The Four Seasons’ Approach to Customer Service

four-seasons-customer-service

Several years ago, through a personal connection, I had the opportunity to stay at the famous Four Seasons Hotel in New York City. The stay was for a week in the beautiful New York autumn. After we got settled in our room, I walked into the bar around 6pm on a Thursday night. I looked over to the concierge desk as Penelope Cruz was leaving the hotel with tickets in hand. She had a big smile on her face.

As I sat down at the bar, the bartender came over to greet me, within a minute of me sitting down. The entire environment was meticulously designed with comfort and opulence in mind. The maple paneling behind the bar and the lighting over the bottles gave a warm and inviting feel to the space. I ordered a martini and watched as the bartender shook the drink shaker for at least 30 seconds. Anyone who drinks martinis knows that what makes a great martini is that it’s really cold . The bartender was a professional and his confidence made the moment that much more special, like a scene out of a movie. A few years ago, I had heard an anecdote about the Four Seasons in NYC and I asked the bartender about it. He confirmed it really happened. It goes like this:

So, the story was about one rock star that came to stay at the Four Seasons a couple years back. He got a suite on the 2nd to the top floor and also booked an adjoining room. Now, they were going to be there for a while; this wasn’t just an overnight on one of their world tours. He called down to the concierge. They always answered the phone promptly and cordially, never forgetting to include the guest’s name. And this is how this particular request went — “Yes, good evening. I would like to have the door that joins our 2 suites to be moved. It’s not in the right place.”

Now, what do you think the concierge’s reply would be? What the hell are you talking about? Or, “No and go to bed, you’re obviously drunk”. OR just, “no”. Well not even close — the Four Seasons never says no to a request. Any request. Her reply was, “Absolutely sir, I’ll let the manager know of your request. There’s a fee associated with this and I’ll get back to you with those details once I speak with the manager. I’ll have a member of our staff come up and get the exact specifications of your request. Would now be okay?”

I suppose I got swept up in the magic of my surroundings, but I realized the Four Seasons Hotel knows a thing or two about the ultimate in customer service. And I realized that they never say no to any request. If it’s legal, they will meet any request that one of their guests makes. And, of course, in most cases there is a fee attached to it.

I thought about how many times I had heard a project manager, basically tell a client, “No”. So why doesn’t the software development world have a more customer-centric approach to project management like the Four Seasons? It isn’t because they wanted to give poor customer service. In fact, most project managers are saying no to a client request because they want to either hit a budget or a schedule goal — something ultimately to best serve the client. But that’s not how the client would perceive it, is it?

Can you imagine the Four Seasons, just saying “No” after hearing the story from above? They wouldn’t. And in thinking about it a little deeper, they wouldn’t for 2 reasons. One, it does not represent the best in customer service. And, this is the most important reason. But a secondary reason is that it’s an opportunity for added revenue and profit. Moving that adjoining door for $50,000 was a nice boost to “RevPar” or Revenue Per Available Room, the hotel industry’s main metric.

So, let’s bring this home for those of us in the software project management business. First of all, we are in the customer service business. Whether you’re in a consulting firm or a manager of a big internal project at a Fortune 500 company, you have a client. We all have clients. Specifically in consulting, our goal is to keep clients over many projects. That’s a strategic objective of any consulting firm. To keep clients coming back, we need to provide the best possible customer service and customer satisfaction, along with whatever software we’re building for them. We need to “under promise and over deliver”. If you think about it, what’s more important? That you built the absolute best piece of software or the client’s perception of the project? I’ll tell you, it’s the latter. Because there is no piece of software that’s going to be signing your next statement of work or giving you that next promotion at work. We need to try and serve all the requests of the client.

And, on the flip side, we need to sustainably manage a project’s budget and schedule. Any new requests that come in, will most likely affect budget and schedule. It’s one reason I love the answer from the Four Seasons. To break it down in the simplest of terms, the reply was, “Absolutely sir, and it will cost X.”

This gives you the mutual benefit of meeting your client’s requests, providing great customer service, listening and adapting with your client while managing the project sustainably and always associating a fee with creating value.

Now, of course, use some discretion and common sense. The Four Seasons doesn’t charge if you ask for another towel or an extra mint during their turn-down service. Nor should you add a fee for small extras where it doesn’t make sense in your efforts to serve the client. But for any standard request that adds real value, there is a fee associated with it. It’s how the best in the business do it. Look no further than the best in the hotel service business.

Think about this the next time you have a client request come in — The Four Seasons approach to customer service. It applies to project management, software development and just about any business that has a customer on one end. We all have customers. Being the best at customer service will ultimately serve you and your business.