An amazing thing happened to me recently and I am still in disbelief. If serendipity is real, it happened to me last week and I still have the goose bumps to prove it.
I wrote an article called ‘Do Something Unexpected’ for the April issue of Midwest Meetings about an amazing example of unexpected hospitality I experienced. In short, I left my laptop on a plane… on the last flight of the night… in the winter… and my book manuscript was on that laptop. Chad Johnson from Southwest Airlines performed an amazing act of humble hospitality, going to great lengths (especially by airline standards) to find and return the laptop and refused a rather insistent tip in return.
Fast forward to last week. I vowed that the next time I was at the Humphrey terminal of the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, I would track down Chad and give him a copy of the magazine along with a card of thanks. No big deal, right? Wrong. Last week was my chance and an amazing sequence of events transpired.
That turned out to be the understatement of the year. She is Lisa Earle McLeod, business writer for the Huffington Post and Forbes, and the best-selling author of the book ‘Selling with Noble Purpose.’ I learned later that she has appeared on The Today Show, Oprah Radio and is a sought-after keynote speaker as well.
The ladies had some spare time, so they asked if they could tag along to witness the event and meet Chad. Lisa, her colleague and I went to the gate, but Chad was down the jet bridge. I shared my plot with his colleague at the desk, who whispered conspiratorially, “Would you like to use the PA system to make your announcement?” Why yes, yes I would!
As soon as Chad emerged from the jet bridge, I announced over the loudspeaker to hundreds of passengers, “Ladies and gentlemen in the boarding area, I am a Southwest customer and I’m here to recognize a Southwest employee for an outstanding act of service.” Chad’s jaw dropped in sheer surprise while I recounted what he did for me that winter night. The crowd erupted in applause and Chad gave me a big hug. Lisa Earle McLeod filmed the whole thing on my cell phone. As she left, she said, “I just found my story for next week’s HuffPo column!” She also wrote about the experience in her blog, which reaches thousands. As it turns out, her colleague, Linda Popky, is a writer too and covered it in her blog, reaching thousands more. Isn’t it amazing how one act of kindness can resonate? Chad from Southwest was just doing his job, as he repeated to me twice. He went about his job day-in and day-out, never knowing how much his act meant to me or how it would ripple out like throwing a pebble into a lake. Losing that laptop would have meant a lot of hassles, not the least of which was re-writing my book (hello, Cloud backups from now on).
The ripples could have stopped there, but I chose to repay his kindness with a simple act of my own: bringing him the article and thanking him personally. Just as he had no idea how his act would resonate, I had no idea how mine would. How many people in the gate area that day went home and told someone about the unusual occurrence? How many readers of the Huffington Post were inspired to perform an act of kindness of their own? Because of that day, Lisa and I have connected and her book has changed the way I think about SPIN and our noble purpose. The ripples continue…
We are in the hospitality industry, which is all about service and gestures of kindness, yet how often do we go about our day in a numb fog, just going through the motions and waiting for 5:00 to roll around (or 6:00, or 7:00 or midnight)?
Even the smallest act can change someone’s life - it’s the ripple effect. Our lives touch so many others, especially in our industry. We have the rare opportunity through meetings and events to come into contact with so many people and each interaction is full of possibility.
You can yawn your way through your thousandth half-hearted site tour on auto-pilot (I speak from experience), or you can truly connect with all the wonderful people trying to put their best foot forward to impress you.
You can work that registration desk in a contagious bad mood because your feet hurt and you’ve had no coffee, or you can be truly welcoming and an ambassador to that person who may attend one meeting per year - and he couldn’t be happier to be standing there.
You can focus entirely on details instead of people, or you could go through your day looking for opportunities to perform acts of unexpected kindness.
Instead of grumbling on that business trip, go out of your way to say nice things to three people for no other reason than to generate a smile.
You never know the ripple effects.
Shawna Suckow, CMP, is a veteran planner and the Founder and President of the Senior Planners Industry Network (www.spinplanners.com). She’s the author of Planner Pet Peeves, and her new book, Supplier Pet Peeves, both available on Amazon or at www.shawnasuckow.com. She speaks to audiences worldwide on supplier-planner relations and other meetings industry topics.