Service Excellence: The Bottom Line of Leadership

Imagine arriving in a lush yet primitive island environment with a new baby in tow…the first real family vacation since adjusting to parenthood. As might be expected in a less developed country, island services led to several initial frustrations, mostly due to untrained personnel and limited resources. As we bounced along roads decorated with potholes, we quickly surmised that our anticipated, relaxing vacation might not end up that way. We began to lower our expectations.

After all, we did choose this less civilized island environment and we were ready to roll with the punches.

Yet, when we arrived at a recommended island resort something happened…. something wonderful.Making each guest feel special and appreciated seemed to be a natural instinct for each employee we met, no matter what time of day. Addressing our specific needs, baby and all, seemed to be a priority from gardeners to housekeepers to bartenders to front desk staff.In spite of and despite economic hardships of the island and a less optimistic tourism atmosphere due to worldwide events, the hotel staff seemed trained and motivated to deliver exceptional service.

Consistent and constant good service like this, at all levels, is rare in today’s world and hard to maintain, especially on an island with less educated and less experienced personnel from whom to choose. Even in major cities, where experienced hospitality employees are more available, keeping those employees continually excellent at each point of contact requires focused attention. Hiring, training, retaining and leading employees with the attitudes that will create the desired guest experience represents a constant challenge.

Usually there is one reason and one reason only for consistent and constant service success—the man or woman at the top. My hunch proved correct. “ A red carpet attitude starts from the top.” Employees continually cited the property’s General Manager as their inspiration and the reason for their enthusiasm and longevity. They were not forced to deliver service excellence; they sincerely wanted to make guests happy. They were equipped with service skills and more importantly attitudes befitting a luxury resort. Most came to the property with no training or role models and ended up being shining service stars.

After I met this General Manager, I was even more delighted. He genuinely cared about his employees and made them feel important even when he was with guests. He’d spent a lot of time getting to know them and empowering them with a strong service sense. He was a property role model and walked the service talk. And the most powerful part of all, his occupancy numbers and repeat guest statistics were up while almost everyone else’s in his market were down. Service excellence does and will impact the bottom line.

The attitude and service spirit of any organization absolutely reflects management’s philosophy and actions. To lead employees in proactive customer service behaviors and encourage their active commitment, management must recognize, understand and practice those same behaviors. General Manager Anthony Bowen and his team at The Windjammer Landing, St. Lucia, in the West Indies did just that and created an experience for our family that far surpassed our expectations.

An effective leader, an evangelist who believes the customer and guest will provide the bottom line profits they need, begins by understanding what to do. Next, he or she accepts, believes, values and internalizes the key concepts they expect of their employees. When both of these take place, these same leaders can “walk the talk.” Desired behaviors only will take place when each leader and their respective managers and supervisors start modeling these behaviors to those they manage.

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.

Employees respond to respect, caring and communications just as much as guests do. 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.

Employees can also be an invaluable source of market data and on the impact of service standards based on their day-to-day experiences with guests and even fellow employees. Employees can be management’s eyes and ears on what makes guests most happy and what causes guests the greatest anxiety. They can help define specific services, tools or resources employees need to better serve guests. Management should determine how to gather this data on a regular basis as well as encourage employees to share their observations through defined communication channels. It is critical that management and the employees they supervise perceive service delivery in the same way and that communication is a constant two-way process.

On the other hand, when needs are not met, uncovered, satisfied or ignored, both guests and employees experience a sense of loss. Perception of loss leads to complaints, turnover and even worse indifferent performance. Employees feel empty and it shows. Guests sense the disconnection and leave disenchanted.

Leadership makes the difference in standards and expectations for service delivery. Even when things do go awry, employees should be prepared and empowered to address guest concerns with realistic service solutions and know that their management will stand behind them.

How can those in charge be even greater in their service success through leadership?

  • Define a specific service philosophy for the property or organization. Once defined, make sure employees understand how to incorporate it into their daily roles. Keep it alive and reinforce its value in all employee communications and meetings. Be a living example on property and off.
  • 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.
  • Beware the “Iceberg of Ignorance”. The majority of the structure lies beneath the surface. So do the majority of problems AND opportunities with employees and in turn, with guests. Hold employees accountable for communication and empower them to “self report” thoughts on how to improve the guest experience as well as their jobs.
  • Define the most desirable guest experience and train employees on each step of delivery. Analyze each point of contact to see how service can flow more smoothly and positively. Find out where the “wow” factor can be added to the service chain of events and reward employees who are doing it. Remove or retrain those that aren’t. Be a “wow” leader with employees and guests.
  • Acknowledge employee concerns, don’t ignore them. Let them know management cares about them as much as guests.
    Hold frequent team meetings with all levels of employees and review current standings and team/company goals. People do what is expected when it is inspected.
  • 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.

Executives who embrace the mantle of service leadership will see benefits to the bottom line, the rewards of loyal and motivated employees and the guests that keep on coming back.