In a recent trip abroad to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary, Josiah and I checked in one of the more popular hotels in Singapore. It was a pleasant surprise to be upgraded to a room with a beautiful view, and grateful as we were, we were also more puzzled that there were no hotel slippers when we arrived (they did appear on the second day). We would often need to stop ourselves from nitpicking since we tended to wear our “educator’s hat” all the time even when on vacation – it is almost instinctive for us to take note of details when it comes to service excellence and delivery. Of course, I already know that customer satisfaction is truly a function of expectations. If one pays a good price for something, then one simply expects better service. One does not expect premium service from a backpacker’s inn or hostel, just as one becomes more demanding in a 5-star setting.

There was one incident though where an auxiliary service left us with a good impression, and it had to do with a simple request for a newspaper. Usually when we travel, Josiah would pass by the concierge at the end of the day and ask for the latest newspapers. The concierge offered two newspapers but Josiah told him that he already read the other one. The concierge proceeded to ask if he wanted to have the newspaper delivered to our room the next morning – and we were so pleased because this was the first time we were offered this service and we didn’t have to ask. Clearly, newspaper delivery was not part of our expectations in this hotel (which was not a businessman’s hotel). While we expected one newspaper to be brought up to our room the next day, we were again pleased to find two newspapers – the titles that Josiah had discussed with the concierge the night before.

As we proceeded to laugh at ourselves for being so happy with such a simple treat, we also realized what was most impressive for us when it came to service delivery: common sense, or initiative.

How do we teach common sense to our frontliners who interface directly, and in multiple touchpoints, with the customer? While it starts from the hiring, even more important are training and mentoring. Starbucks spends more in training than in advertising. Good restaurants like those in the Bistro Group of Companies (TGIF, Italianni’s, etc.) have group meetings before they open each day just to remind everyone of the standards of service, and where training is key. Once, I remember seeing three training directors in one Italianni’s branch just because the entire service crew there was new.

Before businesses even think of new service ideas, it must address current gaps in processes and people. People need to be trained to not just have empathy but to also have the initiative to take that extra step toward customer delight. They need to listen well and read body language, to be observant and mindful of situations where they can be creative and sensitive enough to know what customers really want but might not be able to articulate it well enough. This entails a culture that allows them to be empowered by a leadership that shares with frontliners the same sense of urgency and mission that means action without needing to be told what to do or without finger-pointing simply because everyone knows it is the right and honorable thing to do.

While delivering newspapers may not sound too “honorable”, it is the act of anticipating our needs that we consider amazing. Common sense for us is truly priceless! It is good to be reminded that a customer’s expectation is based on the value he expects to receive, where the benefits gained outweigh the cost or investment (not just with money but also with time, resources, and risk). In the newspaper case stated earlier, one will find that there are little things that practically cost little to nothing that can be done to delight the customer, and as we know, customer satisfaction is but a minimum requirement; it is delighting the customer is what will make them stay or come back.

Chiqui Escareal-Go is the CEO and Chief Service Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc.  She will be conducting the 20thDelivering Outstanding Service program on July 21-22, 2016 in Makati.  For inquiries, please email info@mansmith.netor call (02) 584-5858 or (02) 412-0034.