Ladies and Gentlemen, Serving Ladies and Gentleman

 

Back when my kids were small, they loved watching the movie “Goonies,” circa 1985. I’ll never forget the sound of Sloth, the monster-looking character, calling out to the gang of young boys, “Hey, you GUY-UYYYYYYS!” I think of this whenever I hear a leader, trainer or professional speaker call an audience “you guys…”

First of all, I’m not a guy. When I’m in the audience and I hear someone in authority, a leader speaking from the front of the room or from the stage or at the head of a boardroom table, call us “you guys” it makes me think of a gang of little boys (much like the one in “Goonies”) huddled out back in a homemade fort, the one that says “Girls Keep Out!” There’s a familiarity about the expression that seems at odds with the message.

While I know the phrase is meant to represent the collective audience, “you” or “you all” in the plural, there’s something about addressing a group of professionals as “you guys” that seems off. Call me old-fashioned (go ahead, I dare you) but language matters. When we are speaking to an audience, unless they are under the age of 13 I think it’s important to address them as “ladies and gentlemen.”

My former boss Chuck Lauer, taught me that. He was publisher of Modern Healthcare magazine for more than 30 years and he was vigilant about the importance of etiquette in business. He used to refer to the tagline of the Ritz-Carlton chain of hotels and resorts: “We are ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen.” That’s also how he referred to his audiences whenever he gave a speech and I learned to do the same. He was the consummate speaker, a leader and a powerful connector of people. Chuck, affectionately referred to as “Chuckles” by those of us on his sales and marketing team, died April 30 at the age of 86, leaving a legacy of wisdom in his famous Modern Healthcare columns, his books and the many friendships that will live on.

So the next time you’re in front of a group, think about who they are and choose your words carefully. How you address people impacts how they see themselves and how they behave as well as how they perceive and respond to you. Chuck was fond of saying that good manners never go out of style.

Photo: Chuck Lauer addressing the sales teams of all of Crain’s publications based in the Los Angeles office in 2007 during a sales boot camp he and I designed with Teri Louden and delivered in LA, New York, Akron, Detroit and Chicago.

 

What Shapes Us

Recently I attended a Wheaton Chamber of Commerce luncheon that featured my good friend and client Rob O’Dell from Wheaton Wealth Partners. Rob shared his presentation, “Bridging the Generational Gap,” emphasizing the nuances of communicating with–and selling to–people of different generations. Using his firm’s innovative Mind-Mapping visuals, Rob shared the profile and values of the four generations: “Matures,” “Baby Boomers,” “Generation X” and “Millennials.” As a card-carrying Boomer (that’s an AARP card), I listened with keen interest, not only for hints on how I can be more effective in my own communications but because Rob’s descriptions really hit me as a guide for what shapes us.

For Baby Boomers, one of the most sentinel events of our lives was the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a milestone that shaped our generation in a way that still resonates today. Until I heard Rob’s presentation, I hadn’t thought about how as a generation, we are “optimistic and driven.” One would think that the losses we experienced, including the loss of our heroes and an unpopular war, would have soured our outlook. But instead, Rob described this generation as idealistic, hard-working and driven. We thrive on story, including credentials, performance, history and tenure in the marketplace.

The GenX folks, in contrast, are described as cynical, skeptical and distrusting. The resignation of Richard Nixon, the space shuttle disaster and the effects of divorce taught this generation that things don’t go according to plan. Many of them were brought up as latch-key kids who now, in the workplace, savor and require independence. They don’t want to be wined and dined: they want to do their work and go home. Also, this is the first generation to have access to the Internet, allowing them to research online. A GenX customer looking for a car may show up at the car lot having logged 16 hours on the Internet and knowing more about the inventory than the sales person. They crave information and transparency.

Millennials are known as the “Whatever” generation with “huge goals and no specific plans,” according to Rob. They aren’t dependent on superiors in the workplace for knowledge. And, like Boomers, they are idealistic and cause-driven. Texting is their preferred method of communication and reaching them requires a presence on social media. Millennials are being followed by the “iGeneration,” which says it all (Steve Jobs would be proud).

Rob’s presentation, which you can see in full by clicking here, gave me new insights about what shapes us. His descriptions remind me that everyone comes to the work world–and life–with his or her own perceptions of how things are and how they “should” be. The profiles of each generation give me new guidelines for connecting with the people around me. And they remind me never to assume that what shaped me, shaped them.

 

Masthead photo: “Jackie Frieze, 1964” silk screen on linen, by Andy Warhol, Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago

Selling Synchronized Service

Last week while speaking to an association chapter of healthcare finance professionals, I had the pleasure of staying at a Ritz-Carlton. While I like to think of myself as a seasoned business traveler, the level of service I received at the Ritz reduced me to a country bumpkin. From the courtesy of each staff person to the chocolate on the pillow that I found when I returned to my room in the evening, every gesture seemed designed to please.

Ritz-CarltonPerhaps the moment of truth was something I observed at the last luncheon I attended during the conference. As a business woman, I’m used to the usual hotel banquet service: you try to focus on the speaker while the staff scurries to feed the multitudes, banging silver warming trays and exchanging salad dishes for the entrée dishes, all to the background music of clattering silverware. At this Ritz-Carlton, however, things were quite different.

First, the staff were barely noticeable and the noise level was whisper-soft. Then, when it came time to deliver our meals, something happened. Expecting the usual “dip-and-dump” of my plate on the table, I leaned a little to my left to accommodate my server. But no, wait: there was a pause. I straightened up, surprised.   We were suddenly surrounded by a ring of white-gloved staff people, all of whom stood at attention for a full count of three, then elegantly delivered our meals in one sweeping gesture, first to one-half of the table, then to the other. We were the grateful recipients of something they call “synchronized service.”

Of course I had to ask the waiter David about it. I’d never seen anything like that before. Their commitment to synchronized service is not a Ritz-Carlton standard, he told me, but rather is a standard of that particular property. The courtesy of the staff–from those who performed that balletic delivery of our banquet food to the maids pushing carts in the hall–seemed authentic, professional and anything but cloying. They seemed genuinely glad to see us, to serve us and to ensure that our stay with them was exquisite. And it was.

So that got me thinking: What kind of “synchronized service” can I provide in my own business? How can I not just meet my clients’ needs but rather, as my marketing professor Dr. John Zerio at Thunderbird used to say with his charming Brazilian accent, “Deeee-light the customer!”? What kinds of touches could I add to my own delivery of coaching and speaking services that would cause my clients to stop in their tracks just as I did when those dishes were placed in front of us in one elegant move?

And I’ll ask you the same thing–how can you provide service to your customers, clients or employees in a way that demonstrates your commitment to their complete well-being and is delivered with the same synchronicity and grace of the wait staff at the Ritz? What can we do that is the equivalent of that chocolate on the pillow?

I welcome your comments.