Last week I attended a presentation at the Four Seasons hotel in Boston given by Barbara Talbott, the EVP of Marketing for the Four Seasons. She discussed “The Power of Personal Service.”
Here are my notes from that speech. Admittedly, not much was radically new, but it was a good reminder of how personal service can be a powerful competitive advantage.
People First: At the Four Seasons, they talk about the “3 Ps” – people, product, and profit. Their philosophy is that people come first. If their employees focus on service, then they will have a good product which will bring profit.
Attitude not Aptitude: When they hire, they hire based on attitude rather than skills. They believe that they can train anyone on basic tasks, but they cannot instill passion. That must already be there. The service attitude mindset is pervasive and not limited to customer facing roles. Their accountants must have the same passion for excellence and service.
Customers = Employees: In many companies, customers are treated like kings (well, that’s what they want to believe) while employees are treated like second class citizens (if they are lucky). The Four Seasons claims to treat their employees like they treat their customers.
Service as Differentiator: In an earlier blog entry on innovation targeting, I discussed the need to find your one differentiator. For the Four Seasons, it is clearly “customer service.” Everything they do is driven by the customer and for the customer. In fact, they strive to go beyond expectations – and beyond what training can deliver. Some stories we were told include:
- A guest left their luggage in a taxi and did not realize it until the taxi had taken off. Although the customer did not know which taxi company, let alone which cab, the bellman tracked down the luggage and had it delivered to the customer…without the guest ever asking for this to be done.
- While checking out of the Four Seasons Paris, a couple was asked by the front desk clerk if everything was okay (supposedly she could tell something was wrong). The guests told her that their stay was perfect. However their daughter was staying in Paris for a few months and they were a little concerned about leaving her behind. The clerk pulled out a business card and wrote her personal cell phone on the back saying, “Call me from the states if you ever need anything.”
Treat All Customers Exceptionally: Because they realized that teens have different needs, they introduced a “Teen Concierge.” This concierge is closer in age to teenagers and is there to serve the needs of these younger guests.
Stick to Your Knitting: Someone in the audience asked, “Why don’t you lend your brand/expertise to helping other industries (e.g., airlines) deliver exceptional customer service?” Barbara responded that protecting the brand was more important than expanding the brand.
The Innovation Advantage: Someone in the audience asked why other hotel chains do not deliver Four Seasons style service. The assumption was that cost wasn’t the issue. Barbara responded that it is hard to replicate. The service mindset permeates the entire company. Competitors cannot just decide to deliver exceptional customer service. It must be part of the DNA.
Direct Line Members: The Four Seasons designates certain employees as “direct line members.” These line employees get direct access to the general manager on a regular basis and can discuss anything, except for pay. These employees are responsible for getting input from other front line employees and serve as the eyes and ears of the business.
At the event, I spoke with several Four Seasons employees. All of them clearly drank the Kool-Aid; they were professional without being pretentious. During my travels, I stayed in Four Seasons hotels quite a few times. Their service has always been outstanding and consistent, yet subtle (not in your face). It’s unfortunate that most companies do not appreciate the value of customer service.
How can your company benefit from the service mentality of the Four Seasons?
Here’s an interesting piece of trivial: Isadore Sharp, founder and CEO of the Four Seasons Hotels opened his first hotel in east downtown Toronto. He originally wanted to call it “The Thunderbird Motel.” Good thing that name was already taken!