A very good friend of mine has heard me tell many a tale of trips in which I have been given free drinks, gratis hotel and car rental upgrades and various travel freebies. However, without experiencing my stories first hand, he always suspected there was a degree of embellishment involved to make my stories a bit more entertaining.
We eventually had the opportunity to travel together and I was able to demonstrate the power of a little respect and an authentic smile.
It’s Kool To Be Kind
We began our trip sitting in the dreary, uncomfortable airport terminal, with ample time before our flight. Bored, I explored the terminal and located the airline’s club lounge. Despite not being a member, I entered and immediately knew where I was going to spend the next couple of hours. Sitting behind the receptionist desk, in a chair that was two sizes too small for him was, Don, a large Hawaiian with a hearty smile. He was clearly uninterested in the paperback book in his oversized hands and he seemed open to chatting.
After some brief pleasantries, I asked him what it cost to join the club and if they offered a one-day pass. He laughed and apologetically said, “It’s something like $500 a year. We don’t have day rates, but I can let you slide this time if you just want to check it out.” I thanked him and hurried back to grab my buddy.
After a leisurely time in the airline club, we boarded our flight and met Kelly, a young surfer dude in his early twenties who was our attendant for the next five hours. Once everyone was settled in their seats, I asked him where he lived in Hawaii, where he surfed, what sort of board he used, etc.
As soon as we were airborne, I asked Kelly if he could hook me up with a Mai Tai. He laughed and asked if I wanted one of his “special creations.” My reply, without hesitation, “Why of course.”
He returned and waited for me to sample the drink. I took a large swallow and sincerely told him, “You are an artist. You should call this ‘Kelly’s Creation.” I had several more of Kelly’s Creations before we landed, all at no charge.
We bid Kelly farewell, hoping we’d see him again on our return flight and headed toward the car rental agency. It was very hot and the woman at the counter did not look happy.
I approached her with a broad smile and asked how her day was going. She replied, “It’s about to get worse. All the flights from the mainland are landing.” She clearly wasn’t happy.
After a bit of joking around, she begrudgingly grinned and eventually was laughing at my corny humor. She waived the fee for my friend to be an authorized driver and she gave us a gratis upgrade to a slightly nicer vehicle.
Entrepreneurs are likewise well served to seek out and cultivate transitory relationships with service employees whom self-important professionals generally overlook, such as: waitresses, car rental agents, flight attendants and call-center agents.
Such folks encounter a horde of unhappy, disgruntled and downright surly travelers each and every day. Thus, it is easy to differentiate yourself by simply smiling and showing these hard-working people the courtesy they deserve. Greeting someone by genuinely asking, “Wow. How can you look so cool under pressure when you are so busy?” will often be rewarded with a smile and a special deal.
Making A Connection
Make an authentic connection with a friendly, sincere smile. Then engage the person you are approaching as a peer, a courtesy many service workers seldom experience from most of their harried, self-absorbed customers.
The interaction should always be based on a genuine expression of interest. For instance, after a long day of travel, I approached the night clerk at a hotel at about 1:00 in the morning. He was clearly studying a textbook and I genuinely admired that he had a night job while attending college.
Rather than ignoring his book or asking him a superficial question like, “What’s your major” or “Where do you go to school?” I asked him, “What are your dreams once you graduate?” He hesitated, clearly debating if he should give me a thoughtful, honest answer or if he should remain in transaction mode and give me a cursory, glib reply.
He opted for honesty and told me that he wanted to someday open a veterinary clinic because he loved animals. We had a pleasant conversation, I was given a free upgrade without even asking and we parted with me sincerely wishing him the best. I didn’t even realized he had upgraded me until I arrived in my multi-room suite. I wasn’t thrilled with the suite, which I only spent a couple waking hours in. What made my evening was the personal connection we briefly shared.
The Real Reward
If you are rolling your eyes , I will let you in on a secret — the real reward is not saving a few dollars.
The foundation upon which such personal connections are built is the levity and kindness infused into otherwise tedious situations. Traveling becomes less mundane and a lot more joyful when you create a genuine rapport with the folks you meet along the way. The small, tangible freebies that sometimes result from such interactions are a nice bonus, but the real payoff is making brief, yet meaningful connections you will make with some awesome people with whom you share this planet.
Follow John’s startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse
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