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The Secret of Seamless Service

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By Steven Tingle

May 3, 2011

My Dad wore a blue blazer every day. No Joke. Khaki pants, oxford shirt, blue blazer. Every. Single. Day. One trip to Brooks Brothers each year and he was set. Of course he had a few v-neck sweaters and a topcoat or two he would throw on when it got chilly but for the most part it was a three piece uniform. No shorts, no jeans, no polo shirts. To him changing for golf meant taking off the blazer.

He was wearing this when we were playing many years ago at the TPC Las Colinas. My Dad was a founding member of the National Golf Course Owners Association and we were there for its annual conference. The TPC Las Colinas is part of the Four Seasons hotel in Irving TX. This was in the early nineties, back when golf courses still made money and golf course owners could still afford the Four Seasons.

TPC Las Colinas
TPC Las Colinas

Dad and I played in the late afternoon and after shaking hands on the eighteenth green, a tradition, headed for the hotel bar and a couple of G and T’s, another tradition. It was here my Dad realized he had left his sweater in the golf cart. The golf shop was only a hundred or so yards from the hotel but it was after 5 and the drinks were cold. We’d stop by tomorrow, they’d surely hold it for him. He wasn’t worried about it. I wasn’t either.

We drank and talked for about an hour then went up to our rooms to change for dinner. For him this meant nothing more than putting the blazer back on. I was in my room less than a minute when there was a knock at the door. It was Dad. Come here, he said. He took me to his room and pointed at the bed. There, neatly folded lay his sweater. No note, no card, no one holding their hand out for a tip. Just his sweater, right where it was supposed to be.

This kind of service is rare. It seems simple but think for a minute what it took to get that sweater from the golf cart to the bed. How many people were involved in that transaction? How many people had to follow through? Cart attendant, shop clerk, front desk, bellman…

Normal service would have been to hold the sweater in the golf shop. Good service would have been to call the room and leave a message. But this was exceptional, this was “Seamless Service”. Concerted, uniform, smooth. How do you get there, what does it take? What’s the secret? The founder of the Four Seasons Hotels, Isadore Sharp says:

“The reason for our success is no secret. It comes down to one single principle that transcends time and geography, religion and culture. It’s the Golden Rule – the simple idea that if you treat people well, the way you would like to be treated, they will do the same.”

Unfortunately this is not something you learn in Hotel or Culinary School. Golf course management classes don’t teach this. It’s a lesson from your mother when you won’t share the Millennium Falcon at your birthday party.

So as the hospitality industry falls over itself in search of Twitter followers and Facebook friends, blog posts and word of mouth evangelists the cart is being put well before the horse. The numbers show it:

82% of customers have stopped doing business with an organization due to a poor customer service experience.

79% of those have told others about it.

And here’s the kicker:

93% of word of mouth marketing happens offline.

Let that last one roll around your noggin for a while next time you’re worried about your Twitter strategy.

It is a new world, and yes things have changed but the age old golden rule will have more impact on your business, your customers, and your employees than anything you can do online. The sweater went from the golf cart to the bed 15 years ago. I’m still talking about it.

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