THINK of people, outside family and friends, who have contributed in some way, large or small, to make your life more pleasant. It could have been an encouraging teacher, a boss who believed in you, an elderly aunt who expanded your horizons, or a colleague who willingly helped on a project outside his job description.

We often hear stories about complete strangers offering a helping hand: the burly truck driver who, despite a tight schedule, stops to change a tyre for a stranded motorist; or an insurance agent who calls a widow long after her husband’s death, just to say hello.

Or it might be a mobile phone dealer who loans his own phone to a tradesman relying on communication; or a manager who arranges childcare for a single mother in need of an operation; or a chemist who delivers a prescription to a pensioner after business hours.

After all, even if we are not in the transport, insurance, retail or health-care business, we are all in the people business.

And people buy goods and services from those they like. In every one of those true examples mentioned, repeat business flowed to those who did that little bit extra. By helping others, we help ourselves, even if it’s just to feel better about ourselves.

Caring is for everyone

When we think of helping occupations, our minds traditionally turn to the caring professions of nursing, social work and emergency workers. But, every career has the capacity to care; to combine the head and the heart; to feel we make a difference to both our own pockets and to fill pockets of need in others, through random acts of kindness.

When I started speaking professionally, I believed I could make money and make a difference. However, like most small business owners, I was often plagued with doubt.

One such occasion followed a five-hour flight when I arrived at the hotel with no voice. Scheduled to speak to 400 sales people the next morning, this was indeed a predicament.

At check-in, the receptionist started her standard greeting, outlining the five-star facilities, but I cut her short, with little more than a whisper, to say I wasn’t well and simply wanted to get to my room immediately.

I promptly unpacked, showered and curled up in bed, feeling somewhat sorry for myself away from home, when I heard an unexpected knock at the door.

“Room service.”

I croakily informed the hotel employee that I hadn’t ordered room service.

“Yes, Ms DeVrye, we know you haven’t ordered room service but we also know you’re not feeling well, so have brought some hot lemon and honey with our compliments.”

Sure enough, on a silver tray, was exactly what I would have wanted if I had been home. In addition, there was a hand-written note from the chef offering to make chicken soup and another note from the concierge, with some vitamin C tablets and an offer to obtain any additional medication from the pharmacy in town.

As someone who spends over 80 nights per year in five-star hotels, I know that sort of service is not standard, nor in anyone’s job description. The receptionist put herself in my shoes and coordinated others to deliver outstanding service.

I felt better already and naturally, any traveller would remember that experience long after they had forgotten the marble in the foyer.

My voice marginally restored the next day, I addressed the sales team and used this real-time example of going that extra mile to truly care about the customer. I had arranged for the receptionist to attend the presentation and when I later checked out, she said she felt somewhat shocked by the spontaneous applause from the audience. By doing that little extra, she gained extra satisfaction for herself.

Remember this receptionist, and all the other folks mentioned in this article, when you get up and head off to work each day. Because, despite the frustration we all experience in our daily tasks, it is reassuring to remember that we too truly can “make our life worth living as our living is being made”.


Article by Catherine DeVrye, a professional speaker on managing change, customer service and resilience. A former Australian Executive Woman of the Year, she will be speaking as part of the Singapore Institute of Management’s 50th Anniversary Learning Series.