National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 Ernesto, Where Are You?

The HR Doctor, beautiful HR spouse Charlotte and incredible HR daughter Elyse were recently joined by three great friends for a seven-day cruise to Alaska.  It was only the second time I had signed up for a cruise, partly out of a concern that the journey involved spending time with 4,000 of my closest friends in a confined space whether I wanted to or not.

The cruise experience, however, turned out to be very positive indeed. Certainly the scenery in Alaska was spectacular. The Mendenhall Glacier was spectacular. The whale watching was exciting. The bears on the shore as we sailed by performed well for us. Stunning mountain peaks, ocean ice floes and other wonders were lovingly displayed for us by Mother Nature.

The ship was beautiful and well maintained. It featured a seemingly endless supply of food and there were opportunities to kick back, relax and enjoy a bit of serenity. The dreaded 4,000-friend scenario never played out as I feared it might. 

However, as I look back there is one feature of this cruise I particularly miss: a high degree of service and concern for our happiness and enjoyment demonstrated by our cabin steward, Ernesto. He was quiet and always attentive. He knew our names and always greeted us with a friendly smile, always asking if there was anything he could do for us. On occasion after our cruise, I found myself wandering around our big house hoping that Ernesto would appear with a cup of coffee and some chocolate. 

It is hard to overestimate the effect that quiet service excellence can have on running a successful business or government agency. It is not the advertising alone that creates returning customers or satisfied citizens. That status as a “returnee” is driven by recollections of the kind of encounters each of us had.

The legendary groaning and eye-rolling which may accompany the need to visit a Department of Motor Vehicles or a county building department, may be greatly reduced or turned into a sincere smile if our recollection is marked by a caring and pleasant attitude by the organizations’ representatives. 

In the case of our Alaska cruise, it was not a matter of whether the Princess Cruise Line did a good job or had the flashiest ad. When the question is whether we will sail again with this company, the reality was that Ernesto was the company in our memory. We will likely engage this company again because of that experience.

The lessons for us as public administrators and elected or appointed officials are important indeed. Always value, recognize and seek out employees with a positive “How can I help you?” attitude and quiet competence. It is they who make for our success more that any factor of technology or advertised “pie-crust promises” —  easily made, easily broken.

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •