customer service

Why Every B2B Business Needs to Focus on Hospitality, Not Customer Service

I’ve never finished reading a book and then immediately opened it up and started over again – until this summer.

This book completely changed the way I think about customer service and further confirmed my belief that doing it right can be a huge differentiator for businesses and a decisive factor in whether or not your clients love you, talk about you, become loyal to you, and send others your way.

The book? Setting the Table by the celebrated restaurateur Danny Meyer. I loved this book so much that I marked up my copy, and I even bought copies for Meg and Janine.

So what’s the big deal, you might think. Providing great customer service is the same as providing hospitality. Nope – not even close. Here’s why you need to focus on hospitality over customer service:

Hospitality is a feeling

I am quoting Danny straight from the book here: “Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel.” Big difference there!

When a client walks away from you feeling like a million bucks, you are creating an emotional connection between your brand and the client. Emotional connections are incredibly strong and almost impossible to break.

Hospitality is when you believe the other person is on your side

Act like an agent, not a gatekeeper – something Danny repeats a couple of times in the book.

At his first restaurant, Union Square Café, for example, Danny would immediately offer to put people on a wait list if they were fully booked. If a party had to wait a long time for their table, a generous (and gratis) supply of dessert wine would appear at the end of the meal – and it quickly became a signature of the restaurant, something people looked forward to.

Hospitality is having fun

When Danny complimented the chef-owner of Taillevent, a restaurant in Paris that has maintained a three-star Michelin rating for more than three decades, on the outstanding hospitality he and his wife enjoyed during dinner, the reply was, “We have fun taking service seriously.”

I really love that idea. Great service actually shouldn’t be serious – it should be infused with joy. You can receive outstanding service from someone who never once cracks a smile, but how would that make you feel? Like you just inconvenienced that person, right? That’s not a great feeling.

Hospitality is really listening

Quoting Danny here again: “To be on a guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense, and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response.” I believe one of the key ingredients in that statement is “gracious.” It’s a good reminder that you and your client are on the same side, that you are trying to help them, not block them.

Additionally, listening allows people to be heard, even if they are not right, even if they are completely in the wrong. I have done this a few times since I read the book – just listened and kept my mouth shut – and the effect it has on the complainer is almost transformative.

Hospitality is about hiring people who “have it”

It is becoming increasingly popular to hire people who share the same values as you (and your brand), even though they might not have all the technical skills the job required. Technical skills can be taught. Teaching emotional skills (or emotional intelligence) – being genuine, happy, and optimistic – cannot be taught.

Hospitality is building meaningful relationships

When you take a genuine interest in your clients, you’re not only creating a very strong relationship but a sense of shared ownership as well. When your clients feel important and loved, appreciated and accepted, you have clients for life. Oh, and they are going to talk about you to everyone they know, too.

Hospitality is generosity of spirit

Quoting Danny again: “I’m convinced that you get what you give, and you get more by first giving more. Generosity of spirit and a gracious approach to problem solving are, with few exceptions, the most effective way I know to earn lasting goodwill for your business.”

As I mentioned above, I’m already integrating some of these ideas in my business. How can you integrate hospitality into your own small business? What are you most excited about trying?

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