Give me service over brand anytime

As I’ve been traveling in the Great White North, Peppercommers have been contributing superb guest blogs day-after-day. Today’s comes from assistant extraordinare and Repman executive editor, Dandy Stevenson. As you’ll read, Dandy’s superior experience on a recent vacation underscores what I’ve been telling clients and prospects for years: bigger doesn’t mean better.

naples-florida-fl-023I got back to NYC on Saturday after a badly needed (is there any other kind) vacay in Naples FL. Stayed at La Playa Hotel and Spa, part of the Noble House group, and the only resort directly on the beach. They are accurately billed as being 33 steps from the beach; if you stay at the Waldorf you get to ride a tram to the beach. No thanks. I was not familiar with this collection of hotels, but the friend that recommended it is a real snob so I figured I would be okay. Turns out I was much more than just okay.

I’ve stayed at luxury resorts (Four Seasons, Ritz, et al) but this moderately sized property has an appeal and charm that actually made it more relaxing for me than the standard luxe resort. I could go on about the marble reception area, beautifully landscaped pools and cozy bathrobes but those things are pretty de rigueur and alone do not define a fine resort. It’s the service: first, last and always.

What made their service so outstanding, and actually, preferable to the big name luxury resorts? Four things, and not in any order…

1.    Eye contact. Everyone from the bus boy to the front desk manager looked me directly in the eye when speaking to me. Think about how often someone in service will look in your direction, but not always squarely in the face for the entire conversation. It may seem small, but it makes you realize that at that moment, you are their only guest. Nothing else, no one else matters to that person. The bartender didn’t ask what I wanted while he wiped down the bar, or rinsed glasses. He stopped and gave me his full attention.

2.    Sincere friendliness. I was spared the canned niceties. For example when I called the spa I didn’t hear, “It’s a beautiful day at Spa Terre and I thank you for considering our services; with whom to I have the pleasure of speaking?” I am never impressed by someone who memorized the Good Service Playbook. The staff at LaPlaya were real, genuine, and felt free to show their warmth in their own way. You knew the smile was real. I heard “Are you going to the beach today?” or “I hope we don’t get another thunderstorm.” There was friendly, but not familiar chatter with graciousness and even humor.

3.    Non-invasive attention. I’ve been in hotels where the staff freezes in the hallway, stands back to the wall, eyes fixed straight ahead when you near them. It’s some variation on the treatment Queen Elizabeth gets and word is even SHE doesn’t like that much formality. It’s not comfortable. It doesn’t make me feel special. It makes me feel like I have a spotlight following me around, and that’s not relaxing. Instead, if I was walking towards a door a staff member was near they just quietly held the door for me, and gave me a smile. No big deal. I knew they were observing me, but they weren’t making a big deal out of it. My towel into fell into a puddle by the pool; someone brought me a clean one. No words exchanged. Just an unobtrusive rectification. I knew the staff was observant, but they were not overt.

4.    Efficiency. At breakfast, a server other than mine, noticed I was looking for my own. He didn’t say, “I’ll get your waiter,” but instead, “I’ll take care of you.” Within minutes my own server returned with my request. It was obvious that each member of each staff group (food and beverage, beach service, housekeeping, front desk) knew they were an important member of a team, and were ready to play any position.

Now let’s get to why I think they beat the big guys. They’re not big. (In fact they remind me of a certain mid-sized PR firm that was Ranked #1 Best Places to Work by Crain’s NY Business, 2012.) They’re nimble. They have the freedom to personalize their training to each property and group. I think they have instilled a confidence in their staff to give their own personal touch. And because the staff knows they are not one of thousands worldwide, they have a camaraderie and personal pride in their resort. They’re not choking on corporate rules, or afraid to let the staff members be actively involved in making it a premier resort.

Don’t mistake me. LaPlaya is not perfection. The food, while marvelous, was not four-star. The baths did not have a soaking tub and the in-room safe was inconveniently placed on a top closet self. And of course this grade of personal service is not universally foreign to the premiere properties. But I think attention should be paid when a relatively unknown brand competes successfully, and surpasses in some instances the big guys.

I’ve already eyed the other Noble House properties, and LaPlaya hasn’t seen the last of me.

2 thoughts on “Give me service over brand anytime

  1. Thanks Ken. You’re right, Noble House is an excellent, but not well-known brand. And as they grow hopefully they will only strengthen their commitment to service, And not dilute it.

  2. Great post, Dandy. I’m not sure it’s a matter of service over brand. They’ve created a brand of five-star customer service, supported by warmth, sincerity, and a staff that’s clearly been trained and empowered to create a memorable stay for their valued clientele. I’d say that’s quite a powerful brand indeed!