To The Highest Standards (Issue 797)

In which we consider that companies generate more client loyalty and more sales if they’ve developed and managed their sales teams to specific client experience standards.

One of my favorite friends came to Boston last week and we met for dinner Monday night. He likes steaks, so we walked the fine dining road to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Boston’s Old City Hall. If you like French Second Empire architecture, you’ll love this building and Ruth’s has created richly dark, elegant dining space.Old Boston City Hall

Once we were seated, our server, Danielle, arrived to introduce herself and begin our dinner. My friend requested the wedge salad (no tomatoes, no onions, extra blue cheese) and the petite fillet. I went with the Caesar salad and the sea bass, pan-roasted served over sweet potato and pineapple hash, topped with citrus coconut butter. Yum!

Danielle and her food runner orchestrated our meal beautifully. We never felt rushed and we never waited long. The food was…well… extraordinary.

When Danielle came to offer coffee, I asked, “How many ounces of Sea Bass do you serve?”

Without hesitating, she smiled: “9 ½ ounces.”

Surprised and delighted with her quick and confident response, I reflected on her service during the meal – where she stood and how she addressed the table when conversing with us, her voice volume, her posture, her smile, how purposefully and gently she moved, her direct eye contact with us, the several times she’d anticipated something before we asked for it. What a delight to be served by her, so well.

The next day, curious about our experience, I explored the Web for information about pay and working conditions at Ruth’s. Almost without exception, the online comments were positive… and many were extraordinarily positive, including comments about the teamwork, the staff’s “family meals,” and the attention to detail. One person wrote, “The hardest part of my job were the many steps of service that day in and day out we were held to the highest standards.” Whatever her natural talents, Danielle had been well trained and well coached.

Most of us, I’m guessing, can recognize the differences between “held to the highest standards” service experiences like Danielle’s and service experiences at other fine dining establishments where standards and staff training seem to be less of a priority. Even if we can’t specifically articulate the differences, we experience and react to them.

Our clients, too, recognize the differences between “held to the highest standards” sales people and others. [In our experience, many sales organizations have NO written standards other than production expectations; their sales representatives must decide, for themselves.] Even if clients can’t articulate the differences, they experience and react to them. Some of the differences may be obvious – ability to begin and maintain a productive line of discussion. Some may be less obvious.

Do the differences matter to clients or to sellers’ sales results? Well, I’ll be going back to Ruth’s and I’ll argue that, all other things being equal, the sellers and consultants whose organizations have developed and coached them to clear and thoughtful brand-specific client experience standards will prevail.

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