It was the end of a long, but fun afternoon, and my husband had our youngest son snuggled in his arms as he walked down the hall to our hotel room. Along the way, a housekeeper smiled at them and asked my husband about his day.
When she heard that the four of us were on a family vacation, she offered to have juice and cookies sent up to our room on the house. Sure enough, 20 minutes later, we were all munching and sipping away contentedly.
It was the kind of unexpected touch that we felt several times during our stay. For example, at registration, I asked if there was a refrigerator in our room. There wasn’t, but the lady checking us in had one sent up moments later. And at the end of our stay, when the waitress in the hotel restaurant heard we were about to hop in the car for a four-hour drive home, she brought us free bottles of water.
If you’re lucky, you’ve had similar instances of outstanding customer service, and if you’re like me, the first question you ask yourself is: “Why?”
What is happening at this hotel that makes the customer experience so different from the dozens of others I’ve stayed at over the past year? I’ll give you my theory.
Educator, consultant and speaker John Spence suggests that if you put employees first and take good care of them, they will take care of your customers.
“The number one factor in increasing the level of highly satisfied and engaged customers in your business is the level of highly satisfied and engaged employees in your business,” he says.
John isn’t the first person to propose that theory, but what I like about his approach is that it has some real teeth to it. He defines not only what employers should provide to their staff to take good care of them, but also what they should expect in return.
When you offer your team fair compensation, training and development, enthusiasm, commitment and respect, when you coach them and empower them, you earn the right to hold them to high standards.
In fact, John suggests that managers sit down with their team members to develop mutually agreed upon, specific and measurable goals and expectations. It’s not just about what employees commit to doing for you, but also what they need from you to meet those goals.
Once both parties have agreed on a fair and reasonable set of expectations, and the employer delivers on their end of the deal, employees either perform according to the standards they helped set or are forced to acknowledge their own weaknesses. This can become a great coaching opportunity or an opportunity to eliminate underperforming team members. In fact, John says underperformers often resign once they realize that they are not delivering the results that they agreed were fair and reasonable for the employer to expect from them.
What does that have to do with customer service? Actually, a lot. A key component in employee satisfaction is clarity about expectations, including the resulting rewards and punishments. When your boss accepts behavior from you and your peers that violates those clear expectations and it has no repercussions, it undermines employees’ trust and commitment to the organization and its values. And when the employees aren’t happy, chances are the customers aren’t either.
Clearly, that was not a problem at our hotel this winter. The employees there demonstrated that they share a high level of commitment to customer service, from top to bottom. Nowhere else have I encountered a housekeeper who took such pleasure in engaging her customers. She understood her job was about a lot more than just a clean room, and you could feel the pride and joy she took in her work.
The folks at the top seem to understand that the housekeeper, the bus boy and the waitress are often the ones that make or break the customer experience. So they charged them with delivering great service and then empowered them to make decisions that have a real impact on their customers. These high performers were the ones that together made our hotel stay memorable.
Liz Walz is director of membership & marketing for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas. To learn more, visit www.mraa.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.