Exceptional Service: Is It Truly About Chandeliers, Crystal Glasses & Marble Floors?

Just like the word “clean”, everyone has their own understanding of what exceptional service is.  Clean for me may be very different from clean for you.  The same is true of service.  To deliver exceptional service, it is important to begin with a clear picture of what it actually is. Exceptional means unusually excellent…not typical…to stand apart. Just recently, I got a cab to take me to the airport.  The driver and I were chatting about the state of the taxi industry, and he told me about a recent customer who tipped him $16 on a $50 fare. The interesting part about the tip is that the customer slept the entire way.  To that customer, on that day, excellent service was to have complete solitude so he could sleep.  To another customer, excellent service would be striking up a conversation about current events in the world. Service is not about the giver, it’s about the recipient.

What is it?

When I was 15 years old, I began my hospitality career as a busboy working in a fine dining French restaurant. I was in awe of the sheer beauty and majesty of the dining room. Chandeliers…Marble Floors…Porcelain plates…Fine Silver…Crystal Glasses…Frette Linens. The menus didn’t even have prices on them. Suffice to say, the service experience had to match or exceed the opulent atmosphere.

I was convinced that exceptional service simply could not exist outside of similarly luxurious environments. Fortunately, I was wrong. Very wrong. I eventually came to realize that true service is about the people. The people who care deeply about their roles, and the privilege they have to serve others in a memorable way. True service is about an uncompromising commitment to excellence and valuing the worth of people. It is a treat to behold those who honor their craft, and it is an even bigger treat to behold an entire organization that honors who they serve. Everything that I just described can happen anywhere, in any industry.

Shake Shack

During a recent day-trip to Baltimore, my family decided to have lunch at Shake Shack. While the team obviously shows great care in selecting quality ingredients and preparing delicious meals, the service is what stands out. It was lunchtime, so the place was packed. Yet, it took us less than five minutes to zip through the line to order our food. Key Point: They value my time.

Then, our two year old son decided to have an epic meltdown before the food came. Out of nowhere, one of the employees brought a small cup of vanilla ice cream (with sprinkles) to pacify him. It worked like a charm. Key Point: Anticipate my needs.

When our buzzer rang to notify us that our food was ready to be picked up, I went to the counter to get our meals. Before heading back to the table, I needed to make a quick stop to the condiments station to get a few small cups of ketchup.  Another employee saw me balancing the tray and immediately swooped in to help me carry everything to our table. It turned out that the employee was the General Manager of the restaurant! He stayed for a few minutes and chatted with my family, inquired about the taste of the food, and invited us to come back. Key Point: Make us feel like we are the only customers who matter, at that moment.

Learn about your customer

Find out as much as you can about the customer’s preferences before you get to serve them.   Find out their preferred name.  You’d be surprised how some customers prefer Dr. L than Dr. Liskowitz or some may prefer Iffy than Ifeoma.  Ask how they would like their orange juice (with ice…without ice…little ice), ask if they would like to be escorted if they are lost, or if they would rather you point.  Ask if they prefer two pillows or three.  Ask how they would like their change dispensed.  Ask if the temperature in the massage room is fine or if the music is just right.  To deliver excellent service to the customer, you must be clear on what the customer wants, then strive to not only meet those wants consistently, but to surpass them as well.

Commit yourself

So can you provide exceptional service?  Begin with committing to yourself that the main purpose of your role is to serve the customer.  The customer is the purpose of your work, not an interruption of it.  No customer…no work.  Be happy that the customer chose your business to spend their money…they didn’t have to.  Be eager to serve them.  Tell them you appreciate their patronage, and look forward to serving them again. 

This year, renew your commitment to exceptional service. First, to your colleagues and then to your customers, and finally to the place where you work. That cab driver was not just another driver, he was the taxi company.  Those Shake Shack team members did not just work there, they were the business. Everything they say and do is a direct reflection of where they work. Treat all people well. Don’t wait for them to earn your kindness. Give them the best version of yourself without expecting anything in return. And THAT is the true essence of exceptional service.

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