Customer Experience News & Trends

Setting the standard: 5 companies we should all be chasing

The best companies make providing outstanding customer experiences look effortless by setting the right standards and systems behind the scenes

Granted, most companies don’t just wing it when it comes to customer service. They have plans, processes and procedures in place. They create departments, groups and special teams to provide service and make it better.

But many miss an important cornerstone: Standards.

“To be great at (customer experience) means to excel at building and maintaining standards and systems that allow your business to create a repeatable result for its customers across a wide variety of situations and with a changing cast of employees,” says Micah Solomon, author of The Heart of Hospitality.

Sounds like a tall order. But it’s neither impossible or unavoidable if you want to provide a five-star customer experience.

“To the extent that your efforts are even noticed, great hospitality should appear to be the result of a group of thoughtful employees spontaneously choosing to do their jobs quickly, efficiently and cheerfully,” Solomon says.

How? Take cues from what these five hospitality companies have done to build and maintain standards that make them a cut above the rest:

1. Be specific with your standards

If there’s a gold standard for standards, it’s probably The Ritz-Carlton. They have 3,000 brand standards across 90 hotels. In addition to organizational standards, many different standards apply to specific departments.

For example, if you work at a front desk, the standard is to answer ringing phones within three rings. Or, if you tend bar, you know and practice the standard for how to garnish each kind of cocktail.

The bottom line: Standards can and should trickle right down to the smallest details and tasks that affect the customer experience.

2. Know all the standards

While everyone in the company may not have to practice all the standards — the front desk attendant doesn’t need to worry about how many cherries to put in a Shirley Temple — everyone should know about them.

For instance, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts has a “door click” standard, Solomon explains. There’s a reassuring sound that doors should make when they close behind exiting guests. It tells guests their door closed and their belongings are safe in the room.

If a housekeeper doesn’t hear that special click, she knows it’s time to call a maintenance engineer to repair the door. It’s unlikely most guests would know about or notice a click differential.

But the standard is set, known by all and, therefore, it is maintained.

3. Act on standards before being asked

Customers don’t need to know about your standards and systems for maintaining them. But when things go wrong, they need to see them in action — effortlessly.

A personal example from Solomon: He was about to enjoy a cool ice cream cone on a scorching day at a Six Flags Theme Park. Then he dropped the ice cream off the cone. His first thought was to go get back in line, explain what happened and likely pay for another.

But behind the scenes, a plan was already in place. Employees know this happens. And the standard when they witness it is to take the customer to the stand, and without waiting, replace the ice cream cone.

When everyone knows how to respond before customers even request help, the experience is saved before it’s ever marred.

4. Make standards easy to execute

Some standards, such as the technical and government, or industry-regulated kind, are more difficult to execute. They take special training and need considerable monitoring.

But the standards that dictate how customers are treated usually don’t have to be rigid. They should be easy to execute because the end result is simple: Make customers happy.

For instance, employees at Montage Resorts are taught and reminded of the “4 S” framework for working with customers. The idea is to Stop, Stand, Smile and offer a Solution in all encounters. It’s easy to remember and should be effortless to execute when employees’ focus is solely on customers.

5. Set recovery standards

Most standards are created as proactive measures to satisfy and delight customers. But you can’t overlook the importance of having standards to follow when things go wrong.

Even when the best standards are set, maintained and practiced, you’ll have to recover from a mistake, misstep or miscommunication.

The Inn of Little Washington has orchestrated a recovery so elegant that it’s almost difficult to recognize that a mistake occurred. Say a guest or a member of the wait staff spills a glass of red wine on a table. Nearly the entire service staff steps into action, practically stopping what they’re doing (unless it’s directly helping another customer).

They hurry to the affected table. Two staff members clear the table, while another grabs a new cloth and spreads it. Two others place a new set of dishes and glassware on the table, while the sommelier replaces the spilled glass of wine. The food is refreshed or replaced in the kitchen and flowers are placed back on the table.

Everyone knows his or her role in the recovery and performs it in a matter of minutes during an “Emergency Clear.” And customers barely notice a bump in the experience. Or are wowed by the choreography of a perfected recovery.

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