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Talk Exchange

Hotelier Alain Spieser about how you can “wow” everyone

byInsa Schniedermeier
byInsa Schniedermeier
Insa Schniedermeier

Alain Spieser has worked in top-notch hotels like the Four Seasons in Geneva or the Hotel Royal in Evian for 40 years and is now a professor at the Hotel School of Geneva. We talked with him about great client service and how you can “wow” not only clients but everyone in your day-to-day interactions. 

Alain, it’s great to meet you! You have been working in hotels for many years, are now a teacher and consult companies in client service. From your experience: Is it easier or harder to have a great client service online compared to offline? 

From my perspective, it is more difficult to take client service online. If we take the hospitality industry, we have many opportunities to surprise a client and to offer him a great experience. We can welcome him at the hotel entrance, accompany him to his room and offer him a great service during his stay. With online service, you don’t have these options.

So how can you improve the online service experience?

I am working with Alpian for example which is exciting because their objective is to create a culture of service excellence for a digital FinTech. It is a great challenge because I have never done it before. I did it for normal banks, where you will have physical interactions with the clients. But at Alpian all interactions are happening only via chat and video. It was very interesting to work with them on standards and values also for this digital client experience.

Can you tell me a bit more about what you do mean when you talk about standards and values in client service? 

During my time in the Four Seasons I learned that there are three steps in great client service. The most important thing is that the basic service is immaculate. I call this “Get it right”. “Get it right” will give the clients the best service that is expected and paid for. This is the foundation.

The next step is “Get me right”. This step is more personal, here we really learn about the client’s preferences and act on it, like a certain kind of music he likes to listen to or a special diet.

The third step is the “Wow me if you can” step. Here, we take client service even one step further to surprise and delight the client. This works because people don’t expect that you will do it, and they will remember it.

In reality however, very often even the simple standard service is not reached because of a lack of training, because of a lack of motivation, et cetera. So by performing exactly a standard which is expected, you are already better than your competitor. And you can take it in human relationships, too, in personal relationships.

Hotelier Alain Spieser about how you can “wow” everyone

Suit up! Alain Spieser is teaching at the Hotel School in Geneva.

What would be an example of that? 

Take a dialogue with someone. If you approach it from a client service mindset the goal should be to make the other person talk as much as possible about themselves. Most of us are pretty self-centered and like to hear us speak. So speak to them about themselves or make them think about themselves. And already you are clicking.

Then the second step comes into play, the “Get me right”. The more you know about the other person, the more you will be able to cater to that personality. Asking questions and listening to the answers is the beginning, but you also have to use the answers.

The third step is not mandatory to have every time, and it requires some practice and effort. It is important to understand that you can only “wow” if the first steps are in place. The basic service has to be the standard. Shortcuts and trying to “wow” without having the basic service in place will only backfire.

“Great personal interactions are a matter of listening.”

Can you give me a tangible example for wowing someone in a personal relationship? 

OK, so take a first date, maybe let’s be modern, you met through an app and you agreed to meet in a bar. So, coming from a client service view, you would let the other person propose the place where they want to go. And then when you meet that person, you will make every effort to make that person speak of herself.

Eventually you might learn that that person loves jazz. So next time, you might take her to this jazz festival. Make the interactions not about you, make them about her. Of course it has to be an exchange, still, the other person also has to try to seduce you. But for me, great personal interactions are a matter of listening.

And what would be the “wow” in a situation like this?

The wow is that you have the best seats or that after the concert you have planned a nice dinner on the lake or something. It is about organizing something that goes a little bit further than what is expected. There are millions of ways of doing it. I guess it’s the opposite of being selfish. And it’s true in companies, it’s true in personal life – great relationships form if you are truly interested in the other person.

The same is true when there is a problem. Once you show that you really care about that problem, that you are really sorry, then it’s already half solved. And if you propose a solution, then it will be more than solved, and the person will never want to go anywhere else. Because you have listened to that person, you have proposed a solution. And that will be rewarded.

Hotelier Alain Spieser about how you can “wow” everyone

Alain Spieser.

Hotelier Alain Spieser about how you can “wow” everyone

Before teaching at the Hotel School of Geneva, Alain Spieser has worked at top-notch hotels like the Four Seasons.

How can a company that puts client service first best prepare for dealing with complaints and errors? 

Every company has to admit first that they’re working with human beings. Mistakes can happen. When you admit that you go the first step to say: When it happens and we learn about it, how do we proceed? Which kind of procedure do we have, how do we handle it?

At the Four Seasons we first apologized, even if it was not our fault. Then we would propose a solution, and then make an excuse later or deliver something to the room. And last but not least, we would share the incident with the team so that this mistake won’t be repeated.

A hundred percent satisfaction of clients is a wishful thinking. It’s nice to have this as an objective. But it’s impossible to reach, let’s admit it. The hundred percent recuperation of guests that are unsatisfied, that should be your objective. And there is no reason not to pursue and achieve it.

Would you say that the client is always right?

Yes, of course. He’s paying your salary at the end. Only if you understand that, will you do everything you can to make him or her happy. Even if the complaint is exaggerated.

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Entranse to Four Seasons Hotel in Geneva

How do you establish this thinking and determined focus on client service in a company? 

The key to success is to have a common understanding of the company’s goals. For example, the main objective might not be to get clients, but to keep clients. Getting the clients is easy. Keeping the clients is more difficult. If you all agree on that and know that this is your main objective, and you use all the tools that are at your disposal it will work easily. And it’s not only about establishing a great standard in dealing with the clients. It is also important how you deal with each other. Because eventually, this is part of the company culture and will be reflected in your outward communications.

Do you think that the focus on client service will become more important in the future with traditional services becoming more and more digitized? 

Oh, yes, sure. Client service is a great differentiator in any case. The thing is that all of the hotels, banks, etc. are operating in a very competitive market. We all have very similar products, like for hotels: We all have beds and restaurants. The differentiator will be how you deliver that and what will be the experience of the client. In client service lies the difference that you can make with your competitor, not with the product. The determinator of your success is the relationship that you establish with your clients. That’s key. That’s very key.

Interesting. What does wealth mean to you? 

For me personally, wealth is about having the right amount to be able to live a life, independently. Reasonably. And enriched by travel, with an active social life, going to restaurants, et cetera. That’s wealth for me.

Thank you so much for your time Alain, and all the best!

About the author
Insa Schniedermeier
Insa Schniedermeier

Insa is a content strategist, a journalist and a Yoga teacher based in Berlin. Coming from a business background, Insa has decided to become a writer and blogger 5 years ago. She has since written for many magazines like Business Punk, VICE, Fit For Fun, enorm, and more. In her role as Editor-in-Chief for i-vest she always tries to create value through sharing stories about personal growth, sustainability, inspiring creators and business founders.