innovative serviceHis surgery went much longer than anyone expected so I ended up sort of sleeping in the hospital waiting room much of the night.  My friend was expectedly grouchy as he went in and out of a nap once he was returned to his hospital room.  But, his irritability paled in comparison to the night nurse who stormed into his room and slammed his chart down on the bed stand.

“Is he going to be wanting breakfast?” she barked at me with a sound that was both cynical and too loud.  I almost mocked her caustic attitude by standing at attention and saluting her.  But not wanting her tone to impact his care, I quietly indicated I was not sure but would ask him when he stirred awake.  She continued her diatribe.  “Well, he’d better hurry it up.  I am done with my shift in fifteen minutes and he might not be so lucky with the day nurse who will be coming on.”

Visions of ogres and trolls danced in my head as I shuttered to think what monster disguised as a day nurse might be following this Nurse Ratchet.  The bad boy in me came out of hiding as I asked her if she had endured a particularly rough night.  With a look that could have frightened Superman, she said:  “Honey, they’re all rough.  I see people at their worst, the docs here are all cranky, the staff is terrible, and I have to work all night long.”  With that, she thundered out of my friend’s room.

As the sun was starting to come up, I left the hospital wondering what miracle it would take to transform into a nice person, a nurse who was obviously only interested in getting on the other side of the time clock. I stopped at an all-night diner for my breakfast on my way home from the hospital.  I had called my wife from the hospital parking lot and suggested we rendezvous at the diner.

We walked in the front door and were welcomed by four people, each doing their specific job.  There was no need for a greeter—everyone had proudly won that role.  An upbeat waitress got our drink order as we studied the colorful menu.  When my wife indicated to me she did not see the precise entre she was hoping for—a BLT on whole wheat with a yolk-less fried egg on top—the waitress at the next table remarked, “Mam, we can create whatever you can imagine!”  After we placed our “let’s break all the rules” breakfast order, two different waitresses checked to make sure all was well.  It was as if we were the responsibility of every employee in the restaurant.

Finishing our great breakfast I stepped to the cash register to pay and instantly heard, “I got it!” as a waitress completely unrelated to our table took time to ring up our order.  As we made our way to the front door to leave, I asked one of the employees if she had just started work.  “Oh, no sir,” she responded with a smile, “We have all been here all night.  In fact Susie over there (Ms. BLT) has been here about 12 hours.”

Recalling my cross nurse encounter an hour earlier, I asked:  “How are you all so upbeat?  Aren’t you tired?”  She smiled,  “Of course we are.  But, we all love our customers so much we decided it was not fair to them for us to ‘do tired.’  I will ‘do tired’ when I get home, but not here.  It would spoil this happy place and you wouldn’t want to come back again.”

Notice the juxtaposition–Nurse Ratched had zero patience and zero energy. The diner staff still found the energy to serve.  The hospital nurse chose to be a victim and spew her dark disposition about her lot in life on everyone within range.  Our wait staff at the diner elected a giver mentality and put happy sprinkles on everyone that entered.

Innovative service is creating an experience that customers experience as a pleasant surprise.  It is both generous and ingenious.  And, just like colorful sprinkles turn a good cupcake into a very special one, innovative service transforms a routine customer experience into one that recipients cannot wait to boast about.

Innovative service takes energy, resilience and initiative.  It means showing the courage to be imaginative when the easy route would be delivering ho-hum routine service.  It means using creativity and extra effort to thrill a customer when the safe route would be simply to satisfy that customer.  It is about the demonstration of unexpected zeal and over-the-top optimism despite the fact your physical body is sending signals to slow down, lay down, or hunker down.  It is taking a bold lemonade stance in a bleak lemon situation.

How do you explain the difference between the hospital nurse and the diner waitresses?  It might be solid supervision, a noble purpose, a wholesome home environment, or a good day on the stock market.  But, it is more likely a determined, purpose-driven attitude that is chosen, much like you choose to introduce yourself to a stranger.  It comes from the heart of a person determined to be the source of joy, excellence and worth.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”  The nurse in the hospital was angry because someone was not making her happy.  The staff of the diner was finding their happiness by making a difference in the welfare of everyone who crossed their threshold.

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