Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Lesson On Customer Service

The Harvard Business Review daily email last week had some comments on Strategy's Golden Rule. I found it rather intriguing. They stated that:

The single most common competitive mistake investors, CEOs, and entrepreneurs alike make is this: striving to do slightly better what their fiercest rival already does incredibly well. The result is usually a muddled, incoherent mess of a strategy — one that fuels not disruptive, explosive differences between a firm and its rivals, but their very opposite: bland, boring similarities. Most companies are competitively challenged — and the Golden Rule of Strategy is how I triage them. It says:

"What your fiercest rival does badly, do incredibly well." In difference lie the seeds of disruption. In similarity, only obsolescence, and decay.

HTG just finished a week of meetings at the Omni Mandalay Hotel in Los Colinas Texas. We had a fantastic week there, due in large part to a staff that understands customer service. The Omni practices the idea of being really good at what many of their competitors don’t do well at – exceeding customer expectations. To be totally honest, the venue is busting at the seams when we are there. But the service is so good and our experience has been so fantastic that we continue to come back and have our expectations exceeded year after year. Customer service is about the customer and that is what the folks at the Omni seem to really understand. They do all the things you would expect any decent hotel venue to do – nice rooms, good food, clean etc. But they go above and beyond which is what really sets them apart from my perspective. Here are a few of the little things that really caught my attention.

We arrived on Saturday a full day ahead of our event. We were greeted with a couple 20 ounce bottles of Diet Mountain Dew (DMD) and boxes of Junior Mints. If you know me at all – DMD is my drink of choice and Junior Mints my wife’s snack of choice. We have not stayed at the Omni for a full year and they remembered those items and made sure we had them in our room. Not just any snacks and cold drinks – the ones we really like. Not only was DMD available at check in – but during the event there were random bottles of DMD among the Coke products that are the norm at the Omni. That is customer service and exceeding expectations.

I recall my first stay at the Omni I had informed the coffee shop that Chai Tea was really my preference over Starbucks regular coffee drinks. I always ask for that everywhere I travel – Chai is just better than coffee to me. They didn’t have it there the first day a few years ago, but they tracked me down the second day and on every subsequent stay since they always have Chai Tea. I have no idea if it is part of their normal menu, but when HTG is in the house they certainly do. I travel extensively and can tell you that few hotel Starbucks carry Chai, and no other hotel has ever offered or made the effort to have it in their coffee shop or DMD in my room due to customer request. Except the Omni – they exceeded my expectations again.

We had one setup snafu on the first day of our peer group meetings. We discovered it about 20 or 30 minutes prior to HTG3 starting – and within 15 minutes a team of about 10 folks turned that room and had us ready for action. That included some of the management staff – they didn’t just assign it – they dove in and made sure things were as expected. Part of great customer service is the ability to correct things that sometimes don’t go as planned. That happened and expectations were met.

The banquet team fed us too well, but their serving a group of 300 plus is an art form. The food was hot, it came quickly and they were not disruptive to our packed agenda. One of the waiters pulled me aside during a lull in the action and shared a little of the shenanigans that happen among the staff there. Seems he hid in the bathroom and scared a fellow teammate early one morning before things got started. It is those little personal things that make the relationship real and alive. The food exceeded expectations, particularly the fact we had BBQ on the menu this year!

Before I left the week I was privileged to have a drink with Chad and Terri who are part of the sales team at the Omni. They called and personally invited me to spend a little time reviewing the event, asking what could be done better, and pondering things we can do to take it a level further next year. They didn’t need to do that. We have already signed the contract for 2011. But they made time in their very busy schedule to again exceed my expectations by listening to my feedback, sharing ideas and updating me on the roadmap for improvements at their hotel over the next couple years. It was a valuable time and sincerely appreciated.

To say that the Omni team understands customer service doesn't really capture it. They go beyond - taking advantage in areas their competitors don't - to do the little things that differentiate their hotel. All of the major brands do the basics pretty well. In a market like that - it then comes down to the little touches and personal attention to detail. We can learn a lot from that for the IT space. As we move into the transition to the cloud, when the services are commoditized and differentiation will be difficult, it will be the little things, the personal and small details, that will cause people to not only remain loyal customers but also become raving fans.


Kimberly Nasief-Westergren said...

Great points. It's not just good service, its great service. Its service that cares.

Outsource Call Center said...

Nice post! It really leave a lesson. Anyway, Customer service is vital to the success of any business. Despite how good your product or service is, customer service can make you or it can break you. So you better treat your customer in a very nice way. Thanks for sharing.