Petit dejeuner (breakfast) is served (in grand style) at Le Grand InterContinental Hotel in Paris.
I called over the Maitre’d. A young (22) good-looking man. Slim and perfectly dressed. He walks fast as he approaches, and waits until spoken to before talking. “Is French your native language?” I inquire. “No I’m Dutch,” says Marcel Van Rooijen with a smile and standing up straighter as he says it.
“How many languages do you speak?” I ask. “Just four at the moment.” He tries to say modestly with pride.
“What makes the service here so good?” I asked. “We want to serve. It’s a personal commitment.” says Marcel. “If you don’t want to be of service, you don’t belong in this business.”
“The first guy I worked for in Holland had a four year old son. The son taught me what his dad taught him. “The word ‘cannot’ does not exist. There is only a solution,” said Marcel. “To me, problems don’t exist. I only see a challenge and a solution. I go for a smile on the customers face.”
I saw Marcel’s eyes dart around the room, looking to see that all was well. I said, “If you need to go, just tell me.” “Actually, today is my day off,” said Marcel. “But I looked at the schedule and saw the occupancy of the hotel was greater than the staff could support, and decided to come in to work.” Great decision. A self-enhancing decision. “You seem much brighter than the average Maitre’d,” I challenged.
“Actually, this is a temporary job.” said Marcel. “I have been selected for the (InterContinental) corporate management training program. In ten years, if I study hard and work all the jobs in the hotel, I will be qualified to be a general manager,” says Marcel with an eye of fire. “I want to make it in eight.” Any bets?
“I was working at The Hague (Holland) and the general manager of my hotel told me to write and ask to be selected for a special management program. I was invited, passed a series of aptitude tests, and was one of five selected from among 1500, so here I am. I must get to the five language level, so I hope to be transferred to Madrid in two years.”
“I was sent here to learn French,” he says in perfect English. “At this moment, I am not thinking in French, but I will in about 60 days. In Paris, I am “in” the French language. Immersion is the best way to learn.”
“My real responsibility is the way I serve today.” says Marcel. “You see, the way I serve the people today will determine if anyone will be there to checkin when I become a general manager.” Real, real cool.
Marcel kept jumping up to serve guests in between our words, as though it was part of an internal instinct. Not knee-jerk, rather involuntary automatic (responsible) response. I asked Marcel to tell me his philosophy of service.
“‘Absolutely, no problem,’ is my spoken credo,” says Marcel. “To a customer, those words sound like music.” (NOTE: Every time I asked him if he was able to do something or get something, he used those words to me.)
“Personally, I think a customer can feel a difference between one hotel and another. If it’s the same hamburger, the distinction is the waiter that serves it. Guests are paying for an ‘experience,’ the whole enchilada,” he says with a smile. “From the moment they arrive until the moment they leave, they are entitled to the best service we can offer. Not forced, not fake. Real service. Knowing needs and responding in a way that the guest will love.”
“Rational, exceptional service-oriented people who want to grow and succeed must learn “why” they serve.” He continues, “The white hats know ‘why,’ and the other hats only know ‘how.’ I was educated to understand ‘why,’ not just trained to understand ‘how.’ Knowing “why” one serves ensures consistent, superior service.”
(About now, I’m wanting to put this guy in my suitcase and bring him back to America to do seminars with me.)
Ok, I get it. Now I begin to watch Marcel’s every move as he leaves us. He floats between the front of the room, where new guests show up at regular and frequent intervals, and the tables where people are seated to handle an occasional task himself. Marcel is in constant motion.
A guest approaches Marcel and begins to chew him out. “There are no plates for eating and the fish platter is empty!” The guest grunts. He kicks the dirt and returns to his table where he is seated with his wife, and they begin to grunt in harmony.
Marcel, unruffled, disappears behind the kitchen doors. Plates begin to appear in stacks. Marcel personally brings one over to the table of grunters filled with fish. He serves it and begins to talk with the people. In about a minute, Mr. Grunt begins to smile. In another minute, Grunt laughs. Marcel slips away to serve another. Marcel wins.
I called him over to discuss the incident. “Yes, when I get a smile from an angry guest, that’s my report card,” Marcel says. “Today, I got an ‘A.'”
I interviewed Marcel, because I wanted to capture the essence of his desire to serve. I wanted to know what drove his attitude to recover in the face of “ugly” people in a way where both the server and the customer win.
“I feel happy doing what I’m doing.” extols Marcel. “Some are happy playing sports, I’m happy to serve.”
The difference that sets Marcel apart from others who serve? Obvious. Others know “how.” Marcel knows “why.” Which way do you know?