Shawn Parr: Why Service Is The Final Frontier For Brand Excellence

As a frequent traveler, the CEO of Bulldog Drummond is often being served. Here he describes what he has found are the pillars of good customer relations.

When I say I travel a lot for business, there’s not an ounce of male exaggeration in that statement. I fly the skies on multiple airlines, many legs and on various types of planes, navigating this beautiful and vast continent of ours. There are many weeks it feels like I’m in the air more than I’m on the ground. I like to think of myself as a business explorer rather than a road warrior, voyeuristically observing my surroundings, noting and documenting the idiosyncrasies and similarities of every traveling human and town I encounter across the country. I marvel at the number of people traveling every single day by plane, train and automobile; and I’m here to tell you there is absolutely nothing glamorous or pleasant about domestic travel.

When I travel, the original Star Trek series often comes to mind. The creators laid out a vision, with imagined products and gadgets they thought would be a reality in the future. Things that seemed highly imaginative have become a reality today. Every episode opened with a voiceover saying that space was the final frontier; and while Richard Branson now has that covered, there is little that is more important than the service frontier.

Great service is a rarity rather than the norm, and I find myself constantly disappointed. I have hundreds of opportunities each week to experience the service of many providers in the travel business and it is for the most part average and forgettable. More often than not, staff at all parts of the chain are disengaged or insincere when dealing with their customers. So, when I do experience great service it jumps out and hugs me. Without excellent service the customer experience is forgettable at best. The money spent on the physical spaces and experiences mean very little to guests unless they are paired with memorable and attentive service.

We are fortunate to work with many large brands that value their people and are extremely committed to elevating their service experience. While in the middle of numerous cultural, service and experience design projects that span hospitality, health and fitness, and food service industries, I began searching for inspiration.

When are two stars better than four?

Focusing on the star theme, the ultra luxury hotel chain, Capella Hotels, has a celestial namesake that is a double star. I recently had the opportunity to visit their property in Cabo San Lucas on some field research and was thrilled and surprised by the exceptional customer service I experienced. They claim to have built a brand that represents the dual relationship and intimacy between some of the most luxurious hotels in the world and the guests they hold in the highest esteem. They delivered on their promise: “service that has no equal”. The staff was genuinely engaged, happy in their roles and delighted to serve. They carefully attended to my every need and interacted with the utmost respect. After doing some research, it was no surprise that the management team behind this world-class operation comes from the renowned Ritz-Carlton Group.

Feel the Hamptonality 

There are a number of shining stars in the galaxy of travel options, and one that shines out among the crowd is Hampton. Working with Hilton Hotels, we’ve come to appreciate the level of commitment and investment they put into training and engaging their employees and customers. The focus they emphasize on creating a living and breathing guest-centric culture is unparalleled. Once you visit one of their properties you will experience that individual and attentive level of service firsthand. Their model is built on the notion that if you unlock each staff member’s individuality and strengths each will deliver a genuine level of Hampton hospitality. What they describe as Hamptonality can be experienced from property to property, and their service consistency is remarkably high for an organization that is franchise-driven.

How a little chips and salsa can get your guests talking

Every afternoon at Capella Pedregal a bowl of fresh tortilla chips and salsa and two chilled bottles of Corona are left in your room. Perfectly timed and appropriately themed for the location, this simple daily delight is remarkably effective in getting guests excited about service and a reminder that it’s the small touches that count.

Goodbye or Good Riddance: why the departure experience matters 

It’s easy for service staff to greet you on arrival and make you feel special, but it’s just as important to think about your guest’s departure experience. Whether it’s exiting a plane, departing a hotel or restaurant, how you’re treated as you exit is the very last impression, and possibly a key prompter that will encourage a return visit.

Why “It’s my pleasure” genuinely means “It’s their pleasure”

When you stay at one of the Ritz-Carlton properties, you will experience ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. Their service values are building blocks for what drives their staff on how to engage with customers. While this might sound mechanical, it drives an amazingly consistent service experience across the entire hotel and sets expectations for all staff members.

Word of mouth and loyalty are ultimately driven by a leadership culture of service

As a company, your quality of service is a direct result of your leadership strategy and your priorities. If serving your guests is not a priority, you’ll never get the credit, satisfaction or the superior business results you’re seeking. Defining what your brand of service looks and feels like, then setting a meaningful and actionable platform to engage every employee with clear expectations is paramount to success. The level of importance you put on genuine customer service will play a major part in determining your company’s sustainable, competitive differentiation. Is service a pain or a pleasure, a forethought or an afterthought?

Shawn Parr is the CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego. Clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, Ideo, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie’s Homegrown, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen, and World Vision. Follow the conversation at @BULLDOGDRUMMOND.

[Image: Flickr user  blueflytechnologies]

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