Case 9: Four Seasons

The Case

The Four Seasons Hotel – How far will service take you?

The Four Seasons hotel was started in 1960 by Isadore Sharp in Toronto, Canada and is currently ranked as one of the most luxurious hotels in the hospitality industry, receiving the highest honour of 36 five-star ratings from the Forbes Travel Guide. Today the hotel chain has over 100 hotels worldwide, with each Four Seasons hotel or resort unique to its locale and character, while retaining the common thread of unscripted, empathetic care and service of their customers.

What this unique character of embracing the locale and culture means is that if you wake up in a Four Seasons hotel in Paris, you will feel Parisian because the staff and culture within the hotel will be Parisian. And when you arrive at the Four Seasons in India, the architecture of the hotel as you drive up as well as the staff and culture while in the hotel will portray the best of India. This ability to successfully embrace the feel of the local environment has enabled Four Seasons to obliterate a problem usually encountered when multinationals expand called NIH (Not-Invented-Here) syndrome.

The Four Seasons have had their share of lows, especially after 9/11 when the travel industry took a hit. At that time, the hotel was confronted with the choice of dropping their prices to attract clients, which they refused to cower to, choosing rather to compete on a differentiation strategy of exceptional service instead of a cost strategy.

First, let’s examine how this service strategy is delivered consistently, by looking at the company’s philosophy –

  1. 11 years after the company opened, the decision was made to remain a medium-sized hotel of Exceptional Quality. Quality, not necessarily size, would be the differentiator in every hotel.
  2. Offer Unparalleled Service by making service their competitive advantage. The goal is to ensure that the service experienced in the Four Seasons hotel you stay at will be the best you can experience in that city.
  3. Make their Brand name synonymous with Quality, expressed right from check-in through your entire stay and until you leave.
  4. And the last one, which I really like, probably because it’s also a pillar in my current company is The Golden Rule. This is even considered when employing staff!

Choosing to live your life with these four tenets will definitely make you a stand-out success at home, work or the community. However, there is an added advantage in adhering to the Golden Rule, which is to treat others the way you would like to be treated. Cast your mind back to when you needed to attend a very important meeting or event – you probably took a few looks at the mirror, straightening yourself to a preconceived image in your subconscious. You had an idea of what you wanted people to see and you adjusted your outward appearance to become that person.

Can I recommend that when you relate to people, imagine you are looking at yourself in a mirror and adjust your words, behaviour and actions to align with what you would want done to/for you? It encompasses the simple things like saying hi when you walk past someone on the streets, (if you would like someone else to say hi to you), to the big things like buying someone lunch if you would like someone at some point in time to buy you lunch too.

Now, let’s make it even better by applying the second lesson from Four Seasons. Remember I mentioned the locale nature of their delivery, which puts into consideration the culture of the new location when determining what service looks like. I like to think of this as an attitude that puts the recipient first in service-delivery. I remember reading a book by Gary Thomas, about ‘The 5 Love Language’ and his explanation that it’s the effort or attempt to speak to the other persons love language that often improves the relationship. When you are privy to information on what makes the person in front of you valued, do that instead.

I guess my message is simple – don’t just focus on treating people the way you want to be treated, try your best to also ensure it’s the way they enjoy being treated.