Too Early for Jazz


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Disclaimer: I love John Coltrane, Billie Holliday, and Count Basie. Great jazz ranks up there with Einstein’s theory of relativity and Newton’s gravity in terms of insightful genius. Smooth jazz with a glass of wine and a roaring fire can be the catalyst for a special evening guaranteed to yield a next-morning smile. But…

I had done my microphone and slide deck check and walked the large stage—all rituals a keynote speaker does before the meeting planner lets participants enter the ballroom to begin a conference. I was to be their opening act. The guy on the soundboard was searching for the right song for the walk-in music. His colleague suggested a jazz piece.

“Hell, no,” he exclaimed like a temperamental artist who was overdue a cup of strong coffee. “This is not a moment for mellow. It’s way too early for jazz. We need get-up-and-go music.” Then he inserted his last I’m-the-boss command: “Besides, I just saw this guy’s slides about innovative service. We need inspiration, not sedation.”

The Delta Airlines gate attendant announced before the boarding began, “Ladies and gentlemen. I have an announcement. This is a special smile flight. In addition to your boarding pass, we will need you to give us your best smile as you board. And, if you do not have a smile, we will be happy to give you one of ours. Welcome aboard!” People responded. They were more courteous to each other, more helpful with luggage, and more cooperative in boarding quickly. As someone who flies every week, it was the one of the happiest plane of passengers I have seen…all because the gate attendant decided to rive up the beat and ramp up the mood on the walk-in music!

After a magical stay at the Hotel Monaco in Alexandria, VA, I had to know the cultural ingredient that was mixed into daily life through the influence of leadership. Every single person treated me like I was the Prize Patrol there to bring him or her a fortune. The doorman greeted me like I had just arrived for my family reunion. The room service person complimented me on my dinner choice. Dinner came with a bud vase and flower. The Asian housekeeper bowed to me as I was leaving my room and thanked me for staying. It was a hotel filled with energy and passion.

“Where might I find the general manager?” I asked the front desk clerk as I was checking out. Without hesitation she said, “Mr. Matt is right over there near the front door.” I thought to myself, “Where else should I have expected. He would obviously be up close and personal where the action is, not sequestered in a back office.”

After I introduced myself, complimented his property, I asked: “What is it you work to add as the GM to create the culture you have here?” He smiled! “Before I answer your question, sir, let me ask you one: How did the people in our hotel make you feel?” “Joyful,” I said. “Wonderful,” he said. “That is what I try to add to the experience of our associates…a feeling of joy. We work to always surprise you, like finding a joyful treasure you were not expecting.”

If innovative service were a musical genre it would have the passion of a tango and the connection of a square dance. It would be performed in the key of joy. It would be as inclusive as a sing-along, animated at a happy cadence. It would not be jazz.

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group ( and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.


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