Southern hospitality is more than folks who say “sir” and “ma’am” to everyone and remember to ask, “How’s ‘ya mama?” It is more than a twang, accent or idiom. It is an attentiveness to details that signals genuine interest in others. It is a manner of sweet neighborliness that is gracious and authentic. It is welcoming that entices visitors to want to tarry and encourages friends to want to help.
Southern hospitality is neither rural nor blue collar. It has nothing to do with intellect, education or status. While practitioners of Southern hospitality are likely to be more conservative than liberal, it has zero to do with political preferences or social prejudices. While popular movies (like The Help, Driving Miss Daisy or My Cousin Vinny) might provide colorful entertainment, their brand of what it means to be a Southerner is decidedly fiction.
Southern hospitality, however, is on the decline in its practice. The proliferation of online communications has influenced people to “tweet instead of greet.” Economic uncertainly has reined in generosity that has been a centerpiece of Southern hospitality. People have gotten too busy to volunteer help. Meals are eaten silently in front of a TV or smartphone instead of around a table with lively conversation. And parents, in a hurry and overtasked, too often have failed to insist their children acquire the discipline of old-fashioned manners that nurture courteous civility and a sense of refinement.
What are the features of Southern Hospitality when practiced in its purest, most egalitarian form? Below are six features and ways you can foster the renaissance of Southern hospitality.
Charm: The Energy Of Sincere Enchantment
Charm is a word used to describe the output of a magician. It is making an experience enchanting and distinct. It is defined as the “power of arousing admiration.” When performed with a Southern hospitality overlay, it is simple, not flashy; understated, not flaunted; and innocent, not contrived. It surfaces the same feeling we get when watching children and puppies acting especially cute. Take time to add extras. Increase random acts of kindness. Be a carrier of joy and passion. Show assertive gratitude.
Graceful: The Power Of The Benefit Of The Doubt
Grace has two meanings — unmerited favor and simple elegance. The blend is what Southern hospitality looks like in practice. It is the pursuit of classiness for its own sake. It is demonstrating trust without proof. It is the spirit of Southern plantation women taking care of wounded Yankee soldiers during the Civil War. Exhibit an unmistakable attitude of respect for all you encounter? Give more people the benefit of the doubt. Be a guardian of your customer’s dignity. Forgive and move on.
Helpful: The Influence Of Genuine Kindness
Southern hospitality is neighbor serving neighbor. People with Southern hospitality unconsciously want to help, not out of a sense of obligation, but because that is who they are. It is an open arms approach to everyone; always without skepticism, prejudice, bias or protection. It shows up as an egalitarian eagerness to assist without thought of tit for tat reciprocity. Surprise someone with a favor. Be a good neighbor to everyone. Go the extra mile.
Curiosity: The Yield Of Inquisitiveness
Curiosity is a rarity in interpersonal communication. It was your mother taking time to hear details of a bad day at school without any hint of advice-giving or motherly warnings. In our fast-paced world, we not only fail to take time to listen, we fail to demonstrate sincere interest. Listen like there is nothing going on but the person to whom you are speaking. Learn more about a person through open-ended questions and lavish understanding. Practice curiosity like it was treasure-hunting, not interrogation.
Sensory: The Delight Of Compelling Experiences
Customers love experiences that awaken their senses. Famous bars have become light shows, bakeries pump tantalizing aromas from kitchen to sidewalk, and modern hospitals provide babbling fountains and tranquil music. As customers, we like stimulation; we ignore bland and ho-hum. Find ways to make your service experiences unique! Ramp up the senses. Add a cherry on top of all experiences. Shower experiences with eye candy. Your customer’s nose knows when it is delightful! Make every day customers’ birthdays.
Honorable: The Influence Of Noble Encounters
Honor is hidden until its presence is needed to inform a decision, render a judgment or select a behavior counter to the status quo. It raises its hand when someone opts to “do the right thing” when no one is looking. In the South it yields statesmen rather than politicians, bravery over cowardice, and ethics over convenience. It is “Samaritan” in its nature, ethical in its stance, and gallant in its practice. Assume your children are watching you to seek life-long guidance from your actions. Make them proud.
Southern hospitality was birthed in the South but it need not remain a regional feature. As a manner, style and attitude, it should be exported to all organizations delivering customer-centric service. Customers today do not talk or tweet about good service; only service that is unique and special. That suggests organizations elevate ways to ensure customers leave with a captivating story they are eager to share.
Dr. Chip R. Bell is a customer loyalty and management keynote speaker, trainer and best-selling author. In working with Ron Zemke, he pioneered the concept of Customer Journey Mapping, then referred to as Cycle of Service Mapping, in the 2003 book, Service Magic. Global Gurus has ranked Dr. Bell among the top three of keynote speakers in the world for customer service in four of the past five years. He has served as consultant or speaker to various Fortune 500 companies, associations and government organizations. Dr. Bell has authored numerous national best sellers including his latest, Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles.