Achieving and Maintaining Six-Star Service
When it comes to service, customers can easily distinguish poor service from good service. Poor service is when a customer is forced to wait 20 minutes in a long line to pay for goods or services at the store. Good service is when the store manager directs staff to open as many registers as needed to ensure no customer waits more than three to five minutes to pay for a purchase. Poor service is when an auto service center quotes that it will take two hours to change the brakes on a car but actually takes four hours to complete the job. Good service is when the service center’s manager admits up front that it is going take three to four hours to complete the job and offers other appointment times that would minimize the customer’s wait time. The difference between bad service and good is as obvious as night and day.
Distinguishing good service from great service is a different story. Most people consider five-star service the benchmark of great service…. “as good as it gets”. However, that is not the case. Some companies have raised the bar even further on the concept of excellent customer service. It is called six-star service. What exactly constitutes six-star service? Does it make sense for a company to want to raise the bar even higher on customer service if is already delivering very good service? Is it even possible to consistently deliver six-star service?
Earning The Sixth Star
Six-star service rests on two key points:
1. Anticipatory service.
Few companies even attempt to deliver six-star service because of the demands it places on staff. Companies that deliver six-star service have employees who go above and beyond what the most finicky person might expect. They seek to know the client well enough to anticipate their needs and deliver before they have the chance to ask. That involves data mining. Companies that offer the very rare six-star service also understand that every individual is different. Therefore everyone’s expectations are different. To delver such a high level of service, the company must anticipate them all, and consistently be able to deliver the unexpected.
To deserve a six-star rating, a company considers the things that a client would expect and then not only delivers on those flawlessly but also surprises customers with things they might not expect. Exceeding a customer’s expectations is the challenge! At six-star companies, if the procedures do not meet the needs of the customer, employees are empowered to change procedures in order to meet and exceed those needs. Six-star service is not reactive; it is proactive. Those companies do everything possible to delight the customer by anticipating their every possible need.
2. Personalized / customized service.
Companies that have earned six-star ratings for service also understand that the highest level of service is personalized. There is no ‘one size fits all’ mentality. There is no manual prescribing every action. Service is personalized but not intrusive. The highest level of service involves giving extra attention to the smallest of details, continuously served straight from the heart.
Just as with beauty, service excellence is in the eye of the beholder. For that reason, five and six-star service is more of a frame of mind aimed at the individual than a goal for the masses. It’s not about being all things to all people but rather about being specific things to specific people.
Here are questions to ask in order to deliver six-star service:
- What are my customer’s expectations?
- How can I exceed those expectations?
- What else can I do to wow my customer?
- What is my customer’s perspective, based on where they are today?
- What would make this interaction with my customer perfect for him/her?
A Six-Star Service Example
A great example of six-star service is served up by Silversea Cruises. In the early 1990s, the Lefebvre family of Rome conceived and created a unique cruise company pledging to build and operate the highest quality ships in the ultra-luxury segment. The company has a small but exclusive fleet of only seven ships purpose-built for the ultra-luxury market. Their goal was to establish a new class of smaller, intimate vessels that could slip into more exotic ports off the beaten path. Silversea goes to traditional ports such as Fiji, Venice and Hong Kong. But it also forges beyond to more exotic ports such as the Galapagos Islands, Reykjavik, Iceland, the Komandor Islands in the Ring of Fire and Vanuatu, New Guinea. The Silver Explorer, for example, is able to cut through ice in order to visit ports of call in the earth’s polar region. Each vessel was specifically designed for fewer guests, more space and the highest levels of personalized service, delivered by Italian officers and European staff.
When Silversea Cruises says “ultra-luxury”, what they are describing is ‘anticipatory service’. Every ship has all-ocean view suites – the most expansive suites on the sea with 80% of all suites featuring a furnished, private teak veranda — and open seating dining options so guests dine when, where and with whom they desire. Even though the ships are small, they still provide the favorite amenities found on larger ships, such as an elaborate show lounge with nightly entertainment, casino, spa and state-of-the-art fitness facility. All food and all beverages are complimentary including a connoisseur’s assortment of complimentary wines, champagne and spirits stocked in the best cellars at sea.
But their six-star rating is not just about the luxury of the ships or goods. It is about their anticipatory attention to personal detail. The staff offers pampering, personalized service that is exacting yet unobtrusive. It begins when each customer steps aboard and is greeted with a genuine smile, a warm welcome and a flute of champagne, and it follows throughout the voyage with an unspoken anticipation of each customer’s needs. As they put it, “where nothing, no matter how superfluous, is overlooked.” Indeed, customers are treated to an elevated level of pampering with the highly personalized attention of butlers from the Guild of Professional English Butlers, the organization renowned for training and certifying butlers for careers in the royal palaces of Great Britain. These consummate professionals are available to facilitate every aspect of the customer’s cruise experience. From unpacking and packing, to arranging a private car at the next port, to orchestrating an elegant in-suite cocktail party or arranging a spa visit, Silversea butlers are experts at providing unobtrusive, attentive service. The company’s leadership possesses a keen understanding of what it takes to make their guests feel at home and welcome.
As if all this is not enough, Silversea’s launched their Personalized Voyages (which is a trademarked concept) on all their ships. Personalized Voyages allows their customers to enjoy the flexibility and convenience of creating the luxury cruise vacation that they have always imagined — choosing the length of the voyage and embarking and disembarking from a choice of a wide selection of enticing ports.
If this description sounds like an advertisement, it is because there is no way to depict what they do without it sounding like an endorsement. Clearly, this company understands and delivers consistent six-star service.
When Is It Financially Worthwhile For A Company To Deliver Six-Star Service?
While five-star service is not limited to luxury or high cost goods, six-star service does tend to be restricted to products and services that cater to the highest echelon of clientele. That is because anticipatory, customized service is costly to provide. So does it ever really make sense to expend so much effort and energy on six-star service? It does. In research conducted at Harvard University, only service that reached an extraordinary level actually led to customers developing loyalty, which in turn resulted in an increase in profits. Only at five stars did customers become loyal and at six-star service they even became advocates … impacting profits 25% to 90%. Referrals, repeat sales, and more sales from the same customers have been shown to grow at companies that offer five or six-star service.
As companies consider the level of service that they currently provide to their customers, they should think about what their clients want, need and expect. Are the basics being met? Is staff going above and beyond to meet needs… and perhaps even exceed needs? Not only should companies that cater to the ultra rich strive to offer top-notch service, but every company should shoot to go above and beyond the basics. Service is the one area that every business can improve, distinguish themselves and make it that much harder on the competition.
Quote of the Week
“The painstakingly-honed ability to recognize and respond to customers’ needs and wishes is the difference between providing ho-hum service by merely reacting to customers’ requests and building loyalty through true anticipatory service.” Leonardo Inghilleri, The Ritz-Carlton
© 2013, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.