This is the second post in my “top communications lessons learned in New Zealand” series, and it focuses on the most fabulous Hapuku Lodge in Kaikoura. Kaikoura is on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It is a beautiful, rugged, wind-swept seaside area that I completely fell in love with.
Hapuku Lodge is a pretty spectacular place. However, today’s post isn’t about the lodge itself (but the lodge is worth checking out, believe me). It is about the two incredible people who run the lodge – Fiona Read and Chris Sturgeon. As amazing as the lodge is, they made our experience there so much more enjoyable and memorable.
Fiona is a bit of a celebrity in New Zealand – she was a favourite on the television show MasterChef New Zealand. She takes care of the food experience at Hapuku and her husband Chris takes care of the stay side. They make a great team. And without realizing it, they taught me a couple of important life and communications lessons during our brief stay with them.
Lesson 1: Understand your audience/community/peeps.
I am an aspiring foodie and was thrilled that we had a cooking class – and even more thrilled when I learned that our teacher was Fiona. The class was just with Paul and I, and it was clear that I am no expert – but I am enthusiastic. Fiona completely read our interest and knowledge/experience level and she focused in on that. I was really interested in learning and Paul was pretty interested in eating. She balanced it out so that we felt comfortable and the information wasn’t too basic or too over our heads – so that the experience was enjoyable for us. That is an important skill and one that is often overlooked in the world of communication. It is important to understand what the people or person you are communicating with wants to know; don’t just focus on what you want to tell them.
Lesson 2: Everything matters – especially the small details.
At Hapuku, Chris was very attentive to our needs without making us feel overwhelmed. It was quite subtle really, but we were paying attention just like he was. Chris asked us about our wine experiences in New Zealand and what our preference was – and he provided recommendations for what we would like. When we sat in the lounge, which sits in my heart as a place of my dreams (I loved sitting there blogging with a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, looking out at the beautiful landscape), he made sure the fireplace was just right, he checked in to see if the Internet was fast enough, and he brought us little snacks. He would stop by and check in on us at exactly the right time, without breaking our concentration on our blogging or discussions. The tree house room was perfect – comfortable, luxurious, fabulous – everything we could want was in that room.
The big things were there – fabulous scenery, beautiful lodge, amazing region – and if no one spoke to us at all, this would have been a good experience. The attention to detail is what took it from good to exceptional. For one small moment in time (well, 24 hours), life was perfect. And it was the commitment to the details by Chris and the Hapuku team that created that paradise.
The communications lesson: Sweat the small stuff. You can do big things well, but to be excellent, you need to make sure that you pay attention to the small things and do those well too. Freshly brewed coffee for client meetings, one final, solid proofread of a document, showing up on time – every time – sending thank you notes, checking in when you know a client is experiencing a challenge or an issue just to see how they are… They might seem small from a day-to-day perspective, but they have a huge impact.
Lesson 3: Be yourself.
This lesson appears to be the theme from this year’s New Zealand trip. Fiona and Chris are incredibly interesting, charming and welcoming. And what is most interesting and charming about them is that they don’t pretend to be anything or anyone other than who they are. They are down-to-earth, easygoing and incredibly professional (which is quite a balance, in my opinion).
I watched as they engaged with other guests, each other and with the Hapuku team. They didn’t shift out of one persona into another. They were authentic and that comes across. Hapuku is a luxury lodge, but they are inclusive. While they often have guests who are CEOs, rock stars and celebrities, quite often their guests are regular people like you and me who are looking for a special experience. Fiona and Chris treat everyone equally and stay true to themselves and to the lodge – which is an incredibly welcoming, comfortable, luxurious place to stay. Hapuku felt like we were staying at a close friend’s house (a friend who had an incredibly fabulous home!). That didn’t come from the design or the locale of the lodge – that came from the heart and soul of Fiona and Chris.
The communications lesson here: Authenticity matters. When you embrace who you really are, you will attract the clients/customers/guests who are right for you.