Beyond the Four Seasons

Taj

For anyone who has ever stayed at the Four Seasons, you know it is an incredible hotel.

Customer service reins supreme and that’s not just good business, it’s good corporate values.

But reading about the Indian version of the Four Seasons called the Taj–it seems like they have taken customer service to a whole new level.

The Tajwhich has been operating for more than 100 years (opened in 1903) has 108 hotels in 12 countries, including of course India, but also Australia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and even America (Boston, New York, and San Francisco).

Harvard Business Review (December 2011) describes not just the routine day-to-day service provided at the Taj, but rather how they behaved under one of the most trying events, a terrorist attack.

On November 26, 2008, there began a coordinated 10 attacks across India’s largest city Mumbai than killed at least 159 and gravely wounded more than 200. The attack now referred to as 26/11 (i.e. 26th of  November) included the luxury hotel, the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower (i.e. the Taj Mumbai).

The Taj Mumbai suffered at least 6 blasts and “stayed ablaze for two days and three nights” engulfing the beautiful domes and spires of this structure.

But while the hotel suffered significant damage resulting in months of rebuilding, the spirit of service by the workers at the Taj was tested to the extreme and thrived.

HBR describes how Taj staff, hearing the blasts and automatic weapons, safeguarded their guests during the attack going so far as “insisting that husbands and wives separate to reduce the risk to families, offering water and asking people if they needed anything,…[and] evacuating the guests first.”

The Taj staff did not run out screaming–everyman and woman for themselves, but they not only stayed calm and helpful, but they actually put their guests lives above their own.

This is sort of reminiscent of the firefighters, police, and other emergency first responders on 9-11, who ran up the stairs on the burning World Trade Center to save people–but in this case at the Taj, these were not trained rescuers, they were hotel staff.

In another instance at the hotel, according to the article, hotel employees even “form[ed] a human cordon” around the guests.

This again sounds more like the Secret Service protecting the President of the United States, then waiters and waitresses serving guests.

This is not to say that culture is the driving factor here, for example just this December 9, ABC News reports on how a fire broke out in an Indian hospital and killed at least 89 residents,  while the “staff flees” and 6 administrators are subsequently arrested.

So if national culture is not the difference in how organizations and its people treat customers–what is?

HBR explains that it’s really a recipe for customer service and user-centricity.

Starting with a “values-driven recruitment system” where the hotel looks for employees with character traits such as respect for elders, cheerfulness, and neediness (this reminds me of a boss I had that used to say she likes to hire employees “who are hungry.”).

The Taj follows up their recruitment with a commitment to training and mentoring and empowering employees fully to do whatever it takes to meet the needs of its customers at what it calls “moments of truth.”

The values of the Taj go so far toward serving its customers, that they insist that employees actually put customer needs aheadof the company and this is reinforced with a recognition system for those who strive and act for making happy customers.

Is this user-centric orientation limited to just the Taj Mumbai?

Apparently not, when a Tsunami struck at 9:30 AM on December 26, 2004 and killed 185,000 people, the Taj on the Maldives Island affected “rushed to every room and escorted them [the guests] to high ground” and still managed to serve lunch to survivors by 1:00 PM.

Talking about setting the bar high for customer service–how can you beat that?

(Source Photo: here)

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