What I Learned about Business from the Four Seasons

“It’s a Dog-Eat-Dog World.”

Besides lending some pretty revolting imagery, the term’s purpose is to warn that society is looking out for itself, so beware.

It’s rare for a stranger or a company to legitimately look out for your best interests and cater to your needs.

Frustratingly rare. We’re programmed to enter any economic exchange (whether it’s buying clothes from a department store or purchasing *shudder* car insurance, etc.) with the mindset that if we aren’t careful, we’ll be taken advantage of. And it’s not our fault, because this is usually the case.

They know they can’t make money without customers right?

I’ve talked about Why Customer Service Matters before, because it’s critical to me. Go ahead and read that link. I’ll wait… In that case, my experience with United Airlines (with whom I’ve been a loyal, almost exclusive, flyer for the past eight years for some reason) was horrible. And when I confronted them about it, I got the standard ‘sorry and see ya later’ response. And that’s not good enough.

I won’t just pick on United Airlines; I’ve got plenty of targets… I was in a small accident years ago when a truck decided it was old-fashioned to stop at red lights and slammed into a car which immediately rear-ended my car, completely ruining the Neil Peart drum solo playing on my radio. The truck drove off (if they didn’t want to stop before, why start now?) and left me with a damaged bumper that should easily be covered by my State Farm Insurance. You know, the ‘good neighbors’? Yeah, State Farm was there, but only to cover themselves. They refused my claim and upon a little investigation, I discovered they were also the carrier of the car that hit me and I guess they didn’t feel like paying out twice. Not like I paid for insurance or anything… The company didn’t care.

So I digress a bit to make a point, but only to qualify my hesitation to trust most company’s best interests of their customers.

Cue the Premium Care of Four Seasons St. Louis.

I recently received a complimentary one night stay at the luxury hotel in downtown St. Louis. It was earned through Fpweb.net’s employee motivation rewards program (every company should have some form of a rewards program to show appreciation for its employees. If you don’t have one yet, go ahead and set it up. I’ll wait…) I was excited but I had to wonder why such a nice gift was available. You can just as easily win me over with a bucket of Skittles… And here’s what our CEO Rob LaMear told me:

“I send our team to the Four Seasons so they can experience ‘premium care’ and what we are ultimately seeking here at Fpweb.net. Making people feel well cared for and anticipating their needs/wants. It’s something you talk about, but until you experience Four Seasons, Apple, Disney World, etc., you’ll never fully understand. All the little things add up to create raving fans.”

And then my perspective changed. So without further ado, here’s what I learned about business while kicking back at the Four Seasons:

1. Your actions directly affect the customer experience. Possibly one of the greatest powers you possess as an employee or a business is how easily you can change the direction of the customer’s experience. Kind words, extra attention, an unforced smile, etc. leave a positive impression. Ignoring an issue or just going through the motions because your shift ends in an hour or because the customer is irritable leads to an average or negative encounter. And average isn’t good enough. You have a product that most likely exists elsewhere, so what are you going to do to set your business apart? Almost always, this starts with the people. Be excellent for the customer and they won’t be able to stay away. And in that vein, keep in mind…

2. Nothing is set in stone. Be flexible. The situation at Four Seasons was simple. I was told by one gentleman upon arrival that parking was free. When I was charged for parking the next day, I explained my confusion and the polite receptionist promptly adjusted the price – she didn’t tell me that it’s company policy or there’s nothing she could do. There are variables to any situation and the most important variable is your customer’s attitude towards your business. Patrons and customers rarely find comfort from being told “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.” Your business isn’t run by robots (yet) and there’s always a boss’s boss that can be contacted if a true problem exists. Show your customers that you are making every reasonable effort to please them. And similarly…

3. If you do make a mistake, don’t cover it up, fix it. Then fix your image. The missus and I dined at Cielo (the fancy hotel restaurant) and ordered from the four course tasting menu. After much deliberation, she ordered the short ribs which turned out to be 95% fat. Unfortunate and a slight hiccup to an otherwise amazing meal experience.  It’s not fun to return food. It involves being confrontational and having to wait for more food. Four Seasons was very apologetic. They made a mistake and they knew it. So they fixed it. But they didn’t leave it at that. They brought me a new entree as well so we would still be dining together and then the Mâitré D’ visited our table and paid for our drinks while we waited for the new food. Result. In business, you have to be transparent. If you make a mistake, don’t hide from it. Your customers know when you do. Instead, confront the problem that exists and explore every way to fix it. Do what it takes to make sure that your customers remember how well you handled the problem, not what the problem was.

4. Never mind the bells and whistles – win customers with quality, consistent service. Have you seen the Four Seasons St. Louis? It’s luxurious yes, but this isn’t achieved with a wide variety of restaurants and bars or a waterfall at reception. I suspect the minimal design was chosen because it tailors exclusively to a relaxed, spoiled experience and doesn’t bother with distractions. You don’t need a variety of choices if the choices you provide are quality. Invest in your company’s product and services and especially the people who stand behind them. When you do that, your business can…

5. Create a product or experience that stays on your customer’s mind. From the moment we stepped into the hotel, we were greeted by smiling faces, eager to help. Our city-view room was like a secret hideout catering to royalty or exceptionally clean people. I would have been perfectly content to stay locked in there for the duration of my stay… but then I wouldn’t have been treated to exceptional service from the bar staff as we reclined on the rooftop balcony sipping cold beers while looking out at the Arch and downtown St. Louis. Or enjoyed the cool evening outside for dinner while an attentive staff served us a delicious feast that led to further drinks beside a fire pit on the rooftop before bedtime. Yes, I’ll remember the hotel for its fine dining and amenities, but it was the people who made the difference. The staff legitimately looked after us and did whatever it took to make our evening memorable. And succeeded.

Turn your customers into fans!

So I think back to Rob LaMear’s comment that premium care is what we strive to accomplish for our customers at Fpweb.net, and I have to say I’m pleased with what I’m seeing and I hope our customers are too. We’ve surrounded ourselves with a staff that has pride for our product and makes every effort to put our customers first. We call it Customer Care and we have a department dedicated to it. Fpweb.net is a trusted SharePoint advisor as well as a leading SharePoint hosting provider, because our customers trust that we are using our extensive knowledge and experience in their best interest.

Products and expertise will get you far in business, but creating genuinely positive customer experiences has to be the fire that’s lit underneath your business. Your fuel. Because it certainly will be the difference between whether or not you succeed.

(Do you have a customer service story to share? What is your business doing to set itself apart for the customer? We’d love to hear from you!)

2012-04-15T11:22:00+00:00April 15th, 2012|

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  1. […] mentioned in a past article that it’s ideal (and unfortunately rare) when a company is legitimately looking out for your […]

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