Four Seasons Hotels: Building A Hospitality And Customer Service Culture
When I started my career as a customer service and hospitality?consultant?and keynote?speaker, I assumed I?d be hired by companies with desperately bad customer service, in dire need of an overhaul.?What I?ve found instead is that organizations with pretty-good-already customer service are the ones that engage my services, with an eye toward becoming even better.
I attribute this client mix phenomenon, perhaps uncharitably, to the following: Companies that are clueless about customer service and hospitality have no idea how bad they are, but good-already companies know the value of their good service, and can infer how they will benefit from learning to provide truly great service.
Which brings me to the story of one of the great hospitality organizations of our time, and how it turned around (if that?s the right word) a pretty-good-already situation to create something phenomenal and lasting.
Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and its humble hospitality beginnings.
The company we know today as Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts began life modestly, as the (kidding you I?m not) Four SeasonsMotor Hotel.?It was a fine place, and by all reports founder Isadore Sharp was a fine ?motellier,? but it was always in essence an offshoot, an afterthought, of the Sharp family?s construction company. The set of principles that define Four Seasons today weren?t laid out formally until years into the organization?s existence, with multiple properties under its management. Formulating and publicizing these principles led to a turning point in the brand?s history, from which, happily, they have never backslid.
The Seasons Start Changing
You should take courage from this belated turning point.? While the heart of Four Seasons? leader was always in the right place, it took him years to learn the value of putting that rightly-placed heart into practical, transformational words and action.
When Sharp got the urge to do just that, he sat down in a war room with the small group of employees he felt most closely shared his as-yet unarticulated vision.? Together, they wrote out the principles that would define the brand as it moved forward.
The central principle of what they came up with, Four Seasons? ??Our Goals, Our Beliefs, Our Principles,?? is simple, yet it lays down a very rigorous standard:
?In all our interactions with our guests, customers, business associates, and colleagues,?we seek to deal with others as we would have them deal with us.?
This central principle is then fleshed out in the course of four sections (as befits the Four Seasons) that spell out how vendors, customers, colleagues, and the community are to be treated.
(Sharp never claimed this concept as original; there?s for example the similar ?Do unto others?? standard in both the New and?Old Testaments?? although I could argue that Sharp?s proclamation has been less widely ignored than the biblical one.)
The principles laid out in that war room don?t sound all that scary, unless you realize that Isadore Sharp?meant?them. And it was already known throughout the Four Seasons organization that whenever Mr. Sharp said something, he?didmean it.
Sharp announced the primacy of these principles companywide, to extremely un-thunderous acclaim from the executives and managers of the company. In fact, the number of execs and managers who felt they could not live with the new set of principles was so high that turnover was very significant for some time, as faxes laden with r?sum?s flew down the wire. The leaders who didn?t buy in but didn?t self-select out either?? They were gone pretty soon as well, through more forceful means than self-deselection.
All of which is to say: One of the keys to building a company is to make a decision about what you stand for, and what you?will?stand for, as a company.? And then publicizing that decision.? That decision, if it is sincere and is effectively broadcast, can affect who wants to work in your company, and how they want to perform their work. In other words, it can help build, from that day forward, your culture.