One of the key difficulties my clients encounter in their Software-as-a-Services journey is the transformation from being a product company to delivering services. The analogy I often use is to turn a grocery store to be a restaurant. I have met several ISVs who literally just swapped their grocery store logo to a restaurant logo, purchased a few chairs and tables and sit back relaxed, saying that they are ready to run a restaurant business now. Obviously, this doesn’t work – the transformation has to happen in the core of their business and everyone and everything involved has to support the new model of delivering quality services to their customers. In this post, I’ll show you a rather unusual perspective to delivering services – and you are to judge of how this viewpoint applies to you.
In a SaaS world, if you fail to deliver a 5 star service, you can easily end up your clients leaving you. In a SaaS world, you “sell” your service on a monthly basis. So, as you would guess, one of the core competencies of delivering Software-as-a-Service is to serve customers. As you know, I’m a great fan of stealing practices from one market and applying them to another. At this occasion, I’ve interviewed Remus Bednar, front-desk manager at the Pullman hotel in Bucharest. I have been to many places in the world, stayed in Ritz-Carltons and many five star hotels, but I have to admit that I’ve never seen anyone engaging with customers so well as this gentleman does. Enjoy the interview below and keep your eyes open to see how his practices apply to your SaaS transformation.
Remus, you make people feel like if you knew them – you establish such a great atmosphere with your customers. What’s your secret?
I do believe that the main point is that I’m always natural and genuine. I don’t have to transform and pretend that I’m something else – and somehow, this makes customers also feel comfortable and relaxed. Don’t forget that my office is the hotel reception and I naturally love to meet new people, get to know them, listen to how they arrived, where they live, what they do and how they feel. I just “hang out” and do what I love to do.
You are obviously not alone in shaping the overall guest experience at Pullman’s. How did you build your team?
The recipe starts at the recruitment process. I hire only people who are happy in their skin; otherwise it’s very difficult to motivate them on the way up. On the other hand, it is a DNA question. People who enjoy serving are open and enjoy meeting other people. People who serve well are up to learn something from everybody.
What makes it so difficult for other companies to treat customers on a premium level all the time?
Well, I believe that it’s due to the weak selection process, or they keep people in their job (or people keep themselves in their jobs), even if it’s obvious that they are not happy with what they are doing. This is when things go wrong.
Does a good wage make a difference?
I don’t believe in this. Your commitment to serve should not be justified by your salary – it’s wrong. If you love what you do and what you do can get you to where you want to go next, you will work like if you owned the company.
How can one do such a good service as you do?
A new job or new business is like a lottery. You either win or learn – and like in lottery, you can buy a new ticket again next week. I’ve been refused several times and tried several jobs until I found the one that suits me well. If you don’t like what you do, keep going, never give it up and find the business where you feel like home. You will never be able to serve well if you are not in the job that you love.
How can one learn how to serve?
I have a theory that you can’t do a front desk job from a back office position. In the world of services, learning in principle doesn’t go a long way. Practice is what counts – this is what I do with my team all the time. You do your training on an on-going basis … even I am on a training every day, still after so many years. I’ve been working next by excellent mentors for long years. Human relations are so complex in motion that you can’t learn them from a book or using an Excel sheet. It’s a combination of several factors.
If you were asked to teach a class in a university, what would that subject be?
David, you are cheating – you know that I’ve been asked to speak to a hospitality class. Anyway, my current subject in university is the complexity of human relationships.
My philosophy is that a conflict that’s small can be easily resolved. If the conflict is not resolved, it grows and grows and the possible variations for resolution are reducing with every single step as we go further. It’s always interesting to see when people don’t feel the moment when they actually have to stop, apologise and resolve the problem – ignoring emotions temporarily. The quicker you resolve the problem, the more chance your guest will come back to you.
Many people don’t realise that they spend more time at work than they do with their families. Do the math, look at how much you sleep and travel a day and compare the net time spent with work and at home. If you can’t find your work/life balance, I doubt that you can be a happy man anywhere. This is how I motivate my people. First, they all have to be good friends as they do spend more time together than with their families. Conflicts always happen and they have to be surfaced and fixed immediately. We never have conflicts when facing customers and we always shake hands in the back office once the air is clear. Not communicating, surfacing and resolving problems result to so many frustrations during the day. Fix problems straight away and transform bad experience into a relief – don’t take the bad things with you – you spend too short time at home for that.
How do these apply to online services over the internet?
I don’t believe that a service can exist without people or without the personal touch. I see that some of the better websites build their services in a very personal way though – sometimes applying humour, intelligence and entertainment. If it’s genuine, this can go a long way.
However, sooner or later, all services come to a point when the customer has to contact another person and this is the point that either cements or dissolves the customer’s commitment. The challenge is that in the online services world today, customers only touch base with a human being when things go wrong. When the phone is ringing or the chat dialog is beeping, it means that there’s a problem – and this is the company’s chance to demonstrate how well they treat their precious customers. Not having a person to speak to can impersonate the experience – and this is not natural to human beings, they won’t feel comfortable using a service that’s ran by robots. “Houston, we have a problem” – that was a man to another man … Imagine if he’d have gotten a fax tone after saying this …
To me, service is a dialog (and not a monolog) between 2 people. That’s how I’d define service in a dictionary. Good service involves body language, communication and these make it so easy to serve well and discover the nice people behind the mask that they would have never taken off otherwise. In the world of services, further opportunities come much easier when this personal engagement is in place.
What’s your message to my clients who are moving into a world of Software-as-a-Services?
Start only a business that you are inspired by. Do only what you love doing. Hire people who feel good in their skin and don’t push them to do things that they don’t like. In fact, let them go if they don’t like what they are doing. Establish a nice atmosphere and be thirsty to learn new things every day from your customers.
In Pullman, we have returning guests for over 10 years. We know that they don’t come back for the bed as we change them all the time. The coffee machines are also changing pretty regularly – so coffee is not the main motivation, either. They come back for the service and only seeing this is worth it …
Remus Bednar works for Pullman for 11 years. Prior, he worked for hotel Intercontinental in Frankfurt and Crowne Plaza Bucharest where he started as a Front Desk Receptionist.
David Szabo, Cloud Strategy Advisor, Intrapreneur, Firestarter and Rulebreaker at Microsoft. Startup-addict, SaaS & Cloud consultant, blogger at http://cloudstrategyblog.com and LEGO serious play facilitator. Follow me on Twitter!