Every service industry wrestles with one problem that is central to everything else we do. We pay a lot of advertising money to draw people to our establishment or service only to have them greet an unhappy employee who is really not equipped to turn them into a lifelong customer by their smile and their actions. In fact, in some cases it might be better to have no one there than to risk having a negative (or at least a not positive) interaction.
I have learned through my four decades in the service business that success comes down to this little triad: LOVE your customers. SERVE them unconditionally. WIN their hearts. Do this and something magical happens.
So, how do we make this happen in our business? Let’s start with what we make our employees believe about our mission. And, yes, you are on a mission.
Cast a Vision that Starts at the Top
As leaders, it’s important that we set the culture at the company so that everything we do resembles putting others before ourselves. This flows from genuinely caring about those we come in contact with, and it must be at the core of what we do. There will always be issues at work, just as there are always issues in life. How we handle these issues will vary greatly based on whether or not serving others first—even our most challenging associates—is at the core of who we are and what we do. For job commitment with a purpose, we must teach character, not success, focusing on building character, not characteristics.
What does this look like in reality? While one business culture focuses on character—humility, servanthood, and kindness—another focuses on the process and convenience of the franchise. One is based on the heart of the business while the other is based on the mechanics of the business.
What can we learn from this? It starts with the leadership and flows up through the team to our guests. We can’t expect our team members to follow our lead to live out the spirit of hospitality in our service to others if we don’t walk the talk ourselves. We must model it by living it. We must be the first to do what we expect others to do when they’re looking to us for direction and leadership. And this starts with the CEO and his leadership team, not just at the local establishment leadership level. If we want our team members to go above and beyond our expectations, we must set them up for success by leading by example and training them to do their jobs in like manner.
The way to introduce quality service standards is through a robust training program. We need to train our new team members not only in the skills necessary to do their jobs, but also in our company’s culture. People need to know the “Why” and we need to be able to explain that to them in a simple and powerful way. That means, of course, that we need to know the why. Take the time to figure this out. Then share it often with your employees.
You’ll instill in them purpose and empathy and you’ll start building a growing tribe of engaged customers. Let’s talk about each of these vital aspects of the customer service experience.
Without vision, people don’t know what they’re supposed to aim for. What’s our common goal? What do we want to achieve in business? What’s our business philosophy? Our team members should be well aware of these, and this information should not only be central to all training, but it should also be repeated frequently throughout every day, at every staff meeting, in every email communication, and … well, you get the point. The Ritz Carlton is known for this. At the start of their day, the Ritz Carlton teams gather for their Daily Lineup. During this fifteen-minute gathering, they do three things. They hear what is happening at a corporate level and what is happening at the local hotel—such as a memorable story of how putting their vision to work has affected a guest. They also review their twenty core values.These values are always within the team members’ sight and hearing. There is never an excuse for the team members to not know how to respond in any given situation in order to accomplish the Ritz Carlton Golden Standard of Service. They are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.[i]
When we’re looking to hire, our potential team members need to be willing to sign off on our mission statement, agreeing that they know the standards our company strives for and are willing to exemplify those standards no matter what they are putting their hands to do any time they’re on our property. The outcome of training and development of front-line crew members should reflect the values of the owners.
But knowing our business isn’t enough. Team members also need to know and understand their purpose in their position. The goal is to provide a seamless delivery of our product or service. For that to happen, each team member needs to know what they’re responsible for and how to best serve in that position. This can only happen if we point out that purpose during their training. We’ll discuss this more in the upcoming section about roles and goals.
Whether we’re training our team members or they are serving our guests, empathy is extremely important. It has been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. It’s true. We must first show we care about the person we’re communicating with. If we’re human, we understand that when we’re dealing with a difficult situation, we want someone to understand how we feel in that moment, and we don’t want to be judged for feeling that way. It’s a very vulnerable place to be. The knowledge that we care about their concerns also builds trust.
Let me share a true story that I think really exemplifies what I am talking about. Unbeknownst to the hotel staff, a gentleman would be scouting their facilities for an outstanding brand in a particular industry that held annual conventions and wanted a new place to hold one. Upon his arrival, the front desk associate realized his room wasn’t available due to overbooking. The gentleman hit the ceiling. When the front office leader heard the commotion, he took the initiative to come out from behind the counter, introduce himself to the guest, and profusely apologize for the oversight. He asked the gentleman if he could have a couple of minutes to resolve the issue and turn around the negative situation. Within moments, the leader had a hotel limo take the guest across the street to another of the corporation’s properties, where they paid for him to spend the night. The next morning, the leader brought him back to an upgraded suite, chocolate-covered strawberries, champagne, and a written apology to him. The hotel also picked up the bill. Due to their excellent service recovery, the gentleman brought back multi-million dollar accounts. Again, the hotel staff didn’t know he was scouting their property until after the fact. Yet, they took care of him as a person first.
That’s a great lesson that we can replicate in any service business.
We must train our team to consider the person first and the business second. Ask if there’s something we can do to help make the person feel better. “How may I serve you?” is the appropriate hospitality statement in this situation. If the guest responds in anger, frustration, or grief—we’ve all seen one blow up, growl, or break down and cry at one point or another—stating that we understand their (insert emotion here) and would love to help resolve the situation will go much further than responding in like kind. This is why putting others before ourselves at all times is so incredibly important in the spirit of hospitality. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous their request may sound to us. It doesn’t matter whether company policy allows such-and-such response. What matters is making the guest feel important enough for someone to empathize with their felt need and work with them to amend it.
Love. Serve. Win.
We are all operating in a different hiring environment now. For the first time in my lifetime there are more available jobs than people to fill them. Wages are rising because of supply and demand. That means that every employee we can convince to work for us is gold. It’s always been true, but never more so than now.
So, teach them the “Why” for your organization, how it sees its customers, and what the mission is. Empower them to not just satisfy your customers, but to elate them. Then, spend your advertising dollars knowing that when they work and people come to your establishment that they will become customers for life.