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?

Are You Mad About Your Internal Culture?

Sometimes we forget that great brands start inside. Before companies can show and tell the outside world about their awesome products and services, they must pay important and mindful attention to the team members who create and are responsible for engineering those amazing brand experiences. Internal branding can sometimes be overlooked or lower on a corporation’s list of active priorities than it should be.

And by mad I mean actually passionate about your work in a good way, in a can’t-wait-to-build-the-brand-in-some-new-way-today kind of way?

Sometimes we forget that great brands start inside. Before companies can show and tell the outside world about their awesome products and services, they must pay important and mindful attention to the team members who create and are responsible for engineering those amazing brand experiences. Internal branding can sometimes be overlooked or lower on a corporation’s list of active priorities than it should be.

As I lead interdepartmental meetings these days with my clients, I often hear comments like these from our face time “group genius” gatherings:

  • “We really should connect as a group more often.”
  • “I now understand your department better.”
  • To a co-worker: “I never knew what you did!”
  • “Oh, that’s why we do that! That makes sense now.”
  • “How come I never heard this before?”
  • “We need to tell the rest of the team this!”

Building passionate brand ambassadors and an engaging culture should be high on every brand leader’s “must do” list. Companies like Southwest Airlines and Zappos.com consider these internal branding strategies core to their successful business models. Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines, says, “our people are our single greatest strength and most enduring long-term competitive advantage.”

And these Zappos’ core values lay the groundwork for its notable and enviable culture:

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I’m blessed to work with clients like these who are positively mad about what they do! I recently had three experiences of working again with long-term clients. I hadn’t been on-site to their respective offices for almost a year. I smiled as I saw reconfigured offices to allow for more collaboration, customer comments boldly displayed on walls, brand storytelling by happy customers sprinkled throughout the entire office and profiles of customer segments/personas highlighted throughout the company. These brand leaders were so thrilled to show me how they’ve elevated the importance of internal branding and what it’s meant to their employees. Internal branding matters.

Sara Florin, senior director of creative services for SmartPak, the Zappos of the equestrian industry, was delighted to share one recent event she led to help the rest of this fast-paced entrepreneurial organization learn more about all that her talented department handles. Here’s how she describes it: “Our energetic, passionate creative department is constantly working on bigger and better ways to market our products, but not everyone in the company understands the scope or details of what we do. We wanted to take time to celebrate our accomplishments and show off our capabilities in a fun and formal way. Inspired by the hit show “Mad Men,” we hosted an open house and cocktail hour so we could show off our “mad style.”

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“We dressed up to fit the era, served 60s-inspired food and cocktails to encourage attendance, and set up displays of our recent work. With over 50 people from other departments attending throughout the hour, we were able to demystify the creative process and present ourselves as a polished, professional in-house creative team that could rival any external agency. And we got to have a lot of fun doing it!”

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Activities like hosting a “Mad Men”-themed party may not fit your brand personality, but why not brandstorm some ideas that might help your team members empathize more with all the various roles and responsibilities needed to create your brand experience. Identify activities that engage co-workers from cross-functional areas, inspire collaboration, and just plain add fun and playfulness to all the hard work in building remarkable customer experiences.

So go ahead, get mad … in a good way!