On Cookies (and Expectations)

Of course I would be writing on cookies. Judging by my midsection, you could say I’m somewhat attached. But cookies are more than just delectable diet-devastators. In the hospitality industry, cookies are often props; they say “Welcome!” and “Make yourself comfortable.” They invite guests to indulge and relax. If they are freshly baked, their aroma pleasantly reminds guests of Grandma’s kitchen. It’s hard to be unhappy when cookie-scent is wafting through the air.

Not too long ago, my wife and I were visiting Northwest Arkansas. We had heard great things about the Doubletree brand, and friends had told us about the greeting they received at the front desk: a freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie. Sure enough, all over the Doubletree website, this greeting is hailed as part of the company’s culture of caring for its guests. Exhausted from the long drive but re-invigorated by the prospect of the evening’s adventures, we hurriedly settled our things into the hotel room. It was great! The suite was spacious and beautiful, smelled clean and fresh, and (my usual complaint) the temperature was cool and relaxing. As we were settling in, I read all the little cards in the room; the company had done a great job branding and reinforcing its culture through the in-room literature. But a picture of a piled-high plate of cookies reminded me we had not been offered one when we checked in. The cookie at check-in was not a major draw for us. But our expectation had been set, and the items in our room only reminded us that the hotel staff had missed a detail.

In our Funeral Home, we bake fresh cookies for each Visitation. When guests arrive, the Funeral Home is filled with the sweet aroma, and we let our families know that freshly-baked cookies await them in the family lounge. This gesture tells the family “I didn’t  set out a few dozen from a bulk box; I anticipated your arrival and baked these cookies especially for you and your guests.” Among other things, the care expressed through this small gesture has helped build the community’s expectation of excellence from our staff. Really, everyone has expectations set on them: customers expect service from businesses (good or bad), individuals expect certain characteristics in friends, etc. The three keys to exceeding these expectations are:

  1. Communicating Your Culture
    • Whether you are an individual or a business, you have a culture. Clearly articulating who you are lets others know what to expect from you. Often, people think that it’s easier to exceed expectations when there are no expectations. I’ve got news for you: from the time someone hears your name, sees your face, or walks into your business, they’ve got expectations. If you’re not setting expectations, they’re being set for you.

  2. Dedication to Details
    • Details, details, details! From spell-checking correspondence and advertising to ensuring that your appearance is inviting, details will help you win or lose. If you miss a detail, you can be sure someone will notice: your client, your friend/coworker, or your boss. Sometimes this means keeping checklists or setting up reminders on your electronic devices. Do it!

  3. Executing Excellence
    • If you’re always setting high expectations, the challenge isnot to meet them; you must exceed expectations. This sounds dangerous: how can you keep exceeding expectations if the “bar” is set higher and higher every day? Businesses and individuals must be constantly developing themselves and improving on what they have learned. Change for the sake of change is not progress; be sure that you are executing excellence and improving the delivery of your products or services with each interaction.

Our stay with the Doubletree in Bentonville was excellent. But often people don’t hear about the room temperature, the comfortable beds, and the excellent suites. They hear a goofy story about a missing cookie.

When is the last time you had a poor service experience? Has there been a time when a company’s service was great but one of their promises was unfulfilled? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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2 thoughts on “On Cookies (and Expectations)

  1. Ah Justin… now my Customer Service hat is on. Did you return to the front desk and with your wonderful sense of humour ask about the cookie? I would have, because you are right. The stay was just as much about the cookie as it would be a missing pillow. Was it poor service? A simple slip? A check-in after a busy rush that you missed, or … were they out of cookie dough and they weren’t done? 🙂 I missed a free gift and coffee during a Christmas promotion. No excuse other than we had been busy, had a tour bus who took all the ready gifts and emptied the coffee (I hadn’t planned for unexpected surprises, which I rectified for the next time), and I had a staff who called in sick. A little voice asking their Dad where the present was and a parent hushing them, reminded me that the promotion extras were FOR my awesome guests. I seriously felt bad and more than made up for it with announcing when ‘fresh coffee and hot chocolate’ were ready, as well as scrounged in my toy samples from suppliers for gifts for my little visitor to have their pick. Hopefully you did let the person know and not just the manager. Customer Service isn’t a brand… it is a calling.:)

    1. Thanks fir your comment, Deb! I didnt complain about the cookie; while I think it’s a great part of the welcoming ritual, I also would feel silly bringing it up with a desk clerk or even a mamanager. I did note the slip on a survey with an encouragement to consistently seek the brand’s standard of excellence, which we experienced in every other way.

      I agree that great service is definitely a calling! Thanks for your hard work to ensure a memorable experience for the child you mentioned in your anecdote.

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