What’s in a Name?

Peggy Wynne Borgman

For years, we had a department at Preston Wynne we called “housekeeping.” I don’t know why or how this name was chosen, because I remember that at first we called the folks who did this job “spa attendants.”

It was difficult to find Housekeepers, thought we did have one person who was with us in this position for almost ten years. She was, remarkably, the only one who really “stuck.” I’ll call her Jackie. Every time I saw Jackie and asked her how she was, she answered me exactly the same way, “Working hard,” she’d groan, sometimes with a rueful little smile.

Jackie systematically hazed every new housekeeper we hired. Invariably, the newbie would come crying to a member of management, describing her cruel treatment. Jackie was afraid that the energetic newcomer might show her up and prove to us that she wasn’t actually “working hard” after all.

Invariably, Jackie would be written up and disciplined. Over and over again. She was often successful in getting others to quit, and drove away virtually everyone we hired. Especially the energetic, upbeat ones. They were punished soundly.

When a new manager marveled that we tolerated her bad attitude and poor work, I explained, “It’s hard to find housekeepers!” Of the constant skirmishes with coworkers on the Housekeeping team, we’d say “they’re like children.” With this team, forget best practices–our management style was parental. “That’s just how they are,” we told ourselves.

Meanwhile, Jackie played up her victim status to our therapists. She also did special favors for the therapists she learned would give her tips. They were convinced that she was the hardest working, most underappreciated human being on the planet. Meanwhile, her personnel file grew fatter and fatter with the notes on meetings, coachings and interventions. It was ludicrous.

We wracked our brains wondering why Housekeeping had never risen to the level of the rest of the team. “No one has ever stayed except Jackie,” we marveled. “And look at her!”

But something happened.  One of my dear friends and trusted vendor Mariah Giunta of AcquaCures, a brilliant marketer and “namer,” suggested that we rebrand the Housekeeping Team.

“Why don’t you call them the Hospitality Team?” she suggested. “They can be your Spa Hosts.”

At the time, the suggestion sounded more poetic than practical. It was true, they did much more than washing towels, cleaning restrooms and vacuuming. They were responsible for our spa refreshments, an area of the spa experience that is fraught with Moments of Truth. They worked hand in glove with our Spa Concierges to ensure that our guests had a great spa experience. At least, they should have.

Mariah had seen something that we had failed to notice for many years. By calling them Housekeepers, we were relegating potentially talented customer service professionals to a menial, behind-the-scenes role. The job title also turned off men, who by and large do not apply for Housekeeping positions. And by accepting Jackie as the “standard” of the team, we had scared off good people who knew darned well she was not a role model and had no interest in following in her footsteps.

Getting uniforms for our Spa Hosts was one of the first actions. Not surprisingly, this threw Jackie into a tizzy. She fussed over the shirt we asked her to wear to the point where we had to call in our HR rep, and he actually went to Macy’s and bought some alternatives for Jackie’s approval.

Around about this time Jackie had to take a medical leave. And in her absence, the team suddenly flourished. A sense of pride emerged among the Spa Hosts. They looked for more ways to add value to the customer experience. They were eager to learn. I only had to show Yajaira how to trim roses once; after that, she prepared our spa bouquets with a conscientiousness that I never could have dreamed of in the “Housekeeping” days.

Our first ever “World Class Customer Service” training for Spa Hosts (I know, shame on me!) took place a couple of months ago. I was stunned to find out how smart, motivated and happy this team was, and how appreciative they were of the time spent. Suddenly I had a connection with the team that had never been there when I thought of them simply as the folks who cleaned the spa and handled the laundry.

A couple of weeks back, we took staff photographs and I took a portrait of the Hospitality Team. Their esprit de corps is visible in this shot, which I wasted no time in posting on our Facebook fan page.

This week, Esteban, the youngest team member, brought in a cake he’d baked for Nandita’s birthday. She’s our director of operations. As I enjoyed a piece of his delicious red velvet and chocolate cake at the staff break table, I realized that I was witnessing something I never thought possible: our Spa Hosts were real members of our team, not second class citizens.

What’s in a name? Quite possibly, everything.

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