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By Adam Knight

Let’s talk about mindset for a minute.

In any customer facing business, taking care of your customers is your bread and butter. We all know that at the end of the day, it’s a lot easier to keep customers than it is to constantly have to find new ones. But what does this really mean and how does it translate in to action on the ground?

I’m sure that at some point you’ve received negative customer feedback and said to your team “We need to improve our service!”. Maybe you’ve even put some goals around a service improvement or your NPS score. All good options but I’m betting that you don’t approach it from the standpoint of coaching your team on increasing their emotional connection with the customer.

Emotional connection - These are two words that we don’t hear very often in this context but the concept is crucial for creating fans of your business and it starts with understanding the difference between service and hospitality.

At this point, the term ‘improve service’ feels like a crutch term for managers and business owners, and while it's important to have an improvement mentality - constantly striving to provide more, in a meaningful way - you have to remember that 'service' is simply the act of providing something to someone. It's transactional. It doesn't speak to HOW it should be provided.

Think about your new higher training. My bet is that new employees are trained on the process or deliverable, but there is rarely any thought or attention paid to training them on their presence of mind while delivering the service. THAT is the difference.

Hospitality is the process of doing something for someone

I was recently at In-N-Out - needed a burger fix - and the guy expediting the orders at the counter exemplified this idea. He was crushing it. Super busy restaurant, late at night, literally a line out the door and a room full of hungry customers staring at him waiting for their food. He could have called numbers and given out food - that’s essentially the gist of the job, but he was doing SO much more than that. He cleaned as he worked, engaged with hungry customers when they came to the counter, asked people waiting if they wanted a water cup, was smiling, joking and had an infectious energy that affected the staff around him and spilled over in to the restaurant. He was having fun. He embodied exactly what I’m talking about here and it made the whole experience that much better.

It’s pretty clear that at some point he was trained on the importance of connecting with his customers.

Let’s look a little deeper.

Service is a monologue. You decide how you want to do things and you set your own standards for service.

  • It’s the process of doing something to someone
  • It’s the act of handling a task
  • It’s the technical delivery of a product

Hospitality is about being on the customers side. It requires situational awareness, listening to that person with every sense (including reading their body language), and following up with a thoughtful, gracious and appropriate response. 

  • It’s the process of doing something for someone
  • It’s how the delivery of that product or service makes the customer feel
  • Hospitality is a dialogue - responding to the ebb and flow of the interaction

The ability to create a positive emotional reaction within your customer changes the game. Sure, if you fall down on the technical delivery of the product then you aren’t delivering on the customers expectation and all the smiling in the world won’t matter, but I promise you, that In-N-Out experience I had will stay with me for a long time. I’ll tell that story to anyone who will listen because it so beautifully illustrates how a good burger was made that much better because of how it was given to me.

Great service - a good burger delivered quickly. Great hospitality - needs I didn't know I had being exceeded.

It takes both great service and great hospitality to rise to the top.

This article first appeared on the Proven Principles blog at

About Adam Knight

Adam Knight is a luxury hospitality veteran and operations expert who has lived and worked all over North America and the Caribbean for nearly two decades. He loves the left brain/right brain dichotomy of the hospitality industry. One minute you’re diving in to a P&L, the next you’re tasting the new seasonal menu in the restaurant. His passion truly lies in understanding how things work and making them better, be it small service experience or large-scale project management.

Contact: Adam Knight

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