Selling Synchronized Service

Last week while speaking to an association chapter of healthcare finance professionals, I had the pleasure of staying at a Ritz-Carlton. While I like to think of myself as a seasoned business traveler, the level of service I received at the Ritz reduced me to a country bumpkin. From the courtesy of each staff person to the chocolate on the pillow that I found when I returned to my room in the evening, every gesture seemed designed to please.

Ritz-CarltonPerhaps the moment of truth was something I observed at the last luncheon I attended during the conference. As a business woman, I’m used to the usual hotel banquet service: you try to focus on the speaker while the staff scurries to feed the multitudes, banging silver warming trays and exchanging salad dishes for the entrée dishes, all to the background music of clattering silverware. At this Ritz-Carlton, however, things were quite different.

First, the staff were barely noticeable and the noise level was whisper-soft. Then, when it came time to deliver our meals, something happened. Expecting the usual “dip-and-dump” of my plate on the table, I leaned a little to my left to accommodate my server. But no, wait: there was a pause. I straightened up, surprised.   We were suddenly surrounded by a ring of white-gloved staff people, all of whom stood at attention for a full count of three, then elegantly delivered our meals in one sweeping gesture, first to one-half of the table, then to the other. We were the grateful recipients of something they call “synchronized service.”

Of course I had to ask the waiter David about it. I’d never seen anything like that before. Their commitment to synchronized service is not a Ritz-Carlton standard, he told me, but rather is a standard of that particular property. The courtesy of the staff–from those who performed that balletic delivery of our banquet food to the maids pushing carts in the hall–seemed authentic, professional and anything but cloying. They seemed genuinely glad to see us, to serve us and to ensure that our stay with them was exquisite. And it was.

So that got me thinking: What kind of “synchronized service” can I provide in my own business? How can I not just meet my clients’ needs but rather, as my marketing professor Dr. John Zerio at Thunderbird used to say with his charming Brazilian accent, “Deeee-light the customer!”? What kinds of touches could I add to my own delivery of coaching and speaking services that would cause my clients to stop in their tracks just as I did when those dishes were placed in front of us in one elegant move?

And I’ll ask you the same thing–how can you provide service to your customers, clients or employees in a way that demonstrates your commitment to their complete well-being and is delivered with the same synchronicity and grace of the wait staff at the Ritz? What can we do that is the equivalent of that chocolate on the pillow?

I welcome your comments.

In Pursuit of Mastery

Humility plays such a big role in the pursuit of mastery.

Several weeks ago I attended a Speaker Lab, sponsored by the National Speakers Association of Illinois (NSA-IL) of which I’m both a member and a board member. The lab was led by two veteran speakers, teachers and authors, Cyndi Maxey, CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) and Kevin O’Connor, CSP. Both Cyndi and Kevin have given tirelessly to our chapter and that Saturday was yet another example of the generosity of NSA members who are committed to helping others in the profession of speaking.

Over and over I’ve heard the recommendation that in order for professional speakers [or any professional] to get better, we have to seek out and welcome feedback. Easier said than done, though. It’s scary to put yourself on the line to be critiqued, some of which may hurt. But asking for feedback is a critical component in the pursuit of mastery, isn’t it? Asking for a critique says your commitment to mastery is bigger than your ego, even if it smarts. So I was one of the first ones to sign up for the Speaker Lab, and that Saturday I trooped down to Chicago to National Louis University where the lab was held. My goal was to perfect my “signature story,” a story about my dad that I wanted to use in a presentation I was giving in Indianapolis the next week. And while I’d used the story before, I’d never scripted it, so the results were often shaky and unpredictable. This time, I wanted to nail the story or, as we say in the world of music, get it “flat.” No winging it.

And that’s where humility comes in. You can’t get better without knowing what’s missing. The feedback I received at the Speaker Lab was compassionate and spot on: I meandered with too many off-track details, and the listeners weren’t quite sure where I was going. Got it. I took the feedback, scripted the story, practiced it and used the story during my presentation in Indy as “bookends,” beginning with the introduction and later ending my presentation with the story’s punchline. For the first time, I felt like I was in control of where the story was going and how it would affect my audience. It worked.

I did another brave thing: I recorded my presentation on my iPhone. Conor Cunneen, fellow dean of NSA-IL Speakers Academy and a consummate professional himself, has said over and over that it’s imperative to record every presentation and then review it to see what worked, what didn’t work and how to improve. While I would nod my head in theory, I hadn’t yet practiced this technique. I don’t know if my resistance was based on fear or laziness. This time, in pursuit of mastery, I hit “record” and later listened to my presentation while driving back from Indianapolis, a very long drive.

I was deeply humbled by what I heard. When did I start saying “um” every other sentence? How could I not have heard that before? I didn’t stop to count the “ums” but I was horrified by this vocal tic that I wasn’t even aware I had–and one I never would have known about if I hadn’t hit “record.”  Back to being a student. Back to the beginner’s mind.

One other thing struck me during that trip to and from Indianapolis. I was listening to some CDs in the car while driving, recordings of presenters at our NSA convention last summer. One of them, a veteran speaker and coach to other superstars, Lou Heckler, told a story about coaching a new speaker. After Lou gave the young man his homework, this neophyte speaker said wearily, “Boy that sounds like a lot of work.” Big laugh from the crowd–and from me. Yeah, it’s a lot of work. Discipline. Self-reflection. Practice. A hunger for feedback, a rigorous request for coaching and the ability to withstand the honest truth without flinching (or at least without dropping out) in order to get better.

In pursuit of mastery, there’s always something new to learn.

[Photo credit: “Maria Callas” by Marilyn Szabo, used with permission of the artist.]