Paul Butler | The Human Service Variable

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

Lord willing, my wife and I plan to complete a half-marathon in every state. We recently traveled to Austin for No. 12. What struck us most about Texas wasn’t the size of everything but the frequency with which people say “Y’all.” 

The most times we heard “Y’ALL” in one statement came from a hostess at a restaurant in New Braunfels, and it went like this: “How Y’ALL doing? Y’ALL want a booth or Y’ALL want to wait for a table? What do Y’ALL prefer? Whatever Y’ALL want. Anyway, it’s great to have Y’ALL here. Welcome again, Y’ALL.” 

Technology is rapidly changing the customer experience, in tiny yet noticeable ways — mostly for the good. Our boarding passes are now always on our phones. I managed to get free Wi-Fi throughout the flight. At the hotel, we didn’t need to wait to check in, as we’d already done so on their app. We didn’t even need a physical keycard to access our room, as that was also on the app.  

Technology can be a game-changer, making our lives easier in most cases. Yet, on this trip, it wasn’t the technology that will stick in our memories, but the choices made by the human beings in service roles. 

When technology works, it’s a dependable constant, but with human beings it’s an undependable variable. A person may physically be at work, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to put their mind, heart and soul into that work.  

Here are four examples from our trip that speak to this human variable: 

Example 1: We picked up the rental car and honestly wondered if the person lounging in the chair behind the desk had a pulse. She didn’t look up from her personal cell phone throughout the whole transaction. She huffed and puffed when we had questions. We weren’t sure she really meant it when she said, “Have a nice day.” 

Example 2: We had some problems with our hotel room — broken doors, rusty lights, a coffee machine that didn’t work, and a desk drawer with a missing knob. We were staying at the hotel for three nights, so we reported them to the receptionist on our first morning. When we came back to the hotel late afternoon, we were disappointed to find not only had the issues not been corrected, but our room also hadn’t been serviced. We inquired at the front desk, and they told us (as if we were in the wrong) that if we wanted our room cleaned, we should have asked upon check-in. Wow! When did that become a thing in hotels? 

Example 3: At one restaurant, the server was so laid back and lethargic that we got the distinct sense he really didn’t want to be there. After experiencing his service and the restaurant’s food, I know we don’t want to be there either, at any point in our future. I do think there’s a correlation between the energy levels of servers and chefs that comes out in the presentation and taste of food. Sometimes you can feel the love, and sometimes, not so much. 

Example 4: On the flight back, we noticed how the air stewards were mainly miserable. Why do a job if you don’t enjoy it? Someone is definitely lying when the announcement states, “If we can do anything at all to make your flight more comfortable, please feel free to ask our team members aboard today — it’s our pleasure to serve you.” Trouble was, I don’t think the surly, eye-rolling and catty staff on our flight heard the calling. 

In summary, technology is a great enabler, making our service experience much easier, often at our fingertips. Yet, the underlying variable that creates memories to moan about or praise still resides within the human being. Why do some people have a servant’s heart, and others you wonder if they even have one?  

My prediction is that within less than 20 years, robots and artificial intelligence will replace many of the people interactions we had. Sadly, I sense service levels will improve when there are fewer humans influencing the variable within the customer equation.  

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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