Just wait a minute…


To be able to “wait and not be tired by waiting” was a virtue espoused by Kipling. Saipan is a great place to contemplate ol’ Rudyard, since he was a fan of the tropical and the exotic. As for waiting, well, what can we say about that?

Saipan is mercifully devoid of much waiting, at least for residents. Tourists, on the other hand, who are sometimes on schedules wound tighter than a Swiss watch, have been known to be humorless about it. I learned a few important things because of just such a situation.

The situation came to my attention in a big way when a tour agent was looking over a business I was involved with. I guess you could term his visit a “service audit.”

After being a fly on the wall and observing our operations flow, the agent was happy with things overall, but noted one glaring problem: Our clients sometimes had to wait for 10 minutes or so before the tour started.

The agent told me that this was unacceptable. He pointed out that if a one o’clock tour doesn’t start at one o’clock, then it’s not really a one o’clock tour.

I was grateful for the insight. We cleaned up our act.

I reflected on speed limit signs on military bases that said “35 means 35,” so my pals and I adopted a new slogan for us and the troops: “One o’clock means one o’clock.”

Like many problems, the biggest step toward solving it was to be aware of it in the first place. Seeing things though the eyes of the customer may be a literal impossibility but it’s sure a figurative necessity. International tourism merely accentuates this fact.

Here’s another lesson from that situation: Our tourists were not inclined to complain to us if they were disenchanted. If anyone heard a complaint, it would be their tour agent. So this was a case where we lacked any real-time feedback. Some guy unhappy about cooling his heels for 10 minutes didn’t look to us like a guy unhappy about anything at all.

Stepping into a broader context, I’ve noticed a few companies that have turned the tables on this waiting thing. Some luxury car dealerships, for example, have lavish lobbies in their service departments.

I remember taking a relative’s Lexus to a dealership for some maintenance. I didn’t have any particular interest in Lexus before I pulled into the dealership. But soon thereafter, as I reposed in a comfortable armchair, sipping a (complimentary) latte and reading a (complimentary) Wall Street Journal, I started warming up to the Lexus thing.

Instead of having some daytime TV show blaring at full volume, the financial news played in silence as the ticker symbols crawled along the bottom of the screen. Even if you’re not keen on financial news, the peace and quiet was an asset to appreciate.

Instead of waiting being an annoyance, they turned it into a way to showcase good service.

Meanwhile, here’s a waiting scene that many people don’t like at all: airports. But I’ve seen the tables turned here, too. For example, if your travels ever take you through Douglas airport in Charlotte, N.C., you may hear a live piano player tickling the ivories in a pleasant arcade offering good food and libations. The scene puts a classy and contemporary gloss on good old Southern hospitality.

Paradoxically enough, the notion of waiting seems to attract some people in some situations. Big city nightclubs with lines in front of them can attract people who want to be part of the buzz. Ditto for long, even overnight, waits for concert tickets, flashy and trendy products, and so on. So, while people don’t like to wait as a rule, the psychology of the crowd, if the crowd is waiting, is apparently powerful enough to override the aversion. We have no official word on that from Kipling, but we do know that he wasn’t a big fan of crowds.

When I have to wait, I try to consider it an enforced recess, a time where I don’t have to think about anything or do anything. This appeals to my nature as a complete goof-off. Hey, everybody has to be good at something, so at least I’ve found my true calling in life. Now that, my friends, is something worth waiting for!

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.

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