Good service is a process

I recently had the privilege of being invited as a guest to Singita Lebombo Lodge in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The various Singita game lodges have consistently received an extraordinary number of prestigious international awards among them, and the lodge I stayed at had at one point been recognised as the best boutique hotel in the world.

While everything about our stay at the lodge was impeccable, one aspect of the incredible service we were given drew my attention: each guest was only ever asked a particular question once. For example (and this is only one of many I could draw from), shortly after we arrived, I requested some water. The serving staff member asked me if I preferred still or sparkling, and I replied, “Sparkling.” Throughout the weekend, I was always brought sparkling water without having to be asked again, no matter who was serving us.

This level of attention to detail fascinated me, and I spoke to the manager to find out how it was possible to maintain such a high standard of service. His response: “Process, process, process.” All staff members at the lodge are trained to record the likes, dislikes, and general preferences of all guests on a specially designed form, and they follow a very strict process to ensure that the correct information is made available to other staff members, as required.

One of the things that we train entrepreneurs in Raizcorp never to do is to compete on price or service. Firstly, because there is always someone cheaper, and secondly, because good service is not a differentiator; it should be considered as standard, like oxygen in the air.

Too often, small businesses try to differentiate themselves based on their ability to serve, but are unable to replicate good service beyond the people serving on any given day. This leads to huge fluctuations in the levels of service, which prevents these small businesses from building up the truly impressive reputation for service they are aiming at.

At Singita, the differentiator wasn’t the individual acts of good service we received, but the processes that resulted in these acts happening – without fail. In other words, the management at Singita have found a way to replicate good service through process, resulting in the consistent, almost fanatical attention to their guests’ needs that has drawn them worldwide renown.

Entrepreneurs in the tourism industry need to spend at least 30% of their time working on their businesses, not in their businesses. This time should be used to build the systems and processes that will lead to improved and more consistent customer service.

The more detailed that these processes are, the better. They must also be completely delinked from the personalities of individual staff members. Once these processes have been developed, it is vitally important to spend the required time in training the staff how to use them, to ensure that all staff can perform their functions with the promised levels of service at all times.

For a small business in the travel and tourism industry, developing the processes that lead to all customers having excellent experiences whenever they interact with the company is an essential step to for the entrepreneur to take. When every customer has a great experience, the business will start reaping the rewards of word-of-mouth advertising, making it easier to grow the client base and develop the kind of reputation for excellence that has been one of the key elements of Singita’s tremendous success.