The Privilege of Membership

Members OnlyLast week, my family and I enjoyed seven glorious days in sunny Florida.  We stayed on Captiva Island and took daily excursions from there.  One such activity was a “cruise” to a private island.  Aboard the boat, we were with about 100 other tourists and were treated to a memorable dolphin “show” by a mama and her baby who, spurred on by our hoots, hollers and applause, followed us a good deal of the way to our destination.  Additionally, we heard the history of the area from a very knowledgeable crew member who offered an audio tour of the area while we headed for the island.  It was wonderful… well, until we got to the private island.

The private island, home to fewer than 100 residents, really only welcomes its own “locals,” their guests and the handful of visitors who stay in the very small luxury inn.  Once a day, it tolerates a visit from tourists like us who pay the cruise company to take them to the island, drop them off and pick them back up after a visit to the island’s museum and sole restaurant (in a room separate from the locals, et al).  Notice the use of “tolerates” vs. “welcomes.”  Though the cruise visitors pay their admission to the island, purchase tickets to the museum and purchase meals from the same menu as all others, they are clearly not welcomed on the island.  The contrast between the “members” and “non-members” is stark… it is evident in the body language, in the tone of conversation, in every interaction.  It certainly serves to make the non-members feel lousy about their experience.  As a non-member myself, as a result of the way my family and I were treated, I can tell you I would NOT recommend this particular excursion to anyone who asks.

Here’s the thing:  I get it.  Sometimes exclusivity is appropriate.  If that’s the case, though, why does the island allow the cruising company to bring visitors for the day at all?  Since the island powers that be have made the conscious decision to allow the day visitors, I wonder what my reaction to the experience would have been if we’d been treated in the opposite manner.  What if we were greeted with a smile and open arms?  What if we’d been shepherded to the same museum, ordered and served the same food, charged the same prices, but with a warm reception – a mannerism that said, “Welcome to our island!  We’re delighted you’re here.  Thank you for making the effort to learn about us.  We appreciate your patronage.”?  I guarantee I would look back on the experience very differently.

Take for example my bank.  I know, it sounds odd.  There’s a bank out there that makes all comers feel special, welcomes them with open arms and invites them back for a complimentary cup of coffee and a freshly baked cookie.  It’s my bank, Freedom Bank in Overland Park, Kansas.  Though I’ve written about Freedom Bank in the past, it bears repeating.

I spend a great deal of time at Freedom Bank.  It doesn’t look like any typical banking institution.  Instead, it is set up café-style with complimentary Starbucks coffee, cappuccinos, espressos, lattes, teas, sodas, water, cookies, fruit, granola bars, etc., etc.  There are tables, chairs, couches.  It’s a real gathering spot and my favorite place for my morning networking meetings.  Indeed, I do bank with Freedom, but nobody has ever asked.  I’ve never been turned away.  Whether I banked here or not, I don’t think I’d be kicked out.  I’m greeted by the concierge, usually my buddy, Larry, who always says, “Hey, Alana, great to see you!”  He and his colleagues greet my guests in the same warm, effusive, genuine manner.  They offer drinks.  They welcome them as if they were family.  It feels great.  Freedom Bank flings its doors open wide and invites in the community.

Just for fun... Mom and baby dolphin showing off in Captiva!
Just for fun… Mom and baby dolphin showing off in Captiva!

Sure, I suppose there is room for “bad behavior” – people who don’t bank there getting too much free hot cocoas, but I don’t see too many people abusing the privilege of membership to this fine organization.

Do this:  Think about your own business, your own approach to connecting with others, your own philosophy for life.  Are your arms open wide?  Should they be based on your brand promise?  Do you offer membership to all those who would take it?  Think about the brand image you are trying to convey and position yourself to welcome others in, as appropriate.

4 thoughts to “The Privilege of Membership”

  1. That’s such a good point about welcoming vs tolerating. Working in tourism here in Scotland, this point comes up a lot. Surly local people ruin an experience for tourists, and we often have to make the point that your pretty location in a pretty country isn’t unique — if you treat people badly, they will go elsewhere, never return, and tell their friends how bad your place was. Like you just did!

    And here I was thinking we did hospitality so much better in America…

    1. Alas, Rachel, it seems hospitality is human-driven vs. location-driven. When people decide to be hospitable, it goes a long way to supporting solid customer service!

  2. Oh, and I LOVE your bank! I’ve never heard of such a thing! I wonder if we have anything at all like that here in the UK. If not, someone needs to start one. Is Freedom bank a chain or just in Kansas City?

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