; it is not just because you are silver or gold member, this would be embarrassing for anyone and not the way to treat people. So you made a mistake, own it, take it and deal with it without embarrassing the person, remember their words, not mine “customer care… making you feel good…” close the door to the plane, let the person sit there, it’s not going to cost you more and you made someone feel good and that you care.

They kept apologizing because BA is good at that, empty words. They seem to always hide behind the systems or finding someone else to blame, like two years ago, when it was my fault that I have bought a “cheap ticket”! My parting words to them was a reminder that in good customer care you put the customer first (I seem to be telling them this every time I see them!) The old saying “the customer comes first” has not gone away and you must always treat people with respect and dignity, that’s all.

I think the hardest thing in life is to realise that in any given situation you need to treat people they way you would want to be treated. Dignity and respect are two basic principles we should all apply when we deal with people, whether it is in customer service, in relationships, with employees, family and friends or even total strangers.  This week I had the opportunity to re-visit one of the most important places in the world, Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where millions of people were executed, where you are reminded of what happens when we don’t put dignity and respect first. I have visited Auschwitz before and it is a place I believe everyone has to visit at least once in his or her lifetime. I am not comparing the treatment BA gave my colleague and I today with what happened to millions of people in Auschwitz, but I can’t help thinking that no matter where you are, no matter who you are and no matter when it happens, people are still not being treated with dignity and respect.  Look at all recent events surrounding us, from the racist comments of the owner of the LA Clippers Basketball team, the recent crisis in Crimea Ukraine to the 300 schoolgirls being kidnapped.  People are being constantly treated without respect or dignity and we have to learn from past events; too many things have happened and continue to happen in the word where basic respect and dignity is ignored.

As for British Airways and their staff, all they have to do is stop and think, not to focus just on the process or system. To stop and think how would they have felt if they were in the customer’s shoe? If we all do it, perhaps one day Dignity and Respect will prevail around the world.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Week twenty-one – don’t just buy me flowers!

If you walk into a room with a bunch of flowers and the person says “why did you buy me flowers, it’s not my birthday!” then you know this blog is for you!

My children call me Scrooge, some say I’m so un-romantic, and you could even call me weird, but I’m one of those people that don’t like to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and any other type of celebration days we all have in our cultures (you know the ones I mean… Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Mother’s day, etc.) And I don’t like them because of a simple believe… we should celebrate every day!

I didn’t always believe this and like many, when I was young I spent a fair bit of money and time celebrating those once-a-year occasions. You name it and I took part; birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, until one day I realize there was no real meaning to these days. I guess it became clear to me when I left Mexico at the age of 18 and I no longer had to celebrate or spend my money on any of these “special” days any more; why? Because I was so far away that no one, at least I thought, cared if I celebrated with him or her. But being so far away did remind me of how important it was not to just celebrate with people once a year, but all of the time. My wife will tell you, I don’t take her out for Valentine’s Day, not because I don’t love her but because everyone knows what a rip off it is to celebrate on that day! Not only that, I find it incredible that people wait all 364 days to buy flowers to someone! And of course, they are so expensive, they are mass-produced to meet the demand and they will last only two days. Some people will even go to the extent of buy expensive gifts, which again, you have to spend ridiculous money just to say once a year “I love you”

I was triggered to write this week’s blog on this subject for two reasons. First of all this week in my company we celebrate our employees. We do it every year and it has been a tradition since our company began. The idea, which I think it’s great, is to thank our people for all their hard work and commitment through out the year; this is their week! I have always taken part in these celebrations and have seen some amazing ways to thank employees that week. This is all very well and commendable but what I find extraordinary is that we should not just thank our employees once a year, but every day. This is a bit like the Valentine’s Day, why do we wait the whole year to be reminded to thank someone? Why do we have to wait to be told to celebrate someone or something special? I’m sure you all agreed that thanking someone every day (and meaning it) has more impact than thanking someone once a year with a special celebration and gifts? I am sure those around us would appreciate more a kind world or a loving gesture every day rather than the once-a-year show we put to express our gratitude and love. I’m all for a bit of celebration and recognition, but it has to be part of an on going demonstration of affection and gratitude for someone throughout the year and not just once on a blue moon!

The second reason for writing on this subject was actually triggered by last week’s blog and something that happened to a friend of mine. If you read my blog last week I talked about how #realmenrespectwomen and the fact that they are instrumental to us as human beings (I believe those men who have little respect for women don’t realize they are alive because a woman brought them into this world!) Talking to a friend about this subject she shared a personal experience that happened to her and I was amazed at what she was telling me! She had an incident some time ago for which she needed help and support and naturally she asked her husband, as you would expect. He is a highly paid, high profile executive and told her to get on with it and sort it out, apparently he was “too busy” at that moment to support her in a moment of great need. This is a man who in Valentine’s Day will buy her those flowers, and those expensive gifts. This is a man who on her birthday will spend a fortune buying an expensive gift and taking her out for dinner. This is a man who at some special occasions, when prompted by publicity and popular traditions (and one would say peer pressure!), will take her out for dinner, buy her flowers and pamper her like a Queen. This is a man, who in my opinion, only celebrates when he is reminded of how lucky he is to have someone special in his life, someone who supports him and makes him complete. As she shared this with me I remembered why I don’t just celebrate once a year, but ensure that I give all I can to people every day we are together.

The secrete is not to become Scrooge or go to the extreme and never buy someone a gift or flowers, but to remember that every day is a celebration, that every day is a chance for us to say a kind word, a thank you, to give someone a smile and a “well done” for what they did. Every day that goes by is a chance to make it right, to make it better and to celebrate what we have, then when we come to special occasions such as the day you were born, your wedding day, an anniversary or just simply a highly commercialized national day (Yes, I’m very cynical when it comes to these “special” days!) you can give flowers or a gift, share a kind word or a kiss, shake hands with someone a say thank you, they will know you are not just doing this for that day, but part of every day life.

We should live today like is the last day of our lives, and celebrate all of those “special” occasions today. Why wait for our birthday to remind us, in the words of Elton John “how wonderful life is when you’re in the world” remember yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift, that’s why is called the present! Give people a present ever day! My blog is my gift to you all today, thank you, like every week, for taking the time to read it and support me.

“I write because someone out there reads”

Friday, May 16, 2014

Week Twenty – #realmenrespectwomen

On week twenty of my blog I decided to get on my soapbox and talk about a topic everyone is hearing about! And I need your support!


Over the last few weeks we have all heard in the news the horrifying and shocking news that in Nigeria a group of schoolgirls were kidnapped just because they are women and want to be educated! The rebel group snacked 200 schoolgirls and has been posting videos on how they are proud of what they’ve done, boosting about wanting to sell them and even started to negotiate the release of members of their group in exchange of these girls.

I have not yet used my blog to talk about either politics or religion and certainly not about the news, but what attracted me to write my blog this week on this subject was seeing that while this story was being backed in social media by people including celebrities using #tags such as #bringbackourgirls, in many countries people were celebrating mother’s day. In the past few weeks we have seen all over social media people posting pictures of their mothers with messages of celebration for those women who have given so much for us and in many cases scarified themselves for us. I myself lost my mother 13 years ago and I know how much I miss her even to this day. Interestingly, mother’s day is celebrated, more or less, around the same time all over the world. We have also recently celebrated international women’s day, and again in social media we saw an array of pictures and celebration showing our respect and admiration for women all around the world.

And women play an integral part of our lives. We all know that in general girls are more attached to their fathers and boys to their mums, either way, they are pinnacle to a man’s life! I know this to be true in my case, I was very closed to my mother, I know my son can’t live without his mum! And I know that my daughter has a special relationship with me, and one day she will to her own son. But Women have a special bond with their child (male or female) something I believe men are incapable of feeling or understanding. Don’t get me wrong, I think we can love our children as much as women, but the fact that we all grow inside the womb of our mothers is something that nothing can ever replace or substitute. In a way we are part of them, their body, soul and spirit. For 9 months of our lives we feed through them, we hear through them, we sense and feel through them. Experts on the subject would go as far as to say that your character and personality is form by they way you grow in your mother’s womb, if they have a great pregnancy or not, if they play music to you, or talk to you, or even what they eat and how they look after themselves.  There is no other way to look at it; we are part of them.

So I reflected on my bond with my mother, and the bond that exist between my son and my wife. I often remind my children, like I was reminded as a child, that a mother is the most secret person in this world and as such they need to respect her. I also remind them of the selfless acts mothers often do for us, of the unselfishness of their actions and just simply of the enormous sacrifice they made to give us life, to bring us, happy and healthy, into this world. Us men do very little during the pregnancy period, so crucial to the life of every new born human being, the pain and love a mother puts into the birth of a child, is something we could never do. What does this tell you? We owe our lives to women, who through the existence of mankind have given life to all men on earth. We are here because of them.

I entitled my blog this week #realmanrespectwomen, and I use the #tag symbol like others to make a point, not just because those Nigerian man who kidnapped the schoolgirls, but because all men who do not respect women around the world! As I sat in front of the TV looking at this Nigerian man, talk, smiling about selling these women, I happen to have my Facebook page open and I saw a picture of my mother posted by my sister with the caption “I still miss you mum, after all these years”; I lifted my eyes and looked at the man on the screen and I thought “does he not realized that he is only on this earth because a woman, just like the ones he has kidnapped, terrorized and maltreated, brought him into this world? Does he not know that one of those girls could have been his mother and if something had happened to her he would not be breathing today?” and I suddenly felt such anger at someone who’s ignorance is so big that his actions are actually contradicting the natural course of life, someone who, somehow, somewhere, twisted his mentality and turn against the most secret person in this world, a woman, who without her he would not be in this world.

I did said that this blog was not just about the men in Nigeria, but any man who thinks that women are inferior and do not deserve a place in this world. This blog is to make a point that, whilst by coincidence, we had two very different stories running on in social media in the last few weeks; one telling us how some people believe women are inferior to man and treat them like dirt, and an other people celebrate women for giving us life.

I want to send a message to anyone reading this blog that #realmanrespectwomen not because we have been told by society to do so, but because I do believe that, putting aside differences between man and woman, we are only in this world because of our mothers, a female, a woman, who dedicated herself to the beautiful act of giving birth, one of the most selfless acts anyone can do on this earth.

I do hope that the schoolgirls will be released soon, unharmed, and I do also hope that one day all men, no matter where you come from, will understand that they are only on this earth because of a woman brought us into the world.

Join me in #realmenrespectwomen

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Week nineteen – RAK!

RAK or Random Act of Kindness is something you don’t often hear and when you do it shocks you!

How often do we stop in the middle of the street and offer assistants to a total stranger? How often do we take a moment of our busy lives to help someone in need? And how often do you hear stories involving someone helping another person they don’t know out of the goodness of their hearts? Yea, I know, not very often, and when you do it shocks you, but then it gives you a great feeling that there are still some good people out there.

This week my wife had one of those RAK moments when she found herself locked out of the car at the supermarket on a busy Saturday morning and this story inspire me to talk about this subject.

She has a very busy and hectic life and often, as I travel all week, she has to manage the house, kids and her job all by herself. On this particular Saturday morning I was away and she had gone to buy food for the kids and me (I was arriving later that morning) before going to work. Up on returning to the car she realised she had left the boot of the car open and was relived to see the car was still there! She placed the shopping in the boot together with her handbag and she closed it. She never places her phone or keys on her bag but this morning, for some reason, she had and when she went to get in the car she realised she had locked not only her keys but also the phone inside and now she was stuck in the middle of the car park! She only had half an hour to get back home and drop the shopping before going to work and she panicked (who wouldn’t)! No keys, no phone, no money, how was she going to get back home and in time for work? The expression on her face must have been so grave that a total stranger who was just parking her car asked her if everything was ok. As my wife explained her ordeal the lady, unexpectedly, offer to drive her home to pick up the spare key. My wife could not believe what she was hearing and at first, she thought she was just driving her home. When they got there, to her surprise, she also offered to wait for her and drive her back to the car! It is not very often you hear this kind of stories and the fact that someone was willing to help someone taking time of their busy life.

I think what is even more extraordinary about this story is that the person who helped my wife did this completely out of the goodness of their heart and wanted nothing in return but to hep a fellow human being in distress. In the panic and confusion of the event, my wife did not ask the lady where she lived or even what her name was and she did not share this with her either. Here you have what we would call an unsound hero, someone who was interested only in helping. She does know the lady works on Sundays in a shop so my wife plans to visit her and show her gratitude for what she did.

It is a nice story and one that gives you hope, hope that there are still some people out there who are willing to help someone else and they do it because they know how important it is when you are in need that someone is there to help. But this is very rare and I know that even myself sometimes turn a blind eye to what is happening around us, as we struggle with a society that has become very selfish and afraid to help one another in times of need. When I reflect on this story I asked myself, what if it had been a man that try to help my wife? Would she have got on the car with him? Would that have been safe? How would she have known the man had good intentions? You see, the moment you chance the facts, this feel-good story changes, you beg the question, would the person offering to help really wanted to help or had other intentions? This brings a different perspective and tells us why often we don’t help people or accept help from strangers. Think about it; what would you do if you see a lost child in the street? Of course you want to help but you stop and think, what will happen if I do? What would people think if I hold this kid’s hand to comfort him/her while I try to find out where they live? What if I walk away with the child and the mother comes and sees this? And, and, and… This is what society has done to RAK, we have become suspicious of everyone around us because even when someone does want to help, you ask the question should I trust this person; remember, you don’t know anything about them. We also don’t want to help people because we don’t know if they really need help or have bad intentions. As you drive along a quite country lane you see a person standing by the side of the road, their car has broken down and they are flagging you down for help. Do you stop? Most of us think twice before we do. What if the person has bad intent and they could kidnap you or even knock you out and take you into the fields? What if you stop and they rob you? Take your car? What if there are others hiding behind the bushes? What if? And so you drive on leaving the person behind. They could also, of course, be genuinely stuck and in need of help but the risks, for you, are far higher and leave the person behind.

If you play this out you can see that random acts of kindness have become so rare because we have made them rare. That lady that helped my wife didn’t have to drive her home and wait, she could have just walked away, it wasn’t as if my wife was stuck in the middle of the forest, the lady could have thought “she can call a cab and go and get her spare key” but I guess it was not in her nature, as she still believes that we can help one another, without predigest, without worry that this may back fire on her. Sadly we are guilty of this mistrust and uncertainty that has driven our society to focused more on the bad than the good, Random Acts of Kindness are no longer part of our lives, like they used to when people could “thumb” their way up to London, or we help a child cross the road holding their hand, or stop and help someone when their car broke down. If we did we would be a much better society where people help one another out of the goodness of their heart!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Week eighteen – I do!

Some of us have said these two words more than we care to admit, but whether you said it once, twice or more, did you really mean it?

Going home at 4 am and writing my blog! 

Commitment is something many of us are afraid of and often we don’t understand the implications of what it means to say “I do”. These two famous words have been immortalised by the secrete vow of marriage and they symbolise our commitment to a lifetime relationship with someone. And many of us have discoverer that just saying “I do” does not mean we actually do! This week I have come to realise that like marriage, in every aspect of our lives we say “I do” but are we really committed to what we say “I do”?

Taking a rather cynical view of this I started to analyse what is commitment and how does it manifest in our every day life. As person who has been married twice I knew that in the past I have not always taking commitment seriously enough. So in my quest to find out if this is something we just say because we have to or society pushes us to commit to things we don’t really want to do or believe in. This year I will be celebrating 23 years service with my company, and when I start to analyse where I came from and where I am now I know that I am committed, otherwise there is no way anyone could stay around for so long. But I am only 47 years old and if I start to do the maths, it means that by the time I retire I would have done 42 years service! That is commitment!

And can commitment be also translated as loyalty? I believe that loyalty comes after commitment and only then you can become loyal; you need to know you want to stay to give your self completely. In the hotel industry we find ourselves battling every day with recruitment and loyalty and our biggest expense is replacing valuable employees who readily leave to our competitors. We spend all resources we have to attract them, orientate them, and it is a never-ending road when you think you have closed all your vacancies and someone tells you they are sorry to leave you but they are going to the competition for more money and better career prospects. Many see this as a lost battle, specially when people leave our industry; “we could never compete with those guys, they pay too much” I have often heard people say. But like marriage, I think we are going about this the wrong way.

If I go back to the beginning of the blog, we said commitment is something we take lightly. But most of the time, at least in marriage, we are with someone because we liked him or her. And we engage in the secrete vow of marriage because somehow we are prepared to “commit” to this lifetime relationship. So where does it go wrong then? Simply, once you are in that relationship you need to see what benefits are in it for you – in other words you need to become loyal to that relationship because you see a future of mutual respect and care. So the key here is to invest on that relationship and to foster a sense of commitment we need to have to make it work. It takes time, no one becomes loyal the first day, but we are committed from the start. And that is the answer, if you know you will enjoy a fruitful relationship, you will do anything to make it work, you will commit yourself to ensure it happens and in the end have that loyalty we so much yearn to have.

In the hospitality industry, if we focus on fostering that commitment and create loyalty, you wouldn’t need to spend all that money on attacking people to you business. And don’t get me wrong, change is good, some time you need people to leave your business in order to get new blood in, but there is no need to replace your entire workforce ever year because they found somewhere better.

I’m very lucky that many people I know are committed and also have become loyal. I see this every day, and it is very clear that these individuals feel that it is a two-way thing. I also see those who believe they are committed but are not. Putting in the hours, for example, is not commitment; it is simply not knowing how to organise yourself! And then there is those with no loyalty which time and time again I see, those who truly believe that the grass is always greener on the other side.

And is commitment and loyalty a thing of the past? This question is even more prominent as we see the new Gen Y coming through and demanding new ways of doing things. If you are Gen X, you would have observed an interesting phenomenon; our parents where the generation that worked all their lives for one company, and stay with one person (or at least they tried) Their commitment and loyalty was something you didn’t question, it was part of life life. Then we came along, and we started to change things, it became a two-way thing. “I will commit and be loyal if I know what’s in it for me” we started to ask what do I get out of this? This new generation started to see than one job in your lifetime was not enough (some actually had too many and we question their commitment and loyalty) and in many case also more than one partner in their lives. And now we have the latest generation, where people don’t want to commit; where loyalty is more than give and take, it’s a trend; it’s a fashion and a brand you follow. But when that trend goes out of “trend”, they move on.

Perhaps the idea that commitment is something hard has always been there, from our parent’s time, but as new generations have come we have become savvier when it comes to saying “I do” and we are only ready to commit when we know it is the right thing to do.

Are you committed to what you do, from your job to helping around the house? It is an interesting concept when you think about it; commitment takes a lot of effort, I know it, as I sit in an airport in Kazakhstan at 3 am writing this blog, it is a commitment I made to myself and all of your who read this blog every week. Thank you for your commitment!