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Does your staff really understand your customers?

Good service requires empathy — your people need to truly understand the needs and feelings of your customers. 

It’s hard to do if you have minimum-wage employees delivering a luxury product to wealthy customers.

That’s why I love what Four Season hotels do:  They let their housekeepers stay for free.

From the May 5, 2007 issue of Business Week:

At most of its properties, the final piece of the seven-step employee orientation is something the chain’s executives call a "familiarization stay" or "fam trip." Each worker in these hotels, from housekeepers to front-desk clerks, is given a free night’s stay for themselves and a guest, along with free dining.

While there, employees are asked to grade the hotels on such measures as the number of times the phone rings when calling room service to how long it takes to get items to a room. "We bill it as a training session," says Ellen Dubois du Bellay, vice-president of learning and development, "They’re learning what it looks like to receive service from the other side."

That’s key when your product is out of range for many employees–a $400 room rate isn’t exactly easy to swing on a housekeeper’s budget. But the perk doesn’t stop at orientation: After six months of service, employees may stay up to three nights a year for free. By 10 years, they get 20 free stays. As you’d imagine, "there’s a healthy uptake," says du Bellay. Four Seasons’ creative but practical approach reveals one of the most powerful secrets of world-class service: helping employees feel what it feels like to be a customer.

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