So many times when we talk about an exceptional experience, people talk about fast food or getting a botched order corrected. I’m sharing this story about the time I was booked to speak at the Four Seasons hotel in downtown Houston because, unless you knew to look for how I received excellent service, you might not see all the tiny steps it took.
After I checked in late, the front desk agent came around the counter, personally handed me the key card, said simply, “Welcome,” and directed me toward the elevator.
Nice, similar to what some high-end retailers have implemented in recent years.
Once in the room, I opened the closet to grab the iron and noticed a can of spray starch. Nice, I’ve never seen that in a hotel.
The next morning, when I went to fill up the iron, I noticed that this model let you hold the iron flat under the faucet so as you filled it, you didn’t dribble the water all over the handle/ironing board. Big deal, you may be thinking.
Wetting the ironing board and your shirt is a big deal.
I was surprised by how quiet the room had been until I walked out the door the next morning. That’s when I realized there was a spring that stopped the door from slamming shut after you, yet it closed firmly and quietly. All those silent doors let people sleep soundly.
I met the staff to set up for my presentation; all were professional and polite. Blake, the AV guy, chatted while I sipped a Diet Coke. The hotel events manager then personally walked me down to the room I would use. I learned how he had been the cameraman for Anderson Cooper during Katrina. The manager told me he enjoys his job so much that, even though he still lives in New Orleans, he commutes on weekends. Windows of Contact in action, longtime readers!
The keynote went well, and we broke for lunch. Most of the crowd had already been through the buffet line. The server, Genova, turned and asked if I would like some soup. “Sure,” I said. “How did your speech go this morning?” she asked. I hadn’t even talked to her that day. Really nice.
I had lunch with a group of positive and stoked dealers, then off to a breakout meeting on the second floor. As Blake met me at the table to escort me to the room, he said, “Just one question Mr. Phibbs, don’t you need a projector for your marketing session?” Yes. “I thought so,” he continued, “but one wasn’t ordered; I’ll just go up and take the one from your presentation this morning in the ballroom.”
As I set up my computer, the room filled with people. Blake asked if I had a moment and showed me how to start the recording in case he was called away. “But I’ll be here to start, so there shouldn’t be a problem. I just wanted you to know.”
We began the session in an overflowing room of standing and seated dealers. I had several people asking questions afterward and only had a 15-minute break before I was to start another session.
Time slipped away, and I didn’t even get a chance to get something to drink when I realized the room was again at capacity and time to start.
I turned around to start when I noticed Blake had delivered me a Diet Coke and a bottle of water – without asking. A few seconds later, he was there smiling, pressing the Record button.
Afterward, Blake handed me a USB stick and told me that if they didn’t work, he burned a file onto his computer – just in case.
After I finished the presentation and checked my voicemail, I wanted a massage at the spa, but they were booked.
I walked around outside the hotel a bit, but not much there. That’s when I spotted a Hilton by the Convention Center. They had to have a spa. Sure enough, they did. It was 5:10 pm. “When do you want to come in?” Anytime tonight. “I only have one opening at 6. Can you make it?” Sure.
I went back into the Four Seasons restaurant. The host greeted me and asked, “Would you like something to read while you’re dining?” then pointed to a display of several papers I could read.
I told the server I had a 6 pm massage at the Hilton. She tried to figure out how long it would take to walk to it – about 10 minutes. She understood my time constraints, recommended the fish or pasta, put the order in, and got my drink. She suggested I come back for dessert and closed the check to save time.
I got to the Hilton at 5:55 pm for a great massage with Travis. When I got back to the hotel I figured a nightcap would be fine and went into their lobby bar which feels more like a comfortable den, dark but cozy. A pianist played easy tunes, and the obligatory TV was muted. It was very peaceful.
The server took my order and brought back the glass about half full of Sapphire gin and a bottle of tonic. Nice. You usually have no idea how strong a drink is – and that was strong. He returned about 10 minutes later and asked if I would like a magazine to read.
I returned to my room and started to pack. I noticed the dirty clothes I had thrown on the closet floor had been put in a plastic bag by the maid.
The shuttle driver to the airport the next morning went to two Starbucks to find one that was open since there would be no food on the Southwest flight home.
There were about 20 small things during my trip I didn’t set out to notice but did; I’m sure there were more. If you’re looking for a great conference hotel, the Four Seasons Houston should be your choice.
So many luxury brands have such a tough time because you can’t find any of the reasons they got a reputation for greatness.
Legendary service made Neiman Marcus; for many, it’s just a warehouse of very expensive items unless you’re their top 2% of customers. For me, there isn’t one thing special – let alone a host of special things like at the Four Seasons- about shopping there. And there are plenty of other retailers trading on their former glory.
Perhaps I noticed all the little things at the Four Seasons because I travel a lot. Maybe it is because it’s an occupational hazard – I know how hard it is to make a brand.
Maybe it’s because I’m a people person and could appreciate the vision of such a level of customer centricity and the team that made it a reality for me. It was a remarkable level of hospitality.
I’m reminded of when a new COO was brought into a company I was working with. He told me in all candor, after seeing firsthand the culture I had been working eight years to nurture – one composed of exceptional experiences, “Bob, that’s a very high mark that I don’t think can be maintained.”
Of course, a culture of exceptional experiences is hard to create, nurture and strive for.
But what’s the option? Accept defeat by hiring only people who will stand in front of the counters, or be like the hotel I saw with a sign at their free breakfast that read, “One piece of bread per registered guest.”
I can hear the naysayers now, “Bob, in this economy, no one will pay a couple of hundred dollars a night at some fancy luxury hotel – it’s just a bed.”
No, a no-name motel is just a bed.
Luxury is nothing but quality.
It is greater than each individual part. Those who pooh-pooh such standards usually can’t imagine such a level of service, so they don’t treat themselves to first class.
Also, notice how Four Seasons doesn’t advertise, “we put a can of spray starch in every room.” They know the sum of the little things that you may not even notice at the time is what makes the experience exceptional. It’s in the doing, not the saying.
And that brings me to the point of this post…
If you can’t appreciate it, and if you can’t bring yourself to experience it, how will you develop the muscles you need to give it in your business?
When “settle” is your mantra, how can you possibly “exceed”?
See also, How To Sell Luxury Retail
I’m not saying you need to go to the Four Seasons, buy a Tiffany pendant, or fly first class to Buenos Aires; though that may not be a bad idea. But if you only go to Wal-Mart or Costco, how do you know what great customer service even is?
When great customer service is getting a frappuccino in under 30 seconds for most of our associates, we must strive for a better way to anticipate and deliver what our customers want.
It’s not business as usual. It’s not downsizing. It’s not discounting. It is about doing better, not less.
It’s striving every day to exceed meaningfully – like Blake did by connecting the dots from what a harried speaker would want and how he could deliver it, to finding it and personalizing it, to what he’d seen me drinking when we first met hours earlier.
So what do you strive for? Watching the bread count or delivering the drink when no one’s watching?