Tag: service

Hospitality is a Team Sport

If you’ve been reading my stuff for very long, you’re aware that I think about hospitality a lot.

I use it in broad terms – I think that the work that we call Customer Support, Customer Success, Customer Service, and so on, all fall under this same umbrella.

Before I worked for Automattic I had a successful career in high end coffee – before that I was in grad school and working in restaurants and cafes.

One piece that’s worth keeping in mind, one cornerstone to excellence in hospitality regardless of industry, is that we’re playing a team sport.

Today is my fifth wedding anniversary (Happy Anniversary, Doc!)  – last night we went out to a nice dinner. She had a lobster salad and I had the tuna steak. During our meal, I noticed a waiter serving a large table next to us.

Each of the entrées had toothpicks with different colored foil on the end – some red, some blue, you know the kind. As he turned his back to the table to pick up another diner’s plate, he’d quietly remove the toothpick, leave it on the larger serving tray, and present the entrée to the customer, announcing confidently the entrée, the sides, the special bibs and bobs requested by that particular diner.

If you’ve worked in a restaurant, you know what those toothpicks were – they indicated the done-ness of a steak, or which cheeseburger had the Swiss rather than the cheddar. They were little reminders built into the process to allow the server to present an entirely seamless and apparently perfect experience to the customers without holding all of that information in his head.

(This was a table of maybe twelve diners? Not an easy task to remember every person’s nuanced order)

It was an interesting reminder for me, that a seamless and lovely delivery to a customer, a shiny and outstanding experience, is the result of a whole team of folks working behind the scenes – working to support one another just as much as they’re working to support the customer directly.

(I’ve written some about this here and here.)

This kind of internal hospitality may seem small – a cook leaving reminders of what makes each dish special – but it adds up to a lower effort, higher-level experience for the customer.

It’s easy for us to extend this idea to the work we do in developing software. Think of your internal tooling – are there obvious, visible flags for features or situations where things are different from the usual? How much do you make your colleagues lives easier?

This doesn’t just apply to development teams working with success/support teams, either. If you work in a customer-facing role, whether support or success or whatever, how easy do you make it for others in your company to understand your work? What are the toothpicks that you offer to make their jobs easier? Do you have a standard, easily replicated template for bug reports that includes steps for reproduction, customers effected, and a consistent urgency scale?

(If not; think about making one 🙂 )

The customer experience, especially an excellent customer experience, is the end result of tons of tiny decisions, all stacked on top of one another. It’s only possible to really do the very best for our customers when we first do the very best we can for one another.

The Customer Comes Last

The Customer Comes Last

I left off a Post a while back with this:

I would argue that not only is there more to hospitality than your customer facing efforts, I would also argue that, of the people to whom you want to offer outstanding hospitality and service, your customers should be the last in line. But that’s a topic for another time.

You can read the rest of that Post, “Internal and External Hospitality,” here.

Let’s talk about serving your customers last – what I mean, what my argument is, and why there are are least two groups who should come before your customers in terms of hospitality.

If you haven’t been following my blog closely (I totally understand), let me catch you up on a two of the concepts I’ve been writing about:

Service and hospitality are different things – service is what happens when a customer interacts directly with someone who works for your company. Hospitality is the umbrella category for everything else that you and your company do to impact the way your customer feels about your company. The guy at the front desk at a hotel is providing service. A dirty elevator is detracting from the hospitality.

Internal and External Hospitality – Hospitality isn’t just something you provide for your customers – your internal culture, the way things work at your company, can also be seen through the lens of hospitality. External is what your customers see, internal is what your colleagues see.

Let me start with my conclusion – then we can work backwards.

In terms of hospitality, the best way to create value for your customers is to rank others above them.

I’m clearly taking aim at the old yarn ‘The Customer is always right,’ or ‘The Customer comes first,’ or one of a hundred other clichés. That’s nonsense. It’s the product of simple thinking, and in an ironic twist, your customers are actually worse off if you fail to rank some other folks ahead of them in your thinking.

Broadly, there are three cohorts in our equation – you and your colleagues, your company’s vendors, and your customers. This order is intentional – I would argue that is also the order that you should think about serving (and providing hospitality to) these groups.

There has been so much written about company culture, why it’s important, why is has to be attended to intentionally – we can very easily see the difference between a good culture and a bad one using our lens of hospitality, right? Working in a place where employees care for one another, support one another, and work to help one another is clearly more hospitable and a better place to work than the opposite.

Providing hospitality internally, to your colleagues, does not always cause tension with providing hospitality or service to your vendors or customers – but when it does, you should always, always put your colleagues first. If you have built a great team, of motivated, well-intentioned individuals, maintaining that positive culture internally is far more important than pleasing a single customer. In fact, sometimes it’s necessary to fire a customer to maintain that internal hospitality. The rest of your customers will be better off, enjoying the fruits of a happy, supportive workplace where employees aren’t afraid that missteps with customers will cost them their jobs.

Providing hospitality to your vendors – especially in a tech or food service environment – is absolutely more important than to individual customers. Yes, the guy delivering your produce should be given preferential treatment. Yes, the folks who keep your servers maintained should have their emails read first. They literally keep the lights on. Maintaining those personal and business relationships is key to ensuring a steady flow of resources that you can then turn into customer value.

If your end goal is to delight your customers, to create the most value for them and to instill in them loyalty and pride, you cannot put them first. You have to put them last – and in doing so, you’ll improve their lives far more than if you place them above your colleagues and your vendors.

Internal and External Hospitality


As I write this, I’ve just LinkedIn connection request blasted my incoming colleagues from Woo – Welcome aboard, all! – and it brings front-of-mind something that I’ve been thinking about for some time; the way that we offer hospitality not just to our customers, but to our colleagues.

I’ve written before about how Hospitality and Service are different ideas, and should be thought of as different tools in a broader toolbox. Another distinction, and one that I think is even easier to miss, is the paired concepts of internally and externally directed Hospitality, and internally and externally directed Service.

The distinction between internal and external is a line drawn around your customers. Any hospitality or service efforts that are in place for the sake of your customers are external efforts. In general, this is where many people and companies stop thinking about hospitality and service – after all, it is called customer service, right?

The way that your company, your employees, treat everyone outside of the customer bubble, that is internal. That means that the way you interact with your vendors? External, both hospitality and service. Let’s talk through some examples.

Let’s say you work for a dairy company. There is a real us vs. them divide, with folks who work in the office generally behaving somewhat rudely to the delivery drivers and warehouse staff. That’s poor internal service. If that bad attitude spills over into internal systems and processes – say, forms that are difficult to use or requiring new and cumbersome busy work – that then becomes poor internal hospitality.

Let’s say you work for a top restaurant in your city. Servers are required to take ‘Kitchen Courses,’ which expose them to how the back of house staff work, and in turn spending time with the servers improves the kitchen’s understanding of the stresses of the serving floor. The interactions between the two teams are considerate and generous – excellent internal service. However, the company has a strict no-side-jobs culture, strongly discouraging employees from pursuing employment elsewhere – I’d argue that is pretty poor internal hospitality.

Let’s say you work at a small software startup. Your software is hugely popular, and you’re hiring staff as quickly as you can. These new folks are onboarded into a highly collegial and tight-knit community that is happy to have them (good service), but the administrative, HR and process debt is adding up, meaning that the internal tools that do exist are shoddy and poorly maintained, and the company is weeks behind on 401K paperwork – poor internal hospitality.

I would argue that not only is there more to hospitality than your customer facing efforts, I would also argue that, of the people to whom you want to offer outstanding hospitality and service, your customers should be the last in line. But that’s a topic for another time.

Service and Hospitality are Different Things


Let’s talk about service and hospitality.

Relying on one-on-one experiences, on service, to delight your customers when you serve tens of thousands (sometimes millions) of people daily is untenable and inefficient.

Service and hospitality. These are two words that we throw around a lot when we discuss the work of delighting our customer once they have our product. After all, the essential function of every support team in a software company is to be the front line of your post-launch products.

My aim today is to convince you that 1) those two words have important and distinct meanings, 2) that traditional examples of customer service or hospitality do not serve us well, and 3) that we need to shift our focus in a meaningful way.

Let’s get started with some definitions.

Service is any interaction that occurs between an employee of the company and a customer (or potential customer, in some cases.)

Hospitality is the sum of all of the other environmental factors that impact a customer’s experience of your product.

Imagine you’re visiting a new town, and, as someone who cares about coffee, you’ve done some research and are looking forward to taking in an especially well-considered espresso bar. You arrive, and enter the place with a sense of anticipation.

It’s busy inside – music is playing quite loud over the house speakers, and the line stretches nearly to the door. It’s surprising to you since it is an off-hour for a cafe. Upon further inspection, it looks like they must be short-staffed, as the folks behind the counter are moving at a breakneck pace, and with very serious expressions.

Still you wait patiently, and when you arrive at the counter the young man who greets you smiles widely, and the interaction is perfectly fine.

You remember that  you have to shout to be heard over the music and din of the other customers, and speak up. You place your order, pay, tip well, and pick up your drip coffee.

Moving to the condiment station, it’s a train wreck – all of the milk dispensers are empty, one tipped over on its side. The trash is overflowing, and there is white sugar covering easily half of the surface. You decide to enjoy your coffee black and make your way back to the street.

This example is probably not so foreign. Despite receiving solid service from the company’s representative, the overall experience skews negative. A long line, a poorly written schedule, a failure to keep the shop tidy; these are small things but they add up to lackluster hospitality.

By the time you’ve tasted the coffee, you already have a bit of a bad time. Not due to any individual’s behavior exactly, but due to the sum total of small decisions made well before your arrival.

When we think of really outstanding examples of both service and hospitality, we usually think of high-end hotels or expensive restaurants; white tablecloths and Egyptian cotton sheets.These examples have guided hospitality and service very well for a very long time – largely through a focus on the way that representatives of a company interact with customers. This works very well for business that serve hundreds (sometimes thousands) of customers in a day.

Every business from a steakhouse to a social network presents a picture of hospitality to its customers. By virtue of being a customer you collect a sum of experiences with a company that impacts your view of that company and its products.

A hotel, restaurant, or cafe, gets (at the very least) one opportunity to provide excellent service. Often these businesses get more than one opportunity – the host at the front door, the bartender while you wait for your table, the sommelier, the waiter – excellent restaurants have many chances to balance out missteps in hospitality with outstanding service. In this way, investing heavily in those one-on-one encounters can pay dividends that outsize the investment.

For every high-end restaurant we have dozens of small cafes and pubs. Let’s say, conservatively, that traditional companies like this enjoy about one service experience per customer. That is, they have an opportunity to impact their product’s overall hospitality with outstanding service about one time per customer.

Consider WordPress.com – we receive only one support request for every four thousand blog posts published. For every four thousand uses of our product, we get only one opportunity to color that experience with outstanding service. I would imagine that for most software-as-a-service companies, that ratio is not far off.

If I was feeling bombastic, I’d say that for software companies, hospitality is four thousand times more important than service. Since these numbers are fuzzy, and I am nothing if not level headed and measured in my opining, we’ll instead settle on this:

For software companies, hospitality is three thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine times more important than service.

To delight our customers, we need to discard our traditional ideas of how service and hospitality operate, because we are navigating in a new and exciting space. Our traditional ideas will not lead us to success.

It’s time to find some new ideas – I’m excited. Are you?

This post originally appeared on Support Driven, a blog about hospitality on the internet


Seth’s Blog: If you want…

If you want customers to throw tantrums in order to get better service, my best advice is to only give a focused, urgent response to customers who throw tantrums.

Most of all, if you want customers to hear about you, make something worth talking about. And if you want customers who are loyal, act in a way that deserves loyalty.

Seth Godin, on point. As usual.

Seth’s Blog: If you want….