The Joyful Salvation Army Bell Ringer

A number of years ago, I ventured out on Black Friday to purchase a Christmas gift. I have never been one to shop on Black Friday, but the sale was too good to pass up and the gift was a “must have” for a family member.

I hoped the shopping experience wouldn’t be as bad as I imagined it would be. Unfortunately, it was worse. Between the mobs of shoppers, the long check out lines and the ransacked shelves, it was far from what I imagined.

As I was walking out of the store and back into the cold with my purchase (and a headache), I heard the Salvation Army bell ringer standing near the entrance joyfully say to me, “Merry Christmas!” I walked by him without a glance, a greeting back or even an ounce of consideraton to donate. As I continued walking towards the car, I thought, “Yeah, right. You HAVE TO be joyful and cheerful if you want to get donations. If you would have experienced what I did inside the store, you wouldn’t be saying, ‘Merry Christmas!’, with so much cheer and joy.”

As I continued the walk to my car, I overheard the volunteer say to another shopper exiting the store, “It’s cold out here today. You should button up your coat. You don’t want to be sick during the holidays. Have a Merry Christmas!” He exuberated the same joy to that shopper as he did with me.

I stopped in my tracks and turned to now look at the volunteer. I saw a middle-aged man, volunteering his time in 20-degree weather, dressed in a light-weight jacket, ringing his bell with a smile and being concerned about another person’s warmth, health and well-being over his own. And a stranger no less! And the joy I had questioned seconds earlier, now sounded real and genuine. Could it be that he really is this happy and joyful about Christmas?

Suddenly, the holiday store madness that had overcome me seemed to dissipate quickly. Joy (and a tinge of guilt) now began to take over. I turned around and walked back towards the man. He watched as I approached him. Neither of us said a word to the other as I grabbed my wallet out of my purse and emptied its entire contents into his donation bucket. Before he had a chance to say anything, I looked directly into his eyes and said, “Merry Christmas to you, too!” Despite how cold he was, he warmly smiled back and in the joyful tone I expected, he said, “You, too!”

I turned around and made the walk back to my car for the second time. But, this time, something was different. I had a smile on my face and a heart that was filled with gratitude and joy – and it was all because a stranger, out in the cold, took a few seconds to share his joy with me.

During this holiday season, don’t let the “Grinch” attitude or holiday stressors and distractions keep you from hearing, seeing, feeling and sharing the true joy of the season with others.

In the spirit of the Salvation Army bell ringer who inspired me to do good and who also reminded me what joy really feels like, let me joyfully say to you, “HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS!”

P.S. I will be enjoying a holiday break and will not publish a blog on Wednesday, December 29. But, I look forward to being back in your Inbox on Wednesday, January 5! Have a wonderful holiday and may your New Year start with a sense of renewal, refreshment and of course, joy!

Creating 5-Star Experiences

I recently walked into a meeting, and even though I was invited to attend the meeting as a presenter, I walked out of the room at the end of it feeling very unwelcomed.

I wasn’t the only person who felt this way. There were two other invited guests, along with me, who experienced the same unwelcoming environment. The three of us left the meeting at the same time, and after a brief conversation with one another, we realized we were all leaving with a similar negative experience.

There were a lot of little things that happened over the course of the meeting, and that accumulatively, added up to being a BIG thing by the end of it! It was the lack of being greeted when we initially entered the room. It was the lack of not being named by name the entire time we were there. It was the lack of inclusiveness – having to sit in chairs away from the group and ignored as if we weren’t in the room at all. It was the lack of a proper introduction of us to the group by the leader when it was time for us to present. It was the lack of instruction as to where we were to stand for our presentation requiring us to figure it out on our own last minute. It was the lack of attention by the group leader who seemed more interested in her phone, monitoring our time, than to what we were actually presenting.

If the group ever asks me to rate my experience as a guest of theirs based on that one meeting, I would give them a 1-star rating when it came to extending hospitality.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines hospitality as, “generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests or hospitable treatment.” Dictionary.com goes further to define it as, “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.”

We all play an important role in how we treat guests and visitors. But it’s a very important role if you are the leader of an organization or group. A leader sets the expectation of hospitality by first modeling it themselves. I did not see hospitality modeled in any way by the group leader at the meeting I attended, so it’s not surprising that many of the group members didn’t emulate hospitality either.

The individuals who are also the first point of contact with your visitors play a vital role in extending a friendly, welcoming and hospitable reception. They set the tone for the visit and can influence whether visitors have a 5-star experience or not.

When my son and I were touring middle schools to determine which one he would attend after elementary school, it was the receptionist in the front office at each of the three schools that set the tone of our visit and ultimately influenced our decision.

The receptionist at the first middle school was friendly, but she didn’t go out of her way to help us. She simply answered some of our basic questions and handed us information to read later.

The receptionist at the second school seemed irritated the minute we told her why we were visiting. She made us feel like we were an inconvenience and informed us that we needed to schedule a time to visit and not come unannounced. So, we left with nothing in hand to read and none of our questions answered.

The receptionist at the third school greeted us with a smile as soon as we walked through the door. When she heard why we were visiting, she immediately quit what she was doing and took us to meet the principal, school counselor and school nurse. They were all friendly and greeted my son by name. They asked him about his favorite classes and outside interests. They seemed genuinely interested in him and excited at the possibility of having him as a student at their school the following year. Each of them also thanked us for coming to visit their school. The receptionist also arranged for a student to give us a tour of the building and when we were done and ready to leave, she asked us if there were any unanswered questions that she could still help us with.

As we got into the car to leave the third and final middle school, my son turned to me and said, “Mom, that’s the middle school I want to go to.

I agreed with him. But I was curious as to if his reasons for choosing it were the same as mine. So, I asked him, “Why do you want to go to this school and not the others?”

He answered, “Because everyone was so nice and they all made me feel like they wanted me to come to their school.”

These were my same exact reasons, too.

Hospitality is best shown when you go above and beyond what is normally required. Though hospitality can be different for various people, it will always involve giving the best effort you can to provide a special and memorable 5-star experience. This is what the third middle school gave my son and me – a 5-star experience based primarily on the hospitality shown to us. They went the extra mile to make my son feel welcomed and wanted and it influenced not only his decision to attend the school, but also my daughter three years later.

 
 

Never underestimate the influence hospitality can have on a visitor – whether they are invited or not or are an adult or a child. You can’t go wrong by going above and beyond with your gestures of hospitality. It can make all the difference as to whether your visitors have a 5-star experience and whether they will want to return to your organization again.