First impressions count, right? So imagine my pleasant surprise on arrival in the "Madeleine Room" where I was to conduct training to find that at every place around the u-shaped table was a namesake madeleine (a small French cake) and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. This was in addition to the standard bottle of water and mints that you find in every meeting room - it was very much on theme for the hotel where I was training, and created a positive benchmark for the rest of the day.
After I had completed setting up for the training I ate my madeleine and drank my OJ, finishing as the first participants arrived. This gave me just enough time to give the thumbs up to the banquet waiter (who hardly spoke any English by the way) and to say "Thank you.....I love freshly squeezed orange juice!"
Just as I started the introduction to the day the waiter very discreetly returned to the room and presented another glass of the delicious orange juice at my place. This had not been requested, but he had used his initiative to provide an extra level of service to me and create a small "wow" moment.
What had already been taken from a basic service through the cake and juice was elevated further through the individual service experience provided by the waiter in response to my enthusiasm for the juice.
So, how could this be improved upon? I am always talking about going beyond expectations, but this service, while definitely of a high standard, could be taken further. And, happily for me, the waiter in question did this.
Fast forward three months when I returned to the same hotel. Shortly after checking in and arriving in my room there was a quiet knock at the door where I found a Room Service waiter with a silver tray. The waiter elegantly presented the contents of the tray and just as elegantly left the room, which allowed me to then read the note on the tray:
"Welcome back to our hotel, Mr Millett. We know that you love freshly squeezed orange juice.....please enjoy!"
And on the tray was a small jug of freshly squeezed juice, just as I had enjoyed three months previously. Double wow!
Why was I so impressed by this very small gesture? Because, let's face it 300ml of OJ is a small thing in the overall scheme of things - it wasn't a bottle of champagne after all. And yet it created far greater impact than a bottle of champagne would have.
What did a $5 jug of OJ do that a $200 bottle of champagne wouldn't have done?
The impact for me came from 2 different perspectives:
Firstly I was impressed at a personal level because it was a gesture that was tailored specifically to me as an individual. This orange juice became a symbol for me that in this hotel I was to be recognised for who I am and what is important to me. And the personal recognition came courtesy of the original waiter who had served me three months before.
Secondly I was impressed professionally that there was a culture in the hotel that encouraged staff to identify opportunities to create these personal connections with guests. And not only that - that these opportunities were acted upon. It is easy to give lip service to "the customer experience" and what it means, however it is something else entirely to empower staff to feel that they can actually bring these experiences to life. Not only that - there was probably a system in place for my banquet waiter to capture the information required to exceed expectations, and to share this knowledge with others for later action.
This particular experience for me was a great example of how simple it can be to go beyond expectations. It does not have to take a lot of money - indeed sometimes the smallest of gestures can have the greatest impact.
Imagine if all your team members were as engaged as that banquet waiter to the point where they could set in motion the steps that would ultimately create such simple, yet profound, service experiences for your guests.
About the author
Timothy Millett's training roles have seen him deliver programs across Australia, Asia, Europe, Africa and America ensuring cultural sensitivity as well as a broad base of experience in lecturing, teaching and training.
A graduate of the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, Switzerland, his hospitality career spans management and director positions in Front Office, Guest Relations, Public Relations, Food & Beverage and Training with organisations including the Regent of Melbourne, The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and Mövenpick Gastronomy. He was also a founding staff member of the internationally renowned Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School in Australia.
Tim is currently the Director of Training and Development at iperform, an organisation that specialises in Sales and Service, Leadership and Effective Personal Organisation programs.