Just finished reading: Setting the Table: the transforming power of hospitality in business by Danny Meyer. Many, many things resonate with me and align with my belief about the vital importance of hospitality. There was a particular word that stood out, jumped off the page actually, that I immediately worked to fold into my language. Umbuntu

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Umbuntu embodies, in one word, my core philosophy, the reason that I feel so powerfully about the customer experience. It’s the power of one brief, or long term, interaction that can literally touch a person to the very core. It has the power to change the course of a person’s day. This results in changing the course of many.

Umbuntu, according to this book, is a traditional greeting among South Africans.

Here, in the states we often greet people by saying “hi, how are you?”

The pat answer is, “fine”, or “great”, or “good, how are you?”

I’ve always hated that question from strangers. People don’t really want to know. They’re not asking because they’re genuinely concerned, it’s just a pass by greeting that is hollow. If we really wanted to know how someone was doing, we wouldn’t ask the question at the gym or in line at the coffee shop. Imagine someone who just went through a horrible event, you asked, and they spilled it right there in line at Starbucks, sobbing, weeping, hugging you, the whole bit. We’re too uptight a culture to do that. No, we say the words and don’t mean it. I try to very rarely to ask (unless I really want to know!).

When someone asks me I often simply don’t answer. I reply with something completely unrelated, and almost every time the person asking the question doesn’t circle back. They’re completely unaware that I didn’t answer the question that they just posed. That’s because this question is just a phrase. I wished it would be stricken from our vocabulary in casual conversation and in passing.

(I can see it coming sneaks. You’ll see me in person next time and ask the question with a sideways grin won’t you?)

Umbuntu means:

I see you

It’s an acknowledgment of someone’s presence.

It’s a slight shift. But nevertheless it’s a shift. Imagine someone “seeing“ you, even for a brief moment. Whether it’s a homeless person on the street, your teenage niece, or a customer at your counter. The brief shift in your presence can be felt.

The eyes are the window to the soul.

When we really look at someone they can feel it.

Yes, its very difficult in our fast paced culture to be ‘in the moment’ with our clients and customers. We have agendas, lists, deadlines, etc. We have to continually work to fight the hamster wheel, to slow it down, even if for just a moment.

Umbuntu can be put into practice with your business successfully. Lay it at the foundation. It can become the building blocks for extraordinary customer service. Your customers will love you for it. Your employees can be inspired by it. Your life will be enriched by it.

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