“Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” This quote from Peter F. Drucker captures the essence of how to make exceptional service delivery possible in any hospitality or business setting. The philosophy and tangible actions of anyone in a leadership or management role will steer employee behaviors in the direction of service excellence–or quite the opposite. The words, interactions and thoughts reflected in any one leader’s style will rub off and influence all those with whom he or she comes into contact.
When the leader of a new casino effort and entertainment venue began outlining the game plan for the project, he directed his team to focus on customer service as a key competitive strategy to distinguish them from the competition. He talked about all the factors that might influence any one service experience and really seemed to get how important it was for employees to be engaged and positive about their roles so that they could do the same for guests. He noted the need for training to make sure all facets of exceptional service delivery were in place and reflected a strong commitment to making that happen. However, as he continued to meet with his team, he started using words like “penalty” if members of his team or employees did not achieve his version of success. He wanted to have consequences for not delivering exceptional service instead of focusing on all the positive ways to encourage and inspire the exact thing he desired. He was missing the major play of the game and for a casino, was making a bet on the wrong hand. He instilled fear and a lack of trust in his embryonic team instead of building the team and lifting everyone’s vision to higher sights.
Hospitality leaders need to create an optimistic environment and encourage positive energy and efforts if they want employees to deliver positive energy and efforts for guests. Employers need to have faith and belief in what employees can do and not what they can’t. Incentives will always produce stronger and more lasting results than penalties. This leader’s intentions may have been good but he failed in understanding a basic foundation of leadership and how he could get the winning results he wanted.
True leaders know how to not only bring out the best in their employees, they know how and when to celebrate the best when it happens. My family stopped in to a Starbuck’s in a small town on a long drive, a few days before Christmas. It was a dark evening, pouring rain, cold and windy and we still had a long way to go. We needed hot chocolate and coffee , were in a hurry and just wanted to run in and out. The store was empty except for Supervisor Brian and his colleagues Cameron B. and Brittany B. in Milledgeville, Georgia. They were immediately engaging, welcoming and empathetic to our tired dispositions. We ended up spending more time and money than we had planned as it just felt so comfortable to be in their store. We kept noticing new gift ideas and merchandise and their positive vibe made us feel positively about purchasing much more than coffee! They even tried to give us some gift ideas for our dog. Supervisor Brian ended up comping our coffee in appreciation for our extra business. He was empowered to show his leadership on the line and his colleagues followed his caring style. I called Tony Brooks, District Manager, to compliment him on this team. His reaction was pure delight and he could not wait to share this story with his managers and began to plan a surprise to celebrate the Milledgeville team. He expressed tremendous satisfaction in knowing that his own leadership concepts were meaningful to his team. Winning results keep coming to those who recognize, encourage and celebrate winning results.
Keeping employees engaged, like the Starbucks team example, is essential to long term success. A new research report by Temkin Group, Employee Engagement Benchmark Study, showed that highly engaged employees are more committed to helping their company succeed, less likely to take sick days, more likely to do good things that are unexpected, and more likely to make recommendations for improvements-all key ingredients for service excellence. Highly engaged employees come from those companies that focus on all aspects of the customer experience and who are led by managers who actively demonstrate the service excellence behaviors they desire.
When employees see their leaders actually leading by example, they feel good about their work and are more motivated to satisfy their guests. Guests and customers in general feel good when they deal with companies who seem to treat their people well and care about their environment. Ernesto Aragon, Guest Service Director at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida is that consummate service excellence role model and is a walking, talking example of service leadership at all times. No matter how busy, how demanding, how complicated any situation may be, Ernesto remains gracious and calm which instills the same behaviors in his team. In a recent walk with him around his property, he stopped several times, to pick up a scrap of paper, hold a door open for a guest, adjust patio furniture that was askew and prop a door open for a fellow employee, all without missing a beat of his conversation with me. His actions were seamless, natural and caring and reflected the same commitment to the guest experience and his property as those he expected from the frontline employees who report to him.
Employees respond to respect, caring actions and communications just as much as guests do. Leaders who deliver that respect, show they care and positively and proactively communicate will get more than satisfied employees. Satisfied employees are more likely to produce satisfied guests. Satisfied guests make the employees experience more satisfying. Satisfied employees stay longer and give more. Satisfied guests stay longer and come back. Each service game gets better with statistics like these!
Those in charge can be even greater in their service success through leadership and engaged employees. Know the employees and what makes them tick. Even if knowing each employee is impossible, find ways to make management’s contacts personal which will cause employees to do the same for guests. Everyone wants to feel acknowledged and know that his or her role, no matter how small, makes a difference in the overall guest experience.
Rosa Mexicano Restaurants, known as “the gold standard in upscale modern Mexican Cuisine,” according to a Zagat survey, feature ten locations from New York to Miami to Los Angeles. At their South Beach, Miami location, two guests had the opportunity to experience one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, award winning Guacamole en Molcajete, prepared tableside. Eunique, the waitress, was especially vibrant and excited as she brought this “guacamole experience” to life. When asked why she was so enthusiastic, she proudly told us that she had “won” the guacamole making contest inspired by President and CEO Howard Greenstone. The contest was not only a training tool but a way to inspire and motivate employees to give guests a true treat though both taste and presentation. Mr. Greenstone himself recognized Eunique and gave her a special award which really meant a lot to her.
Eunique went on to say that she had moved to Miami from the mid-west, got the job with Rosa Mexicano and loved it. She then received another offer and moved on to another restaurant only to recognize that the leadership she experienced at Rosa Mexicano was something she missed. She came back and jumped right back in to a job she loved and appreciated which then rubbed off on guests. Mr. Greenstone and his team had found ways to make management’s contacts personal which in turn instilled loyalty and caused Eunique and her fellow employees to do the same for guests.
Treat employees as the best customers and they will treat guests to the experiences that matter most. Be a service role model from head to heart before expecting employees to do the same.
Roll out the red carpet and start at the top because a “Red Carpet Attitude will ONLY HAPPEN if it truly starts at the Top!” Executives who embrace the winning potential of service-focused leadership will see benefits to the bottom line, the rewards of loyal , motivated employees and the guests that keep on coming back. Odds are those will be winning results and the guest scores that matter…. every time!