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DESPITE ALL OF the time, emotion and energy you invest in making your event perfect, most of your guests will credit their event experience to others instead of to you. Indeed, the face of your event is determined largely by the people your guests contact directly: the people serving their food, clearing their tables, checking their coats, guiding them to the shuttle busses. It is front-line staff — generally neither highly paid nor highly trained — who, to a great extent, personify your event. And they can make it or break it.

This point hit home for me last month at MPI's World Education Congress in Denver. This is the sixth WEC I've attended, and once again, I was struck by the thorough grounding in hospitality I saw in service staff everywhere I went. Virtually everyone — from greeters at the shuttle busses to housekeeping staff at the host hotels to the man who stood at the Colorado Convention Center directing attendees to the entrance — smiled at me and asked how they could help. And I'm not talking about a robotic “How-you-guys-doing-have-a-nice-day” greeting, but a genuine one.

This stood in marked contrast to my trip home, which took me back to L.A. but my suitcase to San Francisco. In a nearly deserted airport, I flagged down a member of the flight crew to ask for instructions on how to get it back. She barely slowed her stride to snap at me, “I didn't lose your bag!”

I knew she was tired, I knew she wanted to go home. Heck, I even knew that she wasn't the one who lost my bag. But I felt compelled to point out that if you're going to brush off a customer, it's probably not wise to do so while clad head to toe in your company uniform — a company that routinely stresses its commitment to “superior service for our valued customers.”

My experiences at MPI made me feel valued. My experience with XYZ Airlines (the name has been changed to protect the guilty) did not. And this was largely due to my interactions with front-line staff.

I think that in many cases, front-line staffers show little respect for the guest because they don't respect their own job. And the power to change that comes from the boss.

An old friend worked for a hotel manager who had the habit of dropping $5 bills throughout the property. His goal: to entice his staffers to check the carpet constantly to make sure it was clean. I can name top executives at catering companies and restaurants who make it a point to bus tables, answer phones and the like because doing so underscores the point that these tasks are important.

Because they are.

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