You have to plunge in feet first for the benefit of the customer in front of you now and figure out later on if you want to provide similar service at scale for additional customers—and, if so, if there’s a more efficient, streamlined way of doing so. (And if there isn’t, whether or not it’s worth offering the service at scale nonetheless, even in the original non-streamlined way.)
Halcyon, a luxuriously unstuffy hotel in the thriving Cherry Creek district of Denver, has built its spectacularly hospitable guest experience by never, it seems to me, prematurely asking itself that service-killing question, “But will this scale?”
How about putting a $2000+ Peloton exercise bike by the bed in a couple of their guestrooms? When someone on their staff suggested doing this (in response to guest feedback during Covid), Halcyon went for it. Would this mean that Halcyon would have to scale up to putting Pelotons in every one of its 154 hotel bedrooms? This, like so many questions asked by the timid, would turn out to be a non-issue. Most guests coming to Halcyon aren’t looking for that kind of exercise in their bedrooms, it turns out, though the ones who are are really delighted by the gesture.
(And the ones who aren’t fans of the bed/bike juxtaposition are at least amused. My wife falls into the latter category; when I texted her a photo of the Peloton next to the bed in my guestroom [she wasn’t able to join me on this trip], she shot a text right back, “Ambitious, but a little judgy, no?)
Most notably, Halcyon hasn’t put a ceiling on its level of service for fear of not being able to scale the notably gracious, never-rushed, conversational customer service their employees indulge you in from the moment you walk in. Part of Halcyon’s ability to provide such high-quality, stylish service comes from sufficient staffing, which requires both financial commitment and logistical know-how, both of which Halcyon’s mother organization, Makeready, which operates five additional hotels, all equally unique and well-regarded, is known for. Part of it depends on hiring (or, the term I prefer, “selecting”) the right team of employees. (Resource for readers: If you could benefit from my guidelines for hiring—selecting—future customer service superstars, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send it right away.)
Part of it depends on training and re-training those incipient service superstars to their full potential.
External video resource: customer service training in the MAMA method of service recovery (working with upset or angry customers)
And part of it, uniquely, comes from the thought that has gone into designing the interior spaces of Halcyon. Consider the front check-in desk: it’s actually the other side of the marble kitchen counter of the hotel’s always hopping Local Jones restaurant (also operated by Makeready).
The result, as Halcyon’s GM Jason Delcamp, who’s been with the company for the last five of a varied and successful twenty year hospitality career, is that “in place of the often rote and even trite interactions involved in getting a guest checked in, there’s now an opportunity for the conversational people we employ here to engage guests, find out what brings them to Denver and Cherry Creek, and start thinking about what will make their stay with us as great as possible.”
As a guest, I appreciated this a lot. “I’ll stay at other, even otherwise-great hotels,” I told Delcamp, “and in the few minutes between when I pull up and when I get to my room, I could be asked maybe four times, ‘How was your trip in today?’ That didn’t happen here. Everyone at Halcyon has had something different, something genuine-sounding and at least somewhat Micah-related, to talk with me about. You know what I mean?”
“Well, you could get one or two ‘how was your trip in today’ comments here,” confessed Delcamp, “at least on an off day, but I feel super-confident you’ll never get four. We try to know something about each of our arriving guests as quickly as possible, and to learn more about them as the day progresses so that every exchange and interaction is more meaningful than the last, and hopefully we’re rarely as robotic and deadening in our exchanges as what you just described. Our approach, I do hear a lot, is both appreciated by our guests and makes the days at work a lot more fun for our employees as well.”
At Halcyon, there’s a palpable feeling that they’re professionals who know what they’re doing but are open to crafting the experience that you, the guest, prefer to have, not the one they think you should have. This openness extends as well to being quick to correct mistakes. When I pointed out that a well-meaning Covid improvisation—a temporary Purcell and hand-wipe station—was blocking wheelchair access to the lobby elevator button, and reminded her that elevators are mission-critical for guests in wheelchairs who need to be able to pull up in their wheelchairs and press the button to call an elevator on their own, Megan Seymore, Halcyon’s highly engaged (and engaging) front desk manager told me, “that’s totally right; I’ll move it now” and took care of it on the lobby floor before my eyes; soon realizing that the same issue existed on other floors of the hotel as well, she had it resolved there as well by the next day.
Delcamp, the GM, attributes this responsiveness to suggestions, this prevailing culture where “a complaint is a gift and a constructive suggestion even more so” to the “always improving ways we’ve learned from our relationship with the Makeready mothership. Makeready is a unique company that’s taught all of us to have a mindset that I’d describe as, ‘hey, let’s make sure that we’re thinking every day about the little things as well as the big things.’ And who better to tell us where we could do better on both big and little issues than the people who see the effect of both, our guests as well, of course, as our employees.”