I invariably find (in my work as a customer service consultant and corporate culture speaker) that the littlest details can tell the most about an organization. And can teach other organizations the most as well.
Here’s an example.
A friend of mine was halfway down the (very long) hallway at a Four Seasons hotel when he realized he’d forgotten something he would need later in the day. Walking back toward the room he had just left, he was surprised to see someone from engineering had his door open and was adjusting it.
Being the curious lad that he is (and in the hospitality industry himself) he asked what was going on. The engineer told him, “The housekeeper servicing the room next door noticed that when your door closes, it closes more with an indeterminate gentle closing sound, which is a little bit less definitive than the ‘click’ we prefer, so she called down to engineering to have us come up and zero in on the closing mechanism.’”
This, gentle reader, is amazing. Amazing.
We can divide its amazingness into three parts: three standards that comprise a customer service system.
- (most obviously, probably): A standard for how a guestroom door should sound when it is closed. Four Seasons actually has a standard for how they like the door to close. They don’t like it to close with a bang, and they don’t like it to close with a whimper: they want a definitive yet subtle ‘click.’
- (less obvious, and at least as extraordinary) A reporting standard: someone from housekeeping, whose “job this isn’t,” in fact thinks it is her job and has all of her awareness attuned to those details.
- (probably even less obvious): A scheduling/ customer-non-interruption standard: The hotel doesn’t schedule repairs at the hotel’s own convenience. In fact they do it in the absolute least convenient way for them as an organization (but the only way that provides true service): on the schedule of the guest. They did not call my friend and say “when do you think you’ll be leaving your room so we can do some maintenance?” They didn’t wait until the room was turning over anyway. They found a way to take care of the issue during his stay (so he would have the benefit of the clicking door) and yet in a way that should not have affected him in any way at all. In spite of the fact that this required an elaborate choreography of the housekeeper noticing he was gone and slipping engineering into the mix at exactly the right moment.
Now, this is a pretty extraordinary set of standards. And maybe it strikes you as being a “we have all the money in the world and we can waste it how we like because we’re Four Seasons” scenario.
But let’s apply the pieces to your business.
- Auditory awareness: the door closing sound standards. Inferior businesses think their job is simply to deliver their product or (as they define it) their service. It’s not. It’s the entire experience: what the customer hears, feels, tastes, even (for better or worse) smells. If you don’t look at/hear/feel/smell your business the way a customer does, you’re failing your customer — and, ultimately, your bottom line. (In the case of the door sound, it is a functional sound that creates an emotion of wellbeing: The click means something to your guest: it means security, the ability to know without even looking back that the door has securely closed.)
- Cross-functional, purpose-driven behavior by your employees (the reporting standard): If you focus your employees only on their functional function [sic], you are not only doing a disservice to your customers, you’re doing it in a way that is mystifying to them (they don’t know your org chart and they don’t give a shi tzu about it even if they are aware of it) and in a way that wastes the human potential of the employee you are paying good money to employ. A housekeeper can be so much more than a vacuumer. She or he can also be a force for safety, security, and so much more. And this is true of every employee in your organization—whom you will keep much happier and retain much longer by involving the use of more brain cells rather than fewer.
- The scheduling/discretion standard: What schedule are you following in your business: The schedule of the customer or the schedule that suits you and inconveniences the customer? I was at a restaurant last night where every time they fill the water glasses, they ask the customer if the customer wants the water glass filled. Thus interrupting us maybe 45 times an evening (if you add up all the inquiries times all the people in our party). And don’t even get me started on the Artie Bucco Syndrome, which I named based on the cluelessly gregarious chef on The Sopranos who would come along and tell you about the fresh mozzarella’s port of origin at the very moment you were proposing marriage to your girlfriend. While he is an extreme example, the number of times waiters have interrupted me in mid-burger-bite to ask me how my burger is are nearly infinite.
Examples of customer-antagonistic scheduling from life-and-death industries such as healthcare are much more serious and brutal. Think about the under-resourced (and under-thinking) hospitals that gather the mammograms they have shot all day to “efficiently” have them read all at once at night—at which point they may actually have to go back to the patients (16 hours after the initial “shoot”) to tell them there was an error in the films and they need to be re-shot.
To summarize, what Four Seasons has built in the course of getting the click right on your door is what I would call a Customer Service System.
A Customer Service System is any action, or set of actions, that a business executes consistently over time to emotionally engage the customer and make the experience of doing business with them warmer, faster, easier, or better.
In the case of Four Seasons, it is a customer service system built through the cross-utilization of discipline and awareness, to bring something remarkable to bear upon the mundane.
What are your customer service systems? And are they in need of a tuneup? Food for thought.
[Author’s note: I’ve changed one nonmaterial detail in this article to protect the privacy of a particular hospitality professional.]
Micah Solomon is a customer experience consultant and keynote speaker on the customer experience, corporate culture, and customer service.