Service and Caring

Growing Your Tribe

The folks at Natural Running Store really get it. They understand that you aren't buying shoes. Rather, you're buying attention, special treatment and the feeling that someone cares about you. 

This is a powerful example of how technology can amplify hospitality and help you build an audience of loyal, raving fans vs. simply applying digital to traditional marketing methods, i.e., email blasts and banner ads. 

Don't create billboards, create engagement.



In hospitality we use clues to surprise people...we read them to help us deliver a memorable experience. But, it works the other way around as well. Customers use clues to make buying decisions. And not always the ones a business owner wants them to use. Case in point. The other day I decided to change my insurance company...not because of price or bad coverage...because they insisted on using a fax machine (or worse, the U.S. Postal Service). My decision was based solely on a seemingly trivial point of technology. But my problem wasn’t the fax machine. The fax machine was just a clue. A clue into how the organization they approach business. Do they choose easy over right? Do they do the hard work that gives me what I want? Or, do they stay in safe harbor, expect me to jump through hoops and hope I won’t go away.

Starbucks on the other hand continues to earn my respect, not because they make the best coffee (they don’t), but because they learn, evolve and give me what I want. The other day I forgot my wallet in the car (probably because I was so frustrated about using a fax machine). No worries...Starbucks lets me pay via my smart phone. Pretty slick...saved me a journey back to the car. I also like that innovative idea of the little stoppers that go into the lids so you don’t spill the coffee all over your suit. It’s clear they do the hard work to figure out what their customers want. And I bet they don’t use fax machines.

The more choices, the more clues matter.

Art of Asking Questions

Almost no one seeks to understand a customer. Often, there’s an abbreviation, a stop’s called good customer service. Walking by a table in your restaurant and asking “how was everything?” satisfies your requirement...we did our part. And the customer...”it’s fine”...they did their part. A very simple and pleasant exchange...feels good, good service. What if you went a step further? What if you wanted to know what they thought of the new risotto? How would you approach that? What if you learned they seemed interested in how it was prepared? What if you engaged and invited them into the kitchen? What if the chef took some time to share some insight into her approach to cooking? Once you make the investment in really learning something from people the pay-off is huge. They feel special and you get invite, to learn more, to add another one to the tribe.   

Asking the right questions takes the relationship to a more meaningful place...a place of caring and trust. Asking the wrong questions leaves you with the rest of the pack...just another place...forgettable. 

One Click Wins

These guys get it...

Amazon, iTunes, Highlight Cam, 360 Panorama, Cat in the Hat

They understand that in a world of instant gratification, the company that makes things easier for the user gets the sale. They understand that anything that bogs down the experience causes them to lose customers.

Why ask a repeat customer for their address? Why ask a caller for an account number when they entered it while they were on hold? Why ask someone to upload their videos to a computer, open a program, edit and then transfer the project to Youtube?  Seemingly minor inconveniences become annoyances. Annoyances scare away customers and prospects. You can't eliminate them fast enough.

Work on making it easier for them...not for you.

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.





In Between

We put a lot into figuring out how to improve things for guests. We spend an enormous amount of time on comfort, the meal, the meeting experience and the sales transaction. Not at all a bad thing. But, it turns out that what happens upon arrival and departure is often more important than what happens in between. Essentially, you get one chance to say hello and good bye. Fail in either of these and it's probably a lasting and underwhleming impression.

Treat someone like you genuinely care about them when they show up and when they leave and you'll be doing something different than your competition and vastly improve your chances to make a friend. So, find your best hosts, greeters and personalities and have them train everyone else in the organization. Those that don't make the cut...well, they don't make the cut. You need to draw line somewhere.


When we show up somewhere, at the movie theater, bus station, hotel or a hospital we want our problem solved. Not the other guy's problem. We are looking for personal attention to our concern or desire. Of course, most of the places aren't set up that way. They make us stand in line at the hotel front desk, the bus ticket counter, the grocery check-out line or take a seat in a crowded waiting room. Generally, we all have the same problem or request...register at the hotel, buy a bus ticket or groceries, or we're sick. But, one step further and our needs fragment quickly. One person is at the hotel for a meeting, another on vacation. One person is taking the bus across country, the other to a town an hour away. My child has a broken arm, yours has the flu. Yet, we're all stuffed or channeled into the same place. Why?

Because it's easier for the business...that's the only reason. It would be better (much better) for you and me if someone met us at the door, quickly understood our problem and began solving it...not the other guy's. That means they would listen sort. Going to Cleveland? That requires some additional planning and go there. problem, it's our most popular express ticket option is available here...done. You're here because you feel like you have the flu?...go into this special area (quarantined) with other flu like people. Broken arm? Right this way to Xray.

In business, we have an inherent problem up front, at the sorting point. We bottle neck it. We often combine the least experienced talent with a "process" to solve it..bad combination, for the customer anyway. A better way is to put a lot of energy, time and talent into solving the sorting process. Painful at first, but extremely effective long-term. This is not an area to follow someone's lead. You need to define your own method and category. Southwest did it with open seating. You can too.

One tip...a self-check in kiosk or self check-out scanner is rarely the intelligent person is.

It's Not Our Fault...I Don't Trust You

One of the takeaways from my trip to Zappos headquarters last month...they give every customer the benefit of the doubt. Not some people or when the burden of proof has been met. But, every customer, unconditionally. They do the opposite of what most companies do...if there's a hint of a problem, they assume it's their fault, not the other way around.

Since most of their sales have shifted on-line (like so many other businesses), many of the people that call-in to Zappos have a concern or an order question (at least that was my impression from my time in the call center). And, if Zappos handled these people like most companies, there would be a vetting process to get to the bottom of every situation to guard against unnecessary discounts and refunds. In turn, the call experience would be just as expected...a royal pain in the butt, too long, unsatisfying and more likely down right aggravating. Perfect if you're in the business of average. Thankfully, Zappos is in the business of happiness. So, they simply act that way. They trust you.

Of course, many companies use clever disguises to give you the impression someone cares...a 24 hour support line, a handy "e-mail us" option or even "live chat". I recently had trouble with my Garmin 405CX running watch. So, I called Garmin support, twice, because the first time when I heard my wait time was 35 minutes I thought there was a glitch...there wasn't. I decided on the email option, made my way through the myriad of toggle options and drop down boxes, described my issue and off it went. Moments later I was greeted with an email (see below)...we aim to respond to you within 3 days. So, 35 minutes on the phone or 3 days for an email which will likely just lead to more email. Hmmm, do you think Garmin really has my best interest in mind? Do you think they trust me?

Trusting your customer is required if you want them to trust you. You don't get to do it part time and expect a dividend. Sure, by going into it with blind faith you're going to get burned sometimes. But, not nearly as bad as if you're worried about always being right.

How Do You Do You Provide Exceptional Customer Service?

I saw this question on LinkedIn...

How does your hotel provide exceptional and memorable customer service?

Here's my answer...

It begins with careful reflection on why you do what you do. When you're an innkeeper because you simply enjoy caring for've found the key and most often lost ingredient. Any other purpose defines you as something else and moves you away from hospitality in it's true and root form.

You succeed as an innkeeper (notice I refrain from using hotel manager) by focusing on the meaningful delivery of service...not just the technical components of that service. Checking people in quickly might allow you to achieve productivity goals, but it can erode or destroy a warm, authentic welcome.

Use these filters for every decision...

Does it feel residential?
Does it feel familial?
Does it feel genuine?
Does it feel hand crafted?

And lastly, try to do things that are harder, not easier. Odds are, the guest will benefit.

Of course, there's a lot more to it than hiring the right people. But, this is a good place to start.

Great Service is Overrated

Not because it's not important. But, because it's just the beginning to a magical and memorable hospitality experience. Too often, we focus on perfecting the service, the technical part, and not the hospitality, the delivery and how we make someone feel.

Those who focus on hospitality will outperform the great service providers...every time.


Start with Hospitality

People accept that things break and that systems fail. Almost no one expects perfection with things that are mass produced. It's unrealistic. Weather impacts airline schedules and trash pick-up. A local flu pandemic slows restaurant service. 1 out of 5,000 new computer screens fail. As long as failure falls within normal boundaries, it's accepted.

But people are becoming increasingly intolerant of mediocre delivery. And, they certainly don't accept rudeness, neglect or bullying. They don't have to because someone else is working extra hard, emphasizing hospitality in their organization and placing a high priority on personal care. Someone else puts artful delivery first and darn near everything else second.

So, there's a good case to be made to change the way we think about starting focus first on the how, then on the what. If you can make the delivery meaningful, caring and brilliant, you win...even if your stuff breaks.

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.


In good times, it's easier to find a replacement customer for an existing one in the event things don't work out. Of course, a steady stream of replacements is considered a good is working. Except that it makes us lazy. Why sacrifice everything to retain customers as long as there's a back-up? The obvious answer is that there won't always be one...called lean times.

It's a simple choice, work like heck to create some insurance. Or, hope to get lucky.   

First Hospitality Linchpin Award

At least as far as I know it's the first. Inspired by Seth Godin's latest book, Linchpin, I was determined to replace the traditional and tired "employee of the month" award with something more meaningful. We awarded the first one yesterday...



In business, most decision making goes something like this...problem/opportunity arises, a path is chosen that solves it while satisfying the most people. Of course, the most people aren't always the customer. It's far easier to focus on solving internal problems first, than worrying about the customer. If this weren't true, we wouldn't have counters, automated call centers, or websites that don't work. We wouldn't have accounting processes that frustrate people. And, we wouldn't make people stand in lines without talking with them.

The best customer service organizations don't allow the wrong filters to cloud their judgment. They focus on customers first and everything else second. The companies who make it a priority to be the best at caring for customers don't use efficiency, market share or production goal filters to decide how to treat people. They use these instead: family, friends and home. Companies who care for people like they were friends and family and who welcome people like they were coming into their homes are far more successful than those that don't. It's the old and simple rule...treat others how you would like to be treated. Except, in order to be the best, you need to be fanatical about it. Anything less, and you might as well choose a different path.

Of course, it's no surprise that most of the hotels, restaurants, movie theaters and car repair shops that pull this off are small. There are exceptions. But, not many. Unfortunately, a by product of becoming successful and larger is that you stray toward the wrong filters. So, if you can figure out how to get big and remain win.

Boxed In

I experienced yet another one of those frustrating customer service moments today. This time a company promised through advertising to sell me something for a certain price. Turns out what I was attempting to buy had been discontinued some time ago...they just forgot to change the website. And, in the end, I was out of luck. Of course, this isn't alarming. It happens every day to many, many people. Like you, it happens to me on a regular basis...companies over promise and under news here. What made this particular instance alarming was how three of the five people I spoke with were actually interested in solving my problem and making up for the mistake. They each expressed a sincere apology and empathized. The real problem...they couldn't do anything. The "system", "policies" and "company processes" stood in their way. Here were perfectly capable, caring individuals who couldn't do what was most important...solve a customer problem. What a shame to waste their talent and time this way.

Makes you wonder how long system oriented organizations like this are going to survive. Probably until people like you and companies like this come along, change the rules and disrupt everything.

There's a Sucker Born Every Minute

Not anymore. In fact, there never was. People have never been dumb. Most just weren't motivated to seek an alternative, especially about things that didn't originate in their own town. You knew if farmer John's milk was could ask a neighbor. It was much harder to know if the Sears catalog was lying to you. The problem wasn't smarts. There just wasn't a reliable way to learn. Enter ubiquitous high-speed's internet. It changed everything, especially the rules about keeping people in the dark.

Last week a company tried to sell me spark plugs and spark plug wires for more than five hundred dollars. The same products were available outside the shop for under a hundred. The jig wasn't hard to figure out. When I asked them about it, no problem..."just bring in your own parts". A sucker punch. Here's a national, well recognized brand, categorically ignoring all the new rules of customer care and marketing hoping to pull a fast one on people. What do they really hope to gain? Makes you wonder.

Most trickery is more subtle. An ad campaign that promises the best meal while the restaurant is consistently empty. A website that boasts fabulous customer service while overbooking practices drive people mad.

Try covering up your lousy restaurant.
Try hiding the fact that your hotel is dirty.
Try fooling people to pay more for an airline seat.
Try keeping people from talking with each other about your service.

You can't do it.

On the flip side, try hiding the passion and enthusiasm of your best people.
And, try keeping your secret sauce a secret.
Or, try keeping people from spreading your fabulous idea.

You can't do that either.

So, are you going to do average work, spending time to keep people in the dark, hoping to find a few suckers? Or, are you going to get busy doing things you want people to talk about.

Unfortunately, you have to decide.

Keeping Artists Home

Sometimes you have budding artists on your team. Have you recognized them? Have you nurtured them? Do you have a good chance (or any chance) of keeping them?

Do you…

  • Explore/Harness Passion vs. Give Performance Evaluations
  • Create Groups/Channels of Learning vs. Offer Training Classes

Sometimes you have people on your team that stand in the way…impede your progress and keep their colleagues from being successful artists. What are you doing to challenge them?

These people…

  • Complain vs. Help
  • Follow Instructions vs. Develop New Ideas
  • Do their Job vs. Push the Boundaries

What are you doing to keep the passion and enthusiasm from escaping?

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)