I had a pleasant conversation yesterday with a senior executive at Rogen, the people who train execs to communicate and give winning presentations. This is someone who travels extensively, and has experienced the full spectrum of travel joys and sorrows -- a veteran road warrior. He had recently stayed at the boutique hotel chain W, in New York.
Here's what he told me, in the tones we usually reserve for religious experiences:
Within less than a day of checking in, everyone I met there knew my name. I finally asked the bellman how he did this? He told me he had been trained to look for and covertly read names on luggage tags.
The story gained more ground for me when I learned that the Manager also learned names and spoke to guests on a frequent basis. What a friendly thing, and would make you feel at home in a big city!
Why is it that some companies are able to achieve these startling service results, while others struggle?
Well first, they have established behavioral service standards. These are things that say clearly, "use the customers' name at every opportunity". This stuff has to be granular, and crystal clear.
Then you have to actually train people in how to achieve the standard. Senior executives often underestimate the need for this type of training, assuming that having the standard is enough. It isn't. We all need tips and tricks and help. And committing time and $$ for training reinforces that you think your standards are important.
You also need management practices and systems that reinforce the standards in every way. It's no good saying "do what I say, not what I do". Every level in the company needs to reinforce the importance of behavioral standards.
Treating your employees well is another pre-requisite to good service. (Incredible that we need to see proof of this, isn't it? "Is there really a linkage between employee engagement and customer loyalty? i.e. Do we really have to be nice to people to make money in this business?")
The bottom line is -- if you don't think you need to be civilized to your staff, why should they treat customers any better? The fact that many do, even in the middle of long-standing labour disputes, is a tribute to the employees, not the skills of management.
And yet we do ask the loyalty question. My own view is that service quality represents the margin of preference when you have choices.
By way of example, I spent about 50+ nights in one city over about a year, where there were four convenient hotels to choose from. I tried them all. The first one I weeded out did not have enough dining variety close by. One of the others had too small a lobby area, and there was no place to relax at night. The difference between the last two was largely service. A few staff members learned my name in one of the hotels, and I kept going back. When you spend that much time away from home, it is nice when someone remembers you. Here's the hotel.
Customer service is a nuts-and-bolts game. It takes a clear definition of what the experience is supposed to look like, and reinforcement from every angle you can think of.
And then you get the kind of experience that can impress a polished executive like my acquaintance from Rogen, and make him want to tell a dozen or so of his friends. And you can't buy that kind of ad any other way.