The number one trait shared by all successful service cultures

Picture of Paul Schmeja

Added on by 3 min read

During the recent Rio Olympics, I was remembering the wonderful Sydney 2000 games and in particular that spectacular Opening Ceremony. I’ll never forget an interview with the ceremony producer only minutes before the ceremony commenced.

The interviewer asked him how he felt. The producer’s response was along the lines of “it’s no longer up to me… it’s now in the hands of the performers, crew and segment directors. If something goes wrong out there tonight there is not a lot I can do from up here.”

That was a profound statement from the man responsible for the biggest show on earth about to be televised live to the entire planet. Yet there is a reality in that statement that rings just as true for anybody responsible for leading front of house teams.

2000_Summer_Olympics_opening_ceremony_1.jpeg2000 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Sydney


If we have done our jobs well, selected the right team, given them the tools, training and vision to succeed, then we also have to trust that “on the day” they will make good decisions, solve problems and perform their roles in line with the planned outcome.

It is, in the end, in the hands of the performers. Our cast in this case is our front line team members who will manage the interactions (moments of truth) that occur over and over again in the delivery of our service.

Our crew is the housekeeping, maintenance, chefs and IT teams keeping the engines running and the product shiny.

Our “directors” are the floor supervisors and duty managers ready to jump in at a moment’s notice to troubleshoot any unforeseen issues and calm a disgruntled guest.

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The backbone of service cultures

Hospitality service is, after all, a type of theatre. Our cast needs to look the part, know their roles and be ready to improvise while remaining “on-brand” at all times.

The best service operations have perfected the “art of anticipation”, building amazing cultures that drive the team performance towards a pre-determined outcome.

The backbone of these service cultures can often be broken down into the following 4 components:

  • Reliable, repeatable and robust systems (policy & procedures)
  • The right talent (through successful recruitment & selection)
  • An amazing culture (designed and nurtured)
  • Customer experience comes first (and is at the forefront of all decision making)


The service culture of Apple

Apple comes to mind when I think of an amazing service culture. I got to experience this first hand several years ago, when a recruiter contacted me for a role with Apple Stores.

So began one of the most lengthy and detailed selection processes I have ever experienced. What really stood out was the positivity everyone presented. These were the highest levels of enthusiasm, commitment and loyalty - words like “I haven’t worked a day since joining Apple.”


Chicago iPad 2 Release: Apple Store Door opening 


Their retail service culture is second to none. Store managers aren’t given data on their store’s sales performance. This isn’t a KPI. Instead, they are entirely measured on customer feedback scores, and the service experience.

It is expected that no customer should leave an Apple Store unsatisfied. With that goal clearly at the forefront, all supporting systems and policy are designed around that desired outcome.

Employees are empowered (within carefully established parameters) to resolve problems on the spot, cheerfully and in line with Apple’s carefully curated culture.


The service culture of Ritz Carlton Hotels

Apple’s service model is taken literally from another world-leading service culture – Ritz Carlton Hotels.

Ritz Carlton are renowned for uncompromising standards, international consistency, and unequalled brand-loyalty from staff, whose commitment to their culture is unwavering.

Their long-standing motto “Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen” is profound in its simplicity - a place where the “genuine care and comfort of guests” is the highest priority.



Staff at all levels are empowered to use their judgment in the delivery of this ideal. 12 documented Service Values are seen as “ways of being” as opposed to “ways of doing”.

Every person, including a person in Housekeeping or working in the laundry, has the ability to exercise judgment in spending up to $2000 per guest per day to enhance the guest experience or afford immediate problem resolution, without seeking permission from the supervisor.

Imagine the possibilities!

It may not surprise you to learn that this trust is rarely abused. This has created a bulletproof culture across a global hotel group where staff members are encouraged to deliver the service promise in their own unique way – in line with a well-understood credo and guidelines.

The New Gold Standard by Joseph A. Michelli is an excellent read for anyone interested in exploring the Ritz Carlton service methodology in further detail.


The ultimate “moment of truth”

Both of these organisations have built lasting and meaningful cultures, refined over decades, by simply placing the customer experience at the forefront of all things.

These companies, just like the Producer at the Opening Ceremony, have to build the framework, process and set the stage for their delivery. Then they have to recruit the right people, give them the tools, training and objective.

But foremost, they must trust the people on the front-line to deliver the experience for their guests. The ultimate “moment of truth” occurs when all the pre-work, policies and procedures fade into the background.

It is up to the individual interacting with the guest in that moment to create a service experience that impacts the guest exactly in line with the desired vision.


Always a matter of trust 

At First Contact Executive Hospitality we assist world-leading global corporations with their front of house service experience. 



We have embraced an International 5 star hotel service methodology and adapted it to create our own unique service culture for the corporate environment. 

We combine successful recruitment with robust systems and process, technology, training and a strong culture where service experience is the key deliverable.

Then we have to trust our “cast”, our front-line Reception and Concierge staff to deliver our service promise in their own way, in line with our own pre-defined standards – which is the secret of our service.


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