Story: Whataburger (primarily located throughout the state of Texas) is not really different from hundreds of fast food burger places. It is arguably a wee bit unique in a few small ways (e.g. sauce selection), but if you lined up Whataburger’s food and facilities by any number of comparisons, it would be nothing unusual or remarkable. What I’ve experienced to be very different though, is the people and service side. I have received more attention at a Whataburger than many five star restaurants. From the greeting, to the table delivery, to the goodbye, there is intentional personal connection between Whataburger staff and the customer.
According to Carmine Gallo’s great book, Five Stars, there are only 150 or so Forbes’ 5 star rated hotels world wide. One of them is the Sanctuary Hotel on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Every single employee is taught to make personal, emotional connections with customers through the following non-negotiable basics:
- Get the customer’s name right! The customer is not a room number.
- Beat the great! The employee ALWAYS initiates the conversation with the customer.
- Anticipate customer needs. Put yourself directly in the customer’s shoes and anticipate what they might need or want.
- Daily storytelling! Share stories openly, and DAILY with ALL employees regarding how executing on one to three above makes an incredible difference.
When customers rave about The Sanctuary Hotel, they rarely comment about the thread count of the sheets, menus, and other so-called differentiators. Rather, they talk about way people treated them primarily by flawlessly executing on 1-3 above. Getting ALL people behaving this way is basic, but not easy. It takes relentless, focused leadership.
Key Point: How the heck can it be so hard to execute on the above described by Sanctuary? My experience is that it’s not that difficult, but most leaders don’t have the focus and/or conviction to make it so. They have x strategic initiatives, x sales objectives, x new technology and processes to introduce, x shiny new programs to chase. And rather than being 100 percent consistent and laser-focused on customer tuned basics, they are scooting around after so many things. They inadvertently have their employees jumping from one activity to another. Hence, there is little or no consistent and/or differentiating customer experience that truly feels top rate. My conclusion is that this is actually a conscious choice. Most service companies talk a good deal, but have no intention of fully committing to building in that WOW experience. All hat and no cattle, as the saying goes, is a lot less self-accountable.
Personal Leadership Moves:
- Be honest. Really decide from the top if you want to declare focused, non-negotiable, differentiating behavior that can make you five star with customers.
- If you really want to, declare the specific expectations like The Sanctuary, and then be explicit at every level of customer intersection. No distractions. These basics must always be first!
- Just don’t aspire to be five Star with a three Star effort. It’s fake customer service.
Five Stars in Personal Leadership
One Millennial View: First of all, those are fightin’ words regarding Whataburger being just like “hundreds” of other burger joints. But, you’re right regarding the importance of the customer experience. It seems to me that sometimes when something is so simple, it can get overlooked. Just like how some people can overlook Whataburger started as a burger stand in 1950 Corpus Christi, and now remains family owned with 800 restaurants spanning from Arizona to Florida. Whataburger wouldn’t treat anyone differently for not knowing that. They’d probably just say “bless your heart.”
Edited and published by Garrett Rubis