“Waiter, there is a fly in my soup!”

“I am so sorry sir; let me replace that for you”
“I am so sorry sir; let me replace that for you and your entrée will be free of charge”
“I am so sorry sir, let me replace that for you and have a free bottle of champagne on the house.”
“I am so sorry sir, let me replace that for you and as a mark of how much we value your custom, your meal will be free tonight”

Are any of these responses superior service?

No, they are not.

No application of corrective action can retrieve a situation where such a basic need as hygiene and cleanliness has been breached in a restaurant.

The requirements of customers for service follow a fairly simple hierarchy. At the basic level, customers need to have an environment in which they feel safe and secure and comfortable.

Whether they are shopping on the internet, or by phone, or through a bricks and mortar experience, they must have the same feeling of security to which they have become accustomed in their day-to-day shopping experiences. Take them too far out of their comfort zone and they will not buy because they do not trust.

They need the telephone or face to face experience to meet their level of expectation for friendliness and helpfulness or knowledge. They need the cleanliness of a bricks and mortar operation to meet their definition of cleanliness and order. They need the appearance, the grooming, the tone and pace of voice to meet their expectations. Take any of these basic needs outside of their comfort zone and customers will either not buy or will do so reluctantly, thinking that they have not had good service.

However, if the basic needs are met, the best a seller can hope for is a feeling that the service was “OK”.

Having a fly in the soup destroys any feeling of comfort and trust and that cannot be regained by offering apologies and free services. Not offering an apology and some recompense can make the situation worse, but offering them does not redeem the situation to the point before the fly was observed in the soup.

The thought likely to be crossing their mind is “What if the soup came from a tureen and the fly had been cooked in the whole batch?” or “What else can I expect? Mouse droppings in the ??.?”

Meeting the basic needs of customers is the foundation on which superior service is built, but is not superior service.

Above their basic needs, customers have wants which are individual, but common enough to a wide range of individuals to be analysed, in marketing terms, as a segment.

For example, the conference segment in the hospitality industry would have basic needs such as audio visual equipment that works and whiteboard pens that work and would have a common want for problems which arise during the conference to be solved quickly, quietly and simply.

There are always unforeseen problems at conferences. This is usually more to do with lack of planning and contingency planning by the conference organiser than hotel staff. However, well organised events management staff in a hotel will anticipate the problems and issues. The will have approaches they know will resolve the majority of those problems and issues with little effort by the hotel, creating high value for the guest.

Meeting these wants is not superior service. It is good service and will get repeat custom. It will not, however, create raving fans unless the customers have never had their wants fulfilled before.

Above and beyond their wants, customers have unexpected or unknown desires. For example, when a club member comes off the golf course on a hot day, they have a need to cool down. They have a want to be in air conditioning, to have a cold drink in comfortable surroundings to chat over the round with their playing buddies.

Present to them a cold refreshing towel, direct from the fridge as a free service and you will be providing a service they did not even know that they wanted until it was provided to them. In the scale of things cooling, the gesture is off the scale because of the sensory impact of the cold towel hitting the hot skin and because it is personal, unlike air conditioning.

That is superior service.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is the best exponent of superior service that I have personally experienced.

When you arrive in their business lounge, you are greeted personally to ensure your details are correct for the limousine to take you home from your destination airport. You can order your meal for the flight in the lounge or even eat whilst in the lounge if there is time so that you might sleep on the flight. Hostesses offer scalp and shoulder massages to help you relax in flight. The list does go on.

Providing superior service need not be expensive as the above examples demonstrate. So, anyone can do it even though few do.

In my view, experiencing a service that you did not know you wanted until you experienced it, is good start to a definition of superior service, but it is not complete.

What kills superior service are the small things that are more likely to be described as basic needs.

The book, “Broken Windows, Broken Business”, by Michael Levine clearly points out the need to attend to the basics. That when the basics are not attended to it is like a factory where broken windows are not mended and people in the neighbourhood think it is OK to smash more windows.

By not concentrating on the small things, by allowing broken windows, you are building a swish penthouse atop a rundown building. Customers will not be looking at the penthouse but the raft of broken windows below.

In our example, the lack of controls and care that allows a fly to be delivered in soup to a table is a bank of broken windows.

Delivering a cold towel from the fridge in a surly manner to a golfer who found that their tee time was not booked even though they received confirmation it was will not reside in a customer’s mind as superior service.

Superior service must be built on a foundation of meeting the needs and wants of customers without broken windows. When that foundation is laid then “experiencing a service that you do not know you want until you experience it” is SUPERIOR SERVICE.