Dial it Down

In the service industry today, intense competition has created a market saturated with professionals willing to utilize every trick in the book to stay afloat or set themselves apart from the rest. Increasingly, their efforts are focused on how to create a meaningful experience for the customer. For me, a meaningful experience is achieved through a fine-tuned approach to customer service. In the words of my friend, author and motivational speaker Simon T. Bailey, efforts need to be all about “customer love.” It’s very much about delivering the right service, in appropriate amounts, at the right time for the customer.

Basic customer service is no longer enough. However, there is an extremely fine line between service that makes you comfortable and service that is so overprescribed that it becomes invasive. You don’t have to try that hard to make someone welcome. It almost seems as if the general manager of a hotel or resort has gone to all the competition, gathered every possible service protocol and then over-enlisted them into his or her own service procedures and manuals.

I’ve always said that a great style comes from ruthless editing, from the ability to figure out what is right and wrong and how to engage the guest in a meaningful and sincere manner. A perfect example of what not to do is an experience I recently had while spending time at a high-end spa in a well-known five-star hotel on the Mexican Riviera. I arrived at the spa and immediately noted the attentiveness of the staff. However, as the minutes and hours passed, I was approached 20-plus times by staff asking, “How are you Mr. Cowie?” “Can I get you anything, Mr. Cowie?” “Are you enjoying yourself, Mr. Cowie?”

The attention bordered the line of incessancy enough that what should have been a sanctuary became an intrusion into my Zen space. The spa experience itself was eclipsed by the constant interruption, and I felt as though my personal space was being invaded. I wasn’t going to say anything until a spa attendant got onto all fours in an attempt to put my slippers on me. That was enough.

The takeaway here is that sometimes, less is indeed more. It’s all about finding the right balance. The proactive service industry needs to take it down a notch and place value on understanding how to provide a memorable and non-automated client experience.

What I’m experiencing is service providers that are “training” their employees, rather than educating them. You do not train employees. Training is meant for tactical people in the military and for dogs. When people are customer-facing, we need to educate them, teach them how to read customers and give them the skillset and tools that, when combined with common sense, will allow them to invoke the right service gestures. This is not an easy task, and that’s why so few service providers get it right. They train people to deal with given situations versus complex situations that require the service provider to stop and think, and then figure out the intelligent way to react.

As service is definitely the differentiator, it’s easy to make the mistake of trying too hard. Exemplary service is about finding that fine red line and knowing how and when to stay behind it. Put simply: We have to dial it down and select the appropriate service delivery to ensure the right, meaningful experience.

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