Hospitality 2.0

Build a Hospitality Culture...or Die

This time of year is loaded with lists...of things you should and shouldn't do. This one by Guy Kawasaki may be one of the most complete I've ever read. It's practically a book full of advice given in a few paragraphs. While he intended it for small business, it applies to everyone, big or small.

Not surprisingly, my favorite point is the first one...put likeable, competent people on the front line. Seems like a no brainer. But, virtually every company does exactly the opposite. They let the lowest paid, least experienced talent make the first impressions. This is a culture developed by big business out of desparation...desparation to control every aspect of a customer interaction. Unfortunately, it often backfires. That's why small business is making a strong comeback, using hospitality...meaningful interactions and personal build a loyal audience of raving fans and stealing market share in the process. Yes, there's plenty of stumbling in the process. But, who cares, as long as the customer is happy and there's enough in the financial tank to open tomorrow.

The smaller the business, the easier it is to put your best people on the firing line. It just works out naturally. The coffee shop owner is the barista, the the innkeeper is at the front desk, etc. But, as your business grows past one or two it becomes exponentially problematic. We're taught (in business school and by experience in other large companies) that when you add staff, you need to add managers to manage control what and how much the group produces. We're taught that this is actually the coveted spot in the organization, first to manage front line workers, then to manage managers and so on. So, as one gets "smarter", they move further and further away from the customer. The irony is that as we move away from our customer, we actually get dumber. A dumber organization with more layers, i.e., smart is that?

So, what to do...

The extreme would be to put the highest paid, most experienced group up front. But, this is financially challenging and organizationally ineffective, especially as you grow. The reality is that bigger means there's more administrative stuff to do. Here's a compromise. Make sure that more than half, closer to two thirds of your management (assuming they're the most competent and likeable) spend more time on the front line with their staff than in an office or cube. This means two things need to happen. Non-customer related work needs to be reduced or shifted elsewhere. If it's non-essential to building a loyal fan base, let someone else do it, i.e., outsourcing. Secondly, build a hospitality culture by hiring people who want to be near the customer. This is the hardest part. Odds are, you're not going to find them in the traditional business school or at a large firm. So, if your priority is to build a hospitality culture (it should be), stop looking there. That means you'll need to either grow your own or find some in small business. Small business produces the most likeable and nimble talent on the planet...out of necessity. They either serve the customer remarkable well or they die. These people can infuse your company with the hospitlaity culture you need to be front line focused. Likely, they'll also be the ones that don't follow rules well or know how develop a fifty- page strategic plan. But remember, your customer isn't buying those things. They're buying likeable people who can quickly solve their problems. So, please get some.





Good Service Disruption

This is what good service looks like...

  • Good service is attentive, friendly, warm and correct.
  • People who perform good service are polite, they smile and use your name.
  • Businesses providing good service are ethical, spend time training employees and apologize when things don't work out.

Here's the problem...if this is all you do, it's probably not good enough. Sure, there are plenty of companies that fail at the basics. And that gives you the edge. Being good enough earns you a fair share of a mediocre market and allows you to charge an average price for an average experience. But then there are also organizations that do more. They choose to do something really hard, create a new edge and be remarkable. They get attention, then trial and eventually erode your share of the average market.

So, you can choose to provide normal and expected good service and hope no one disrupts your plan. Or you can create your own insurance policy and be the disruptor.

Good service is the minimum expectation. It's the place to start. Not the place to rest or build an empire on.

Hospitality Work Available- Only Artists Need Apply

If you’ll agree that a primary goal of any company is to create an audience of loyal raving fans, then you might consider the following…

Simply making something better or cheaper isn’t effective any more. You’re not likely to own cheapest or best quality. But, you have a really good chance of being the best in your market at the delivery…the use of care, warmth and comfort as your edge. The best chance to accomplish this is to infuse the Art of Hospitality into everything you do.

I define the Art of Hospitality this way…give people more than they want, deliver it in a meaningful way, and show them you care. Please give attention to some key words…

  • Give vs. Sell
  • Meaningful vs. Average/Expected
  • Show vs. Tell

Now, here’s the hardest and most important step to reaching your goal…hiring the artists to do the work. Recruiting and hiring an artist is different than hiring someone to complete tasks. The idea flow goes like this…

If we are here to deliver the Art of Hospitality, we require artists.

If we require artists, we don’t need people who just do jobs.

If being an artist requires passion and enthusiasm for something, we deserve to know if a person has it.

They should show us. Not just tell us in an interview.

Artists can’t wait to show you what they’ve done.

If a person is an artist, how will their art and passion help our organization move forward?

Bonus: Can they lead? Do they solve interesting problems…in an interesting way?


  • Remarkable vs. Same/Fit-In
  • Robin Williams Effect vs. Order Taker

Every time we have a job opening, we have a chance to hire someone remarkable…an artist. Sometimes, we settle for less. We shouldn’t…because it greatly limits our ability to achieve our goal.


  • Easy vs. Hard
  • Fill a Job vs. Sacrifice Short-Term Gain to Hold-Out for the Best
  • Focus on Trainable (Function/Technical/Efficiency) vs. Non-Trainable (Personality/Caring/Enthusiasm/Passion/Delivery)

Reverse Customer Care

If your client had a blog, would you read it every day?

If your customers have blogs, do you and your team care enough to subscribe to them?

Why do you expect these same people to subscribe to your email newsletter or your Twitter stream when you don’t return the favor?

Breaking Tradition

People change. Expectations change. The market forces us to get better and constantly improve. Hospitality offerings today are much different (and mostly better) than they used to trumps old. Tradition evolves.

Most of us care enough to adjust practices to adapt to ever changing service expectations. Generally, we understand that if we don't change, someone new is going to come along and take our place. But, as you venture away from center...away from the core group delivering the experience...this comprehension depreciates. And sometimes, quite rapidly.

I recently sat in on some property management software training, specifically the "front desk" module. The very first thing I the check-out screen, the cursor begins in the "room number" field. So, I asked the trainer..."can we change it so the cursor begins in the name field?"..."no, can't do it without rewriting the program code." Great, so we've been asking our front line employees to use guest names instead of room numbers for as long as I can remember, but the software can't be changed to accommodate that. Ridiculous. Obviously, the software company isn't selling hospitality, they're selling program code, check-out efficiency, i.e., software. They're stuck on traditional means and methods. And, that's a huge problem.

What's the biggest obstacle to delivering restaurant quality meals in a banquet setting? Probably moving the food from a central kitchen to the meeting room, and holding it until the group is ready to eat. So, why not design a mini kitchen at or near each meeting room allowing food to go from oven to plate to guest along an uninterrupted path? That would eliminate hot carts and allow you to cook to order (not from scratch). Too expensive? Not when you factor in how many people are going to leave your events completely underwhelmed...having experienced yet another mediocre banquet meal. Is the kitchen consultant selling hospitality...or kitchen equipment? Is the chef pushing you to deliver a meaningful dining experience? Or, are these people stuck in tradition?

If building strong relationships with your current customers is the key to finding new ones, why isn't your marketing firm pushing you to find ways of developing a permission asset? Why aren't they requiring you to ask every current customer to stay in touch? Why aren't they pushing you to spend more on creating newsletters, personal email communications, blogs and handwritten thank you notes than traditional advertising campaigns? Why aren't they moving you out of traditional marketing and into new marketing?

We're pretty good at evolving our own troops and motivating people to deliver better results. But, what about those companies we rely on as partners? Are they pushing us and moving us forward? Or, are they taking an easier more traditional path just to sell their product or earn a fee?


Rules are good for a lot of things...keeping airplanes and cars apart, managing kids at school, getting people paid on time, etc. But, as much as they make things orderly, they can really hamper your chance of being remarkable, especially in hospitality. This was the scene at a local shopping center at 10 AM. Out of camera range were five other similar congregations...just waiting to get in other stores. Guess what time this store opens, yep...10 AM. So, does it make sense for a shop keeper to keep a group of people waiting outside in the heat until the rules say it's time to open? Of course, not. It makes more sense to welcome people as they arrive, even a few minutes early, invite them in, offer them a cool drink and allow them to browse while you get the register fired up. That's what a shop keeper who's livelihood depended on every customer would do. Problem is...not many of them around. But, plenty of clerks following rules.

Agency Problem

Some agencies haven't made the shift. They haven't embraced the idea that broadcast messaging is becoming less effective every day. They continue to develop the same ad campaigns, 1.0 websites and press releases. They buy 3 million dollar ad spots during the super bowl.

Connecting with an audience has always been the goal of promotion strategy. Not so long ago, shouting at people was your best chance of reaching them. Now, it's fast becoming the worst. It's a good thing technology has come to the rescue. It moves the power from the company to the customer and gives the little guy a chance. It allows a business to keep in touch with fans and find new ones without beating them over the head with the same message hundreds or thousands of times. It allows an agency to create a network of raving fans for a fraction of the cost of producing TV or print ads. The work isn't's just different. In fact, it's harder because it's personal. Sending handwritten thank you's is harder than email. Creating interesting blog posts is challenging...a banner ad campaign isn't. Visiting with each customer while they're in your shop and getting them to follow your blog is tough...buying an ad in the paper or sending direct mail to a chamber list isn't. 

Agencies can be wonderful. They open doors you can't. They know people you don't. And, some of them keenly understand the new marketing order. Be careful, some don't...choose wisely.

This post inspired by...Good News and Bad News on Marketing Budgets


It doesn't matter what you do really. Whether you're selling a car, ice cream or a hotel stay, the goal shouldn't be to meet someone's should be to do something unexpected. That's what gets people to talk, write and come back.

  • If someone is expecting to arrive at your hotel and stand in line to check in...greet them at the door and take them directly to their room (happens here)
  • If someone is expecting to see photo's of a car you're them a video
  • if someone is expecting you to charge them for extra cheese...give them a choice of three kinds...for free
  • if someone is expecting an electronic confirmation after signing up for a newsletter...send them a handwritten thank you note
  • if someone is expecting you to say no...say yes instead

Do what you can to move away from the norm...deviate whenever possible.


People like efficiency...not automation. People want to feel special...not part of a program. Every time you place someone in an automated telephone answering sequence and force them to go down a predetermined path, there's a good chance you'll lose them...if not at the outset, then at some point when the paths don't work for them.

If you're stuck with an automated system, the first choice should include talking with a live questions asked, 24 hours a day (or, at least anytime the business is open). Anything less is inhospitable. 


Picked this up from Tom Peters' Thanksgiving post...

"Make no mistake, the keys to surviving and thriving, as individuals and organizations, will not primarily be the “out of the box” cleverness of our “strategic response,” but instead individual and organizational character as expressed by the depth and breadth of relationships throughout our individual or organizational networks."

It's his answer to the seemingly insurmountable, but doable, global economic crisis. Spot on. Ask yourself...are you the type of person or organization people gravitate toward and enjoy doing business with?

Even in tough times, the job remains the a loyal audience of raving fans, that is, focus on relationships...showing people you care.

Happy Thanksgiving

Why The Resume is Dead

I've riffed about this before. Since then, I, was included in a group of business and HR experts who were invited to weigh-in on the subject by the Albany Times Union. I encourage you to read the interesting and varying perspectives (find them about halfway down the page on the Class conflict blog) on whether resumes remain effective. I found Brandon Mendleson's (the graduate student reporter who invited me) post a nice summary of the problem...and a pointer to the solution.

Static websites can't compete with 2.0 experiences in conveying what you might feel when using a product or service. Text doesn't work well without pictures. Sound and animation (video) brings a product to life. Why would you expect words in a word document to accurately portray your personal micro brand? To oversimplify, one dimensional tools don't work well in a three dimensional world...and, we're fast approaching the fourth dimension.

Idea Flow

How many ideas can you handle each day? One, five, a dozen? Personally, I like a continual flow. It shows that the tribe is thinking, creating...perhaps even pushing me around a bit. I much prefer this bombardment problem to the occasional, well thought out (safe), perfect solution...which , by the way, is almost never as effective as one of those crazy, off the wall thoughts.

So, go ahead, send a hundred thousand comments and emails...I would enjoy hearing from you.

Christmas Cards


I'm not one for writing Christmas cards...or any cards for that matter. I think it comes from having such bad least that's my excuse (my mother never bought it either). In any case, why not abandon or at least augment the hand cramp tradition with a video. Simple idea really...probably been done. Create a short "Merry Christmas/Happy Birthday/Insert any special occasion" video for each of your clients and post to Youtube. Get line staff involved, dress up as Santa...have some fun with it. I bet it gets passed around more than the paper version.

Another Resume Problem...

is that what people really want to know about you is in between the lines. They want the story that isn't obvious. They want the picture of you on top of the mountain or with your dog. They want to hear how you would react to a financial crisis or guest complaint. They want to read the last performance appraisal you wrote. They want to see what your passionate about...what makes you tick. How is a resume going to accomplish that?

From The Drawing Pad...The Left Hand Should Always Know What the Right Hand Knows


It used to be tougher...meetings, memos, phone calls and lot's of time put into keeping the other side informed...just so you could keep from looking foolish. Now, there's hardly an makes it easy and fast. But, somehow, people still find ways to create the gaps...those companies eventually die.