At Four Seasons, Customer Experience Is Everyone’s Business

I just read an excellent blog post called The Real Secret of Thoroughly Excellent Companies. The author, Peter Bregman, discusses how the Four Seasons in Dallas has earned his loyalty. To understand how the hotel delivers such great experiences, Bregman sat down with the hotel’s general manager, Michael Newcombe. Here’s one of stories he heard from Newcombe:

During his meeting with the front desk staff, he learned they were slower than usual in checking in guests because rooms weren’t available. Then, in his meeting with housekeeping staff, someone asked if the hotel was running low on king size sheets. Most CEOs wouldn’t be interested in that question, but Michael asked why. Well, the maid answered, it’s taking us longer to turn over rooms because we have to wait for the sheets. So he kept asking questions to different employee groups until he discovered that one of the dryers was broken and waiting for a custom part. That reduced the number of available sheets. Which slowed down housekeeping. Which reduced room availability. Which delayed guests from checking in.

He fixed the problem in 24 hours. A problem he never would have known about without open communication with all his employees.

My take: I’m writing this post while sitting in a lounge at The Ritz-Carlton in San Juan; enjoying some quiet time while my daughter is at a Jonas Brothers concert with a friend. Before I even read Bregman’s blog post I was thinking about how much better my experiences have been at Four Seasons hotels. It’s not that I have a large sample of these experiences, but we periodically get to vacation at these resorts.

While we are having a great time at this hotel, and there’s nothing to complain about (except maybe the water pressure in the shower), there’s also nothing memorable. At Four Seasons hotels, employees go out of their way to see if visitors need anything and always greet people with a nice hello. At this Ritz-Carlton, the doormen haven’t even been opening the doors. And the concierge wasn’t able to offer any suggestions for activities other than handing over a poorly copied page describing tours from the resident tour agency.

Does this make The Ritz-Carlton a bad hotel? No. But it is certainly not delivering customer experiences at a level to maintain it’s branding as a 5-star hotel.

Four Seasons, on the other hand, makes customer experience everyone’s business. Michael Newcombe understands that delivering great experiences takes more than just smiles from front-desk employees; sometimes it even requires fixing a dryer.

The bottom line: All employees are in the customer experience department

Written by 

I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey.

Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum.

My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers.

I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

5 thoughts on “At Four Seasons, Customer Experience Is Everyone’s Business”

  1. My Four Seasons customer experience in Prague felt more like “Use our services! Common! Do it! We need to provide it!”

    E.g. when I was sick in my room and mentioned to more than one staff member that I would like to stay inside without being disturbed, they called my room at 10 p.m. to ask why I have not yet called Valet Service to clean the room.

    Another example: When I asked the concierge about whether I could go to a piano concerto during my stay in prague (since I had not checked before), they booked a seat for me (assuring me that it was going to be very nice) for a concert that was changing programme and – without notification – I went to see something entirely different and was not very amused at first until I discovered that they were playing something from Smetana (composer of the czech republic) that I have never heard live and that turned out to be rather nice.

    But my point in both examples is: I am an adult and even the Four Seasons should be able to NOT interpret anything I say as “Ah, we are sure he did not mean THIS, but STILL needs us to provide a service.” or “Of course, he did not mean piano, he is just a stupid tourist, we will deliver our service of booking him to the concerto all the same…”

    Of course, the room itself was superb and the staff really friendly and so on.

    1. Ryan: I know the book; Dr. Michelli does some great work. We spoke at the same event in Miami about a year ago. The Ritz does some amazing things when it comes to customer experience, so companies can learn a lot from their practices. But no company, even the best, is perfect. So my experiences were not necessarily an indication of broader problems at The Ritz. And our stay at the hotel wasn’t bad, it would have been great for a Mariott or Hyatt. But I hold a 5-start hotel to a higher standard. And in the case of our visit to San Juan, The Ritz did not come close to achieving that standard.

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