It ain't attitude! An Introduction by Paul J. Quinn

19 November 2020

Introduction to ‘It Ain’t Attitude’ by Paul J. Quinn

Why am I writing this book?

I’m driving my son to school, listening to the radio. It’s Covid-times and the hosts are discussing the merits of fruit picking. A number of people call in and make the claim that ‘with a great attitude you can earn over $1500 a day’. I pay no attention to the sum of money they’re throwing about. Nor, to the authenticity of the callers – I mean, if I was a fruit farm and the radio was trying to encourage people suffering from the confines and hardship of C19 to up sticks and haul in my crop, I might be tempted to call and self promote my business! No, it’s got nothing to do with either. It’s that word that’s been used and repeated again – ‘attitude’. The same one I pose in every training session on Customer Service and, ‘What’s the cure to bad service? Attitude or Behaviour?’ 99% of the participants argue that the cure to bad service is attitude. Another 0.9% suggest it might be both – a large dose of attitude with a splattering of behavior. At which point I have to prop myself on the edge of the table at the front of the room and feign a reflective nod, the one that any experienced facilitator will recognize when you have virtually the entire group firmly and often quite emotionally on the wrong side of the path you wish them to tread.

Since we’re on the subject of fruit picking, let’s use that specific example to prove my point. I’m so full of great attitude I’m going to wear a cap with it emblazoned on the front. I’ll add a badge with the same motto, ‘Gr8 Attitude’, and pin it to my chest. I’m not sure if the t-shirt with the same logo is a bit of overkill, but I’ll pack it just in case. I rock up to the farm, introduce myself, making sure they see my cap and badge. If they miss those, I’ll pop into the bathroom and put on the t-shirt. Then I’ll hold out my hand for the $1500 cheque, ask where is the nearest comfortable chair, take out my iPhone and spend the day catching up with my mates on social media, bragging about what my great attitude has got me.

Nothing wrong with that! You asked for someone with great attitude. Well, I’m that person.

Attitude has never physically picked strawberries and put them in a punnet. Let alone $1500 a-day’s worth. It’s your physical behavior that delivers the results and the financial rewards.

Let’s take another, much more personal example.

I’m 19 and working for one of the world’s top hotels. In fact, for the past few years, it’s been ranked consistently in the top 3 in the world. At the time I’m working in ‘The Lounge’ and on a daily basis catering to the needs of the genuinely famous and the famous-in-my-own-world-no-matter-how-small. A definite standard of service is expected and I’m good at what I do. I take pride in what I do. I am a professional. I deliver. All my school friends have already gone to University – it’s what is expected from people from my neighbourhood. I’ve decided University can wait. Well, the truth is, my A-Level grades had determined that University had to wait! But, that’s another story. I’m enjoying the life that working in the hospitality industry is giving me. A salary, great tips, freedom, and time to work out what I want to do with my life.

A very close girlfriend of mine’s brother is killed at a party. His life is taken in the stroke of a blade. I’m at a mate’s house and she contacts me. She’s been trying to reach me all day. She needs me. I take time off work and spend the next week with her, her family, and the church community around which our childhoods’ have intertwined. I eventually go back to work in the hotel. I’m private about the reasons why I’ve been away. A few colleagues know; their reactions are caring but fleeting and eventually meaningless. This is my shock, my grief, the adjustments in life-perspective are mine, only. One, in particular, is callous, saying, ‘I’d have sacked you for taking so much time off.’ Safe to say, our life paths took a complete turn from each other that day.

In the meantime, back in The Lounge, there are definite service standards that are expected and need to be delivered. However, inside my mind I’m consumed by the fragility of life, the insignificance of what I do for a living, and an overwhelming rejection to the pettiness of 5 star hotel operations. Something clicked. I still had to go to work, earn a living, and decide what to do with my life. I’m good at what I do. I take pride in what I do. I’m a professional. I deliver. The great thing about the hospitality industry is that it’s predictable. My customers wanted to be treated a certain way. The hotel’s guidelines on how to provide that service were pretty clear. I’d gained enough experience front and back of house to have confidence in my performance. I can guarantee not a single guest to The Lounge had a clue as to the turmoil that was swirling through my head from the moment I stepped back onto the expensive Chinese carpeted floor, and for those incredibly difficult weeks afterwards. I smiled, welcomed them, asked questions to understand their needs, demonstrated my knowledge of both the menu and beverage items as well as their preparation methods, ensured I was always one step ahead of their wants, and thanked them upon leaving. A few residents and frequent guests asked where I had been. My response was a smile and that I had had a little break. ‘Somewhere nice, I hope,’ was the usual reply.

I’m good at what I do. I take pride in what I do. I am a professional. I deliver. Was it acting? Not so much an act, more of a performance. In fact, even at the ripe age of 19, I learnt from this tragic experience that in the hospitality industry, we are being paid to perform, and the purpose of our performance was to meet our customers’ expectations. Certainly, for weeks after my girlfriend’s tragedy, I had to force myself to perform to the standards that were expected. But few, if any, had an inkling that anything was wrong.

I’m 26 years old and my father dies whilst working in Africa, thousands of miles away. I am in the middle of delivering a new bar/restaurant concept for a client in Norway. I take a few days off to fly to the UK to be with my family and attend the funeral. Then, I’m back to the project. Most people were none the wiser. Our private lives are our private lives. The fact is, I am no different to everyone else you come across on a daily basis. We have no insight into their mindset, what’s going on inside their heads.

From these two brief personal insights into my life, you might get the impression that I am an extrovert. Like you, most people that know me through my work setting believe me to be extroverted. In fact, I know a few hospitality and retail groups that actively test potential recruits specifically for this character trait, believing it is a prerequisite for this career. Decades later, I completed my first Myers Briggs personality test. The results demonstrated I was an extreme introvert. How could that be possible? Again, anyone that encounters me in my work environment is purely interpreting my work performance, my behaviour. I’m good at what I do. I take pride in what I do. I’m a professional. I deliver.

I am not a psychologist. I am not a behavioural scientist. I am someone who has invested 30-years of his life into helping service providers in the hospitality, retail, travel, healthcare and other industries to perform. And, I’m deeply wedded to the fact that ‘It ain’t attitude’. Customer service is a product. It’s the interpretation of what someone has to perform in order to meet the expectations of others. The result is the product that any customer receives, and what any customer receives is the service provider’s performance. What they are interpreting is the service provider’s behaviour:

  • What the service provider says or does not say;
  • What the service provider does or does not do.

At no time does any customer need to be cognizant of what is going on inside the service provider’s head. The service provider’s mindset, their attitude, is irrelevant. It’s all about their behaviour.

I don’t expect this introduction has changed every one of the standard 99.9% skeptics into believers. That’s what the rest of this book is about.

This book is a collection of insights into what is bad service and how to provide its opposite, excellent service. I’ve used personal examples on purpose, as well as a few from people close to me. The reason is simple: each of us independently experiences bad service. We feel it. We react to it. It’s a deeply personal emotional and psychological ordeal. My objective is to demonstrate what we can learn from such events and use this to enlighten anyone intrigued about performing excellent service – whether individually or as part of any organization’s collective culture.

Available Fall 2021.