Ms. Nedry

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Organic Service: Adapting Experiences to the Experience

Hospitality Excellence

By Roberta Nedry, President and Founder, Hospitality Excellence, Inc.

Organic! That word is everywhere in today's world. Consumers are seeking Organic food for healthier lifestyles. Restaurants are showcasing more Organic menu creations and even growing their own organic gardens. People are choosing more Organic lifestyles and exploring ways to simplify their lives and become healthier. Organic farming means no drugs, synthetic chemicals or hormones are used. Organic business growth means new business that comes from existing business or customers. Organic organizations are known to encourage and respect the teams within and encourage new ideas and teamwork; to encourage employees to perform at their best! So…. what about Organic Service? How would we apply today's big "O" to daily interactions and service delivery to guests?

Two back-to-back restaurant experiences prompted the focus of this article and how spontaneously wonderful and perhaps different service delivery can be when what I call " an organic moment" takes place. "Vivi" at Tee-Jay Thai Sushi in Fort Lauderdale knew we were in a hurry when we sat down. We only had 30 minutes to enjoy one of our favorite meals and let her know. She reacted instantly with positive understanding, captured our requests quickly, succinctly recommended some new items and then flew off to the kitchen to mobilize the chefs to get our orders quickly. She returned with our first plates and even more enthusiasm, wanting our 30 minutes to be as wonderful as they could be. She checked our water and drinks, brought the rest of the plates and then left us to enjoy some moments alone. About 25 minutes into our meal, conscientious of the time, she brought our bill before we asked for it, thanked us profusely and invited us to come back and stay longer. She created our experience organically, in direct response to the circumstances, what we needed and the anxiety we were feeling. Instead of what could have been frustrating for both server and guests with the initial rush and anxiety, Vivi reacted to the moment and "organically" created a wonderful 30-minute experience with the circumstances presented to her at that moment. We now go out of our way to eat at this restaurant, stay longer, spend more and always ask for Vivi. Organic service pays off.

Insert pic Roberta 01-13-14 1a
Vivi, our amazing server at Tee- Jay Thai Sushi

The very next night, we met Liz at the Chart House who gave us a different type of "organic" experience. We had time to have a full dinner experience and took our time figuring out menu options and ordering in stages. Liz read our moods instantly and seemed to adapt her style to fit ours. And while I don't exactly remember the items we ordered, I do remember this feeling of warmth and relaxation Liz created through each of her interactions with us. She was sincere and interested in who we were and our particular tastes. She engaged in witty conversation when we asked her a few questions and shared some of her unique life moments with us. Her "Organic" style was to simply relate to us and add to the moods we were in by being in that mood as well. It almost felt like we had a family member who really cared about us serving us. It was unexpected yet surpassed our expectations in what we thought might be a traditional restaurant experience. It was an experience about "feeling good" as well as satiated. It was Organic because her thoughts were organically reactive to ours and we all benefited.

Part of being organic is being able to quickly adapt to change and in both of these cases, adapting to the emotions, moods, personalities and circumstances of the guests who had arrived IN THAT MOMENT. In both cases, these servers did not follow a script or routine and instead used soft skills of excellence in making each experience meaningful. They did not know what to expect with these guests before they arrived nor were they trained specifically for these two individual guest circumstances. What they did know is that had only a few moments to react and act and in turn, 'create' a unique experience within some very normal and routine restaurant server roles and actions.

The term, organic organization, created by sociologist Tom Burns and G.M. Stalker in the late 1950s, shows the power of personalities and relationships and that strict rules for procedures and communication don't always work. More important is the ability to react quickly and easily and to be adaptive. They noted that "decisions arise from the needs felt by individuals in the group, who propose changes to the group, either by discussion or by changing behavior or operations without discussion. " Interesting that they also note "the weakness of the model is that it requires co-operation and constant adjustment from all the members." This is a powerful point for hospitality and service leaders. The most memorable and effective service is that which is tailored to those experiencing it so that 'adjustment', which makes it organic is essential. The co-operation part means that employees who are empowered to be 'organic' and have leadership that encourages and role models those adaptive adjustments will have the strongest impact on guest satisfaction.

In another example with one of the luxury brand hotels, in a premier property in Orlando, the housekeeping department had a huge opportunity for some "organic service recovery". A family had spent a long day at one of the Orlando theme parks and knew they would get back to the hotel late. They had a room with a king bed and a fold out couch for their 12 year old son. They called about two hours prior to their late arrival to make sure the housekeeping department had prepared and made the fold out couch so their exhausted son could tumble into it. The guests were reassured in that phone call that all would be handled, prepared and ready. Upon arriving at the room at 11:30 pm, they found the couch folded out with one sheet covering it and barely tucked in, one pillow and a pile of additional sheets on the floor next to it. No mattress pad, no fitted sheet, no blanket, no comforter and NO COMFORT! Even though the couch was not the main bed in the room, it did not have any less value for the need for a comfortable night's sleep and proper bed making skills, especially since the number one reason this family or any guest stays in a hotel is to have a place to sleep! And, the earlier phone call had promised all would be ready.

The first two calls to the Guest Service line resulted in aloof sounding operators who said they would let "someone" know and send "someone" up to fix the bed and bring appropriate bedding. Twenty minutes later, an attendant showed up with more flat sheets, no blanket or comforter and no knowledge of how to make the bed. He just handed the sheets to the guests. Two more phone calls, including to and from the Manager on Duty and finally a personal visit by the housekeeping manager on duty resulted in the appropriate bedding delivered and the bed made as it should have been in the first place. The child was able to finally get into a properly made bed, ONE HOUR after arriving at the room at 12:30pm. At no point during any of this episode, were any of the service interactions handled in an organic way.

This hotel had failed in its basic operations of just knowing how to make a bed in the first place. That's one issue. But, the really negative impact took place in how they handled each step of that mistake. Not one of the people involved adapted or responded to the situation in a caring or efficient way or even related to the feelings and disappointment of the guest until the very last manager who arrived and finally solved the problem. The housekeeping staff who initially prepared the bed did not appear to care about the person who would be sleeping there or relate to what would make a comfortable night's sleep. The advance call to the hotel expressing concern for a tired child and the need for the bed to be ready did not apparently resonate with the person who took it. The operators who took the several calls revealing the problem and long wait to get it resolved did not seem to care or make sure it was addressed immediately. There was no Organic moment to respond to the many distress signals raised by these guests or what they might be feeling. Though some of these employees may have also been parents, who could possible relate to the challenge of dealing with a tired child, none of them put that relatability to practice and took these guest needs into consideration.

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The fold out couch with one untucked flat sheet against the plastic mattress
and the pile of sheets left next to the bed

In Spike Jonze's new movie, "Her", a computer operating system becomes sentient, meaning it develops feelings and emotions and in turn learns and grows from them. The basic premise of this film has great lessons and applications for guest service and the organic possibilities when tuning into guest emotions and feelings in order to deliver that guest service. It's what Vivi and Liz did in their service delivery. It's not what the Orlando hotel did. Jonze unveils the dilemma of communication and what happens when one person is communicating and the other one is not. He shows in a very creative way how frustrating and challenging this inability to talk about and relate to feelings can be and this is just with a machine. It's the same in service and hospitality environments and critical with real live human beings. It is frustrating and challenging when employees do not relate to guests and what they might be feeling. It's also frustrating to employees when their supervisors or managers do not relate to what it takes to do their jobs (again being in their shoes) or empower them to be "organic" in how they handle situations. Perhaps the initial problem with the Orlando hotel is that the housekeeping team had not been properly trained in the first place on how to make a couch bed as comfortable as a regular bed. Perhaps they had also not been trained or oriented in the personal side of their duties beyond the procedural side of taking care of guest rooms. Maybe they did not know they have a role in emotional guest comfort as well as their physical comfort. When the physical comfort part was not done well, they did not know how to emotionally come to the rescue.

With all the changes and updates in technology, guest preferences and lodging options, being able to respond and deliver in an Organic way will be key to long term success and loyalty and the positive reviews and referrals triggered by positive emotions. Consider going "organic" in your service strategies and plant some of the following seeds for guest and employee experiences:

  1. Make sure procedures that are in place take into consideration the emotions and feelings of guests impacted by those procedures. Procedures may lead to operational success but may also lead to emotional disconnect if the comprehensive result is not considered.
  2. Orient and empower employees to the concept of "organic service' and how spontaneously responding to each situation allows for greater engagement for all.
  3. Provide soft skill training on how to handle all different types of service possibilities and the behaviors that might impact guest touchpoints in a negative, indifferent or positive way. Give them the tools and skills they need to make experiences memorable.
  4. Inspire an "organic' mindset that encourages adapting and adjusting as the touchpoints of any one service experience ebb and flow.
  5. Be fluid and flexible as daily duties and responsibilities take place.

Purify service excellence and grow organic moments by planting seeds of opportunity. Enjoy the green dollars of success and healthier profits with organic service !

Roberta Nedry is President and Founder of Hospitality Excellence, Inc. and has spent over 32 years exploring, delivering and managing guest and customer experiences and service training. She helps organizations to reach levels of exceptional service and regularly consults with executives and managers on transforming customer experiences. Her Hospitality Excellence Team is internationally recognized for its expertise in creating customer experience strategies that zero in on and inspire the DNA of each client yielding enhanced internal employee experiences and external customer and brand value. Ms. Nedry’s diverse background with both public and private companies allows clients to draw on her extensive career experience for business solutions. Ms. Nedry can be contacted at 877-436-3307 or roberta@hospitalityexcellence.com Extended Bio...

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