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Service Redefined: The Hospitality Mindset for Small Business Success

In a world where the "growth at all costs" mindset dominates entrepreneurship culture, service providers and small business owners are yearning for a more meaningful and sustainable approach to success. In this episode of the Build to Enough podcast, I share a refreshing perspective on redefining the customer experience through the concept of "unreasonable hospitality."




My inspiration for this episode came from reading Will Guidara's book Unreasonable Hospitality. Guidara, known for elevating New York City's Eleven Madison Park restaurant to the top spot on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, emphasizes the importance of going above and beyond to make people feel valued and appreciated.


This book shifted my approach to customer interactions. It gave me a roadmap for infusing warmth, surprise, and authenticity into every interaction, creating memorable experiences. As an accountant, I found this particularly important, as I am striving to redefine the customer experience in an industry that is often very transactional.


Hospitality is for Everyone 

One of the core themes of unreasonable hospitality is that hospitality is for everyone.

"Hospitality isn't reserved for the elite; it's for everyone. It's a universal language that businesses can use."

So regardless of your industry or company size, you can embrace a hospitality mindset and apply it to every aspect of your business.


Examples of companies that excel in customer service despite not being in the hospitality industry include:

  1. Chewy: This pet retailer goes above and beyond for its customers, even sending sympathy flowers to those whose pets have recently passed away.

  2. Zappos: Known for its exceptional customer service, Zappos offers a 365-day return policy and has been known to go to great lengths to satisfy its customers.

  3. Apple: While not typically associated with hospitality, Apple has built a reputation for providing a superior customer experience through its sleek product design, intuitive user interfaces, and helpful in-store support.


By embracing a hospitality mindset as a service provider, you can differentiate yourself from competitors and create memorable experiences that foster customer loyalty and advocacy with your clients. This approach is is applicable to all businesses, regardless of size or industry, making it a powerful tool for entrepreneurs and service providers looking to redefine success on their terms.


Continuous Improvement Is Key

Another critical theme of unreasonable hospitality is the importance of continuous improvement. While it's easy to get caught up in the pursuit of perfection, the real goal should be to strive for better customer experiences and outcomes.


Continuously seeking improvement can lead to uncomfortable but necessary pivots in your business. We experienced this firsthand here at Little Fish Accounting where my desire to enhance our client experience led to several operational changes. While these adjustments may have been unsettling at times for us internally, they ultimately resulted in a better overall experience for our clients which made the bumpy ride for the team well worth it.


One of the most effective ways to drive continuous improvement is by actively seeking feedback from your clients and team members. Regular check-ins and surveys can help you identify areas to refine your processes, communication, or offerings to serve your customers better. I make it a point to ask our clients at the end of every call if there's anything we can do to improve or adjust that would make the service more valuable.


It's important to remember that feedback, even when negative, is an opportunity for growth. Richard Branson once said, "A complaint is a chance to turn a customer into a lifelong friend." By listening to your clients and making meaningful changes based on their input, you demonstrate your commitment to their success and satisfaction.


Continuous improvement doesn't just apply to external customer experiences; it's also crucial for your internal team. Encourage open communication and create a culture where everyone feels comfortable sharing ideas and suggestions for improvement. You'll make a more agile and adaptable organization that can better serve your customers by fostering a growth mindset and empowering your team to contribute to the company's evolution.


The 95-5 Rule: Balancing Efficiency with Meaningful Gestures

One of the most intriguing strategies for implementing unreasonable hospitality is the 95-5 rule. This rule suggests that businesses should ruthlessly manage 95% of their operations while allocating the remaining 5% for "foolish" spending on small gestures that disproportionately positively impact the customer experience.


At first glance, "foolish" spending may seem counterintuitive or even irresponsible. However, the key is understanding that this 5% is not about grand, expensive gestures but thoughtful, personalized touches that demonstrate genuine care and appreciation for your customers.


The 95-5 rule is about being intentional with your resources. By managing most of your business with discipline and rigor, you create the space and flexibility to invest in the small, unexpected moments that can leave a lasting impression on your clients.


So, what does this look like in practice? Here are a few examples:

  1. Sending handwritten thank-you notes to clients after a project wraps up

  2. Surprising clients with a small gift or token of appreciation on their birthday or work anniversary

  3. Offering complimentary resources or services that align with your clients' needs and goals

  4. Creating personalized onboarding experiences that make new clients feel welcomed and valued

  5. Going above and beyond to accommodate a client's unique request or challenge


The beauty of the 95-5 rule is that it's scalable and adaptable to businesses of all sizes and industries. Whether you're a solopreneur or a large corporation, you can find ways to allocate a small portion of your resources toward creating memorable, meaningful moments for your customers.


It's important to note that the 95-5 rule isn't about perfection or extravagance. It's about being thoughtful, authentic, and human in client interactions. Balancing ruthless efficiency with strategic acts of generosity and care allows you to create a customer experience that sets you apart and fosters long-term loyalty and advocacy.


Looking for Inspiration in Unlikely Places

In pursuing unreasonable hospitality, sometimes the most transformative ideas come from unexpected sources. As entrepreneurs and small business owners, it's easy to get trapped in the echo chamber of our industries, limiting our perspective and potential for innovation. However, by actively seeking inspiration from unlikely places, we can unlock new ways of thinking and elevate our customer experience to new heights.


In his book, Guidara shares a story about how his restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, received a critique suggesting that the establishment needed "a bit of Miles Davis." Initially, Guidara and his team were puzzled by this feedback. What could a jazz musician possibly have to do with running a restaurant?


As they dug deeper, they discovered that the qualities often associated with Miles Davis' music – adventurous, fresh, spontaneous, and vibrant – were the characteristics they wanted to infuse into their own business. By looking beyond the boundaries of the culinary world and drawing inspiration from a seemingly unrelated field, they gained a new perspective that transformed their approach to hospitality.


This anecdote illustrates the importance of stepping outside our comfort zones and exploring ideas from diverse domains. Doing so can uncover valuable insights and strategies we may never have considered otherwise.


So, how can you start looking for inspiration in unlikely places? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Attend conferences or events in different industries: Expose yourself to new ideas and approaches by participating in gatherings outside your usual sphere.


  • Read widely: Dive into books, articles, and blogs that cover topics unrelated to your field. You never know where you might find a spark of inspiration.


  • Engage with people from diverse backgrounds: Strike up conversations with individuals from different professions, cultures, and walks of life. Their unique perspectives can help you see things in a new light.


  • Immerse yourself in nature: Step away from the hustle and bustle of your daily routine and spend time in natural surroundings. The beauty and simplicity of the outdoors can inspire creative thinking and problem-solving.


  • Visit unconventional workspaces: Explore unique environments that challenge your assumptions about what a workspace should look like. From co-working spaces to art galleries, exposing yourself to different atmospheres can stimulate new ideas.


I personally find inspiration by listening to podcasts and observing how design firms prioritize client needs and preferences because their business models represent the experience I want to create for clients.. By drawing insights from a field known for its focus on aesthetics and user experience, I infuse those elements into my business with a fresh perspective on customer service.


The key is approaching these experiences with an open mind and a willingness to learn. By cultivating a sense of curiosity and embracing the unfamiliar, you'll be better equipped to innovate and create truly exceptional customer experiences.


Ultimately, looking for inspiration in unlikely places is about challenging yourself to think differently and push beyond the status quo. By incorporating this mindset into your unreasonable hospitality strategy, you'll foster a culture of creativity and adaptability that sets your business apart. So, don't be afraid to venture off the beaten path – you never know what revolutionary ideas you might discover.


Embracing Unreasonable Hospitality: A Path to Redefining Success

In today's fast-paced, growth-obsessed business landscape, unreasonable hospitality offers a refreshing and meaningful alternative. By focusing on creating exceptional customer experiences, fostering continuous improvement, implementing the 95-5 rule, and seeking inspiration from unlikely places, entrepreneurs and small business owners can build thriving companies that enrich both their own lives and the lives of those they serve.


Unreasonable hospitality is not about perfection or extravagance; it's about infusing every interaction with warmth, authenticity, and a genuine desire to go above and beyond. It's a mindset that businesses of all sizes and industries can embrace.


As you embark on your journey of unreasonable hospitality, remember that small gestures can have a big impact. By consistently putting your customers first, seeking out new perspectives, and embracing a spirit of continuous improvement, you'll be well on your way to building a business that stands out, inspires loyalty, and makes a positive difference in the world.


So, take a cue from me and Will Guidara and start exploring how you can infuse your own business with the principles of unreasonable hospitality.


If you want to dive deeper into the concept of unreasonable hospitality and learn more about applying it to your business, be sure to listen to this inspiring episode of the Build to Enough podcast and check out the book for yourself.

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