Mastering Instinctual Service in Three Simple Steps

October 27, 2015

To the average observer, the two women approaching the front desk had just arrived for their stay and were ready to check in.

It is an everyday occurrence that happens millions of times a day at hundreds of thousands of destinations across the globe.

And just like all of those arrivals, what stood out about these particular guests was distinct enough to prompt engaging dialogue and deliver a memorable experience.

But that didn’t happen the way it could have—the way it should have.

On this day, two women in their 70s walked up to the front desk of a property in one of the nation’s top vacation destinations. A pair of Merrell hiking shoes was tied to the handle of one guest’s overnight bag, which itself was rugged and built for adventure. They wore comfortable outdoor garb—the kind you’d wear hiking on your favorite trail. Sunglasses dangled from worn straps around their necks.

While you likely are able to draw some simple conclusions based on these observations (they’re here for an adventure, they enjoy the outdoors and they’re ready to hike), the front desk agent on this day made assumptions based on one superficial observation (“They’re retirees; I bet they’re here for a nice relaxing vacation…”) and, in doing so, failed to harness a valuable opportunity to take the check-in process a step further and engage the guests in a thoughtfully-designed conversation about something they were passionate about.

Thus, the opportunity to deliver a truly unique first impression for these two guests was missed.

It’s what I call instinctual service, the ability to home in on the details of your customers to identify opportunities to design conversations and experiences that are meaningful to them and thereby strengthen their connection with your brand. And it’s something that can (and should) be implemented across industries, from hospitality to healthcare to transportation and beyond.

Those first memorable experiences can happen in the very first moments a customer engages with a brand as a result of dialed-in instincts and thoughtful conversations.

In 1998, the Harvard Business Review published an article written by industry trailblazers B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore entitled “Welcome to the Experience Economy.” One of their key points is the value of impressions on creating and “harmonizing” memorable experiences. They use the example of Barista Brava, a coffee shop franchise based in Washington, D.C., where baristas are encouraged “to remember faces so that regular customers are handed their usual order without even having to ask.”

Instinctual service can happen at any brand-consumer interaction, but when done in the early stages of the consumer’s relationship with your brand (and then practiced often thereafter), the connection between the consumer and the brand is strengthened. Thinking back to those times you’ve experienced the fruits of instinctual service—when your neighborhood barista rings up your daily triple-no-foam-skim-latté before you get to the counter or the concierge points you to the best hiking trail that only the locals know about—isn’t it true that those small actions strengthened the bond you have with that brand?

The answer to that question is likely a resounding yes. And if so, don’t you want your customers to feel that same bond with you?

There are three simple steps to mastering instinctual service:

  1. Observe. It starts with trusting your instincts. Take note of the details, start a conversation and deliver a memorable experience. Empower your team to trust their gut and identify those “moments between moments,” or opportunities in-between established interactions that invite you to surprise and delight your customers.
  2. Engage. Using your observations, start a dialogue with your customers that shows your interest in them and their needs. You will likely learn even more about them in the process and will be able to keep the conversation flowing.
  3. Guide. Listening to what your customers are telling you, be able to provide direction, ideas and inspiration. Think beyond what is expected or natural (they like to hike, so they need to know where the nearest trail is) and provide answers to questions they haven’t even thought about (“I see that tear in your left boot. There’s a great place nearby that repairs outdoor apparel; just mention my name and he’ll give you a great deal! How about I get our driver to take you there?”).

Your customers want this. They demand it.

As the old saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Make it a truly memorable first impression. See those hiking shoes, trust your gut and let the conversation flow. You’ll be happy you did.