Redefining the Art of Minding Your Ps and Qs

You know hospitality when you feel it, or as officially defined by dictionary.com it’s “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” Hospitality is actually more valuable than ever in our rushed, device-first and attention-deficit overloaded world. And yet, I find it missing in many brand experiences.

Multi-restauranteur Danny Meyer wrote a book called “Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business” that caught my attention during the holiday season. Both in his book and on his website, Meyer shares his main business philosophy that has guided all 11 of his New York-based restaurants:

This is the age of the Hospitality EconomyTM. Superior products and excellent service are no longer enough to distinguish your business. How you make your customers feel is what sets your business apart—and that’s what hospitality is all about. Organizations that embrace a hospitality strategy:
1. Earn a reputation as a best place to work
2. Win customer loyalty
3. Generate persistent top line growth

Meyer believes wholeheartedly that “Hospitality is a sustainable competitive advantage. While others try to copy your products, no one can replicate the hospitality experience you create for your stakeholders.”

I couldn’t agree more. You know hospitality when you feel it, or as officially defined by dictionary.com it’s “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” Hospitality is actually more valuable than ever in our rushed, device-first and attention-deficit overloaded world. And yet, I find it missing in many brand experiences.

Perhaps, you, too, experienced this lack of hospitality over the past holiday shopping season: Brand ambassadors who often didn’t make meaningful eye contact, brusquely said “not a problem” when there was indeed a problem you needed for them to solve, and a goodbye after a transaction without a “thank you.” Why do businesses spend lots of capital on ad campaigns and new product introductions only to slip up on these basics—the real, face-to-face human interaction?

When I do experience genuine hospitality from companies, the repercussions are long and lasting and bring a smile to my face. This is likely to happen when I fly on Southwest Airlines or grab a quick lunch at Chipotle or Chick-fil-A. These brand ambassadors exude enthusiasm, seem to truly love what they are doing and make a conscious connection to engage with their customers, to treat them as friends and in doing so, validate the reasons the customers choose to spend their time and money with these companies.

Earlier this month I checked into The Ritz-Carlton for an annual girlfriend getaway. The brand lived up to its reputation for luxurious elegance, but what impressed me most was their lived value of “being ladies and gentlemen who serve ladies and gentlemen.”

My conversations with the various Ritz-Carlton team members I encountered—whether with parking attendants, concierges, front desk clerks, wait staff or spa personnel—were gratifying. They were genuinely concerned about all aspects of my stay and welcomed me like a good friend you were looking forward to getting to know better on this visit.

I like thinking about the verbs that drive hospitality—welcome and empathize—and just how they can be leveraged to a brand’s competitive advantage. I spoke with The Ritz-Carlton’s Human Resources Manager Greg Croff about this exact topic.

“Here at The Ritz-Carlton, we are all about memory-making. We want all our interactions to be positively memorable experiences. And, it all starts with our hiring process. We look for people who care about building relationships, who are naturally empathetic and easy to talk with, who make eye contact and who truly believe it is ‘their pleasure’ to take care of our guests. We welcome our new hires in a way we want them to welcome our guests. Constant hospitality is our DNA. We reinforce this each and every day with our Daily Lineup where at the start of each shift the team gathers for 15 minutes to focus on one aspect of our Gold Standard. We share WOW! stories of how team members reinforce our service mystique. We learn from each of our ladies and gentlemen about raising the bar and creating memories.”

Just how well does your brand mind its Ps and Qs? “Please,” “thank you,” “my pleasure” … simple words and phrases that may or may not bookend a customer’s experience with your brand. Why not conduct a hospitality audit with your leadership and see if this is one area of competitive advantage your brand can improve upon this year?

Make Brand Waves This Summer!

A recent Sperry Top-Sider ad caught my attention. In five sentences, the brand story of Sperry Top-Sider was succinctly and engagingly told. I believe it also unpacks two important lessons for all brand-builders.

A recent Sperry Top-Sider ad caught my attention with this bite-sized story:

A Man – A Boat – A Dog

A True Story

The seas were rough. A man was tossed about trying to steady his sails and struggled to find sure footing. Paul Sperry almost lost his life that day. He was a lifelong sailor and inventor, driven to perfect a non-slip boat shoe. One day after watching his dog dart effortlessly across the ice, he carved grooves—like those on his dog’s paws—into the bottom of a rubber sole. In that moment of inspiration, the legend of Paul Sperry was born.

In five sentences, the brand story of Sperry Top-Sider was succinctly and engagingly told. I believe it also unpacks two important lessons for all brand-builders:

1. What is your brand driven to perfect? A former Sperry Top-Sider ad was headlined with the words: MAKE WAVES. This innovative, problem-solving mindset is part of Sperry’s brand DNA and drives all they do. Their “passion for the sea” infuses their brand with a desire to make life better for those who love being near the ocean. Does your brand provide buzz-worthy, practical and useful solutions for your customers?

2. Where do your brand ambassadors—those creating problem-solving products and services—get their inspiration? How much time is dedicated to “moodling” and looking up and outside your industry for creative solutions? A similar story to Paul Sperry’s can be told about Martin Keen, founder of the KEEN sandals. After he perfected the design of a practical hybrid sandal and grew KEEN into a significant brand in the outdoor sporting world, he found inspiration for his second company in his barn. A rusted metal stool with a tractor seat became the impetus for his ergonomically designed Locus Seat, marketed as the “the perfect balance between sitting and standing.” Rarely is brand inspiration found in a cubicle.

This summer, why not give your brand the gift of spaciousness and see what waves you might make?