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The Invisibles: The People You Don’t See in the Service Industry

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The best hotels make great service look simple. You get to the hotel, you go to the front desk, you check in, they give you your key, you go to your room, and your experience is seamless.

It’s supposed to work that way, but a lot of people and energy went into making your experience happen that way. But they’re not supposed to be seen. In fact, it’s their job to go unnoticed. In the hotel industry, it’s called “back of the house,” but they’re critical in making your stay a successful one. You know what we call them? The Invisibles.

This phrase refers to the hotel maid, the guy who fixes the furniture, the plumber, the hotel engineer, etc. It could be the person who cleans the pool, does the laundry, or sits in the back room trying to figure out what you consumed in your mini bar.

Just ask David Zweig, who wrote Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in age of Relentless Self-Promotion.” An invisible is someone who is really an expert at what they do, whose work is critical to whatever enterprise they’re a part of, but who the general public generally doesn’t think of. You don’t think about the people who are involved in affecting your stay. The person who chose the mattress that you sleep on, the person who fixed the pipes in your sink. These are the things that when everything goes smoothly, you never think of them. It’s only if there’s a mistake that you tend to be aware of these people’s work at all.”

According to Zweig, there’s a certain irony to the life of an invisible. “The whole purpose of their job is to remain behind the scenes and make sure your stay goes smoothly. And the interesting thing is, most of us, the better we do our job, the more recognition we receive. Yet for these people, the invisibles, particularly in the travel industry, when they do their job perfectly, you never think of them. It really takes an opposite mindset to work in the type of profession where you know when you do your job at its best, no one is going to think of you. These people really are rewarded just by the pride in their work.”

For the people who work in these roles, it’s as simple as understanding a corporate culture that almost demands they fly below the radar.

But just how many people are we talking about? Zweig explains: “We’re talking about thousands and thousands of people basically in every industry and when we think about the service industry at a large hotel, there could just be hundreds of people working behind the scenes at all different levels. Whether it’s, like we say, the people you might be aware of like the person cleaning your room, but all sorts of people doing lots of unique jobs that you haven’t thought of as well.”

But the most surprising role? Zweig says it’s someone no one ever really sees—the people in charge of signage. “These people are called ‘wayfinding experts.’ So when you’re traveling through a large hotel, and especially in an airport, and you get from point A to point B to C without getting lost, it’s not an accident. It’s because an enormous amount of work and study and craft went into creating the signs and systems you can navigate your way through these environments.”

But not all signs in airports are the same—some have unclear signage. Zweig explains: “The reason you’re aware of it is because the job either wasn’t done well or, a lot of times, these large environments were created well before wayfinding was thought of. It’s when they can get in at the ground floor, so to speak, when they build a new environment. That is when they do their best job, when the wayfinding is integrated into the architecture of a building itself. It’s not only reliant on the signs.”

So the next time you stay at a hotel, should you pay attention the invisibles who worked to make your experience seamless? Zweig says: “Remember, you’re not supposed to see these people. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see them. In fact, the next time you stay at a hotel, ask to see the guy who fixes the furniture or the person who figured out which mattress you’re going to sleep on. It’s amazing what you can learn from people who aren’t supposed to see you to begin with. And you know what? It’ll bring you back to the hotel because you’ve made a new friend along the way.”

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By Peter Greenberg for