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Why the Word ‘Service’ Can No Longer Exist in Hospitality

Ask anybody, and they’ll tell you that the customer experience (CX) is the strongest—if not, only—competitive differentiator among companies today. This is why nearly 90 percent now compete solely based on the CX, and why half of this year’s product investment projects are being redirected to CX innovations. The ability to consistently deliver amazing customer experiences directly improves company culture, behavioral mindsets and, of course, the bottom line. In fact, research from Forrester shows that a 10 percent point improvement in a company’s CX score can translate into more than $1 billion.

So, what’s the difference between companies that deliver these customer experiences vs. those that don’t? In my opinion, it all comes down to hospitality vs. service.

Servicing your customers isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, the term “service” can be defined as the action of helping someone, which is never wrong. It can also be defined, however, as routine service or maintenance, and it’s this definition that traditional, service-oriented organizations seem to work off.

On the other hand, hospitality is defined as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers.” In this environment, every customer is treated with genuine respect, courtesy and care. This approach, of course, outshines even the strongest definition of “service.” When you think about it, there’s a notable difference between simply helping someone do something and an authentic act of hospitality.

Service and hospitality are similar in that they require selflessness, but differ in one big way: hospitality is part of a never-ending journey, verses a collection of fleeting moments. In many ways, the journey that customers have with a brand never ends; the goal is to have the customer experience simply pick back up where it last left off. For hotel managers, this means authentically welcoming returning guests back to their property, and treating first-time guests as though they’ve been before.

This makes me think of a presentation I recently watched from a TEDx Boulder event, delivered by restaurant connoisseur Bobby Stuckey. His presentation—titled, “Be a hospitalian”—similarly concluded that there’s a distinct difference between service and hospitality, with the latter unfortunately being too rare in modern-day life. So much so, that customers don’t even recognize hospitality when they’re offered it.

Stuckey explained, for example, how a woman once lashed out at a waitress for pouring her a glass of wine without her asking. She was angered because she hadn’t ordered the wine, yet she didn’t have to: the restaurant was welcoming her and her husband with a complimentary glass because they knew the couple had been stuck in rush hour traffic en route to the restaurant, where they were planning to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.

“This is from me to start your evening, to let you relax and look over the menu. I knew you were stuck in rush hour traffic,” the waitress explained. What a great example of hospitality—or, as Stuckey calls it, being a hospitalian.

“It’s hard to do, but I know every one of you knows how to do it,” Stuckey says about hospitality. Perhaps his best comparison is that of a tough customer to a difficult relative you see at family gatherings. No matter what you do, they don’t like it. They give you a hard time. They always make situations problematic for you.

“Every one of you has [gone through this] on Thanksgiving or a holiday in December or a family function where you have to overcome that person that comes at you aggressively,” Stuckey explains, yet we always measure up and do what needs to be done. We treat these people with care and respect, regardless of the circumstances. Why, then, Stuckey asks, do we stop doing hospitality the other 364 days of the year?

I agree with Stuckey that every one of us can do great hospitality. All it takes is each of us choosing to look outward beyond the fleeting moment. In the hospitality industry, what could possibly be more important?

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