Colin Cowie has created some of the most talked-about parties and luxury events in the world. Over the past three decades as a lifestyle advisor and event planner, he has traveled more than 15 million miles in search of the finest and most authentic experiences for his clients, and has become an expert in hospitality and customer experience. His new book delves into cultivating an unrivaled customer experience. Whether you’re a shopkeeper, a corporate marketing director, or a budding event planner, his book serves as a guide for those looking to create a culture of excellence in their industry.
Below, Colin shares 5 key insights from his new book, The Gold Standard: Giving Your Customers What They Didn’t Know They Wanted. Listen to the audio version—read by Colin himself—in the Next Big Idea App.
1. 5 ways to stay ahead of the curve.
What can you do, or offer, that will keep you ahead of the curve? What can you do to make your product and customer service the unequivocal best? I ask myself these two questions every day, and this is my advice:
- Stand out. Your customer has their choice of products and services. You want them to choose yours. If they can’t find you, they can’t buy your product or service.
- Know your market. See what your competitors are doing, look at what you’re missing, and put all that information to use to increase your market share.
- Make data work for you. You need as much data as you can get from your customer; data is a powerful tool that will help you get attention.
- Consistency is key. Your customer wants to be confident that they will get a consistent product or experience every time they come to you.
- Do whatever it takes. The gold standard of customer service requires creativity and flexibility. Be prepared for any eventuality and do whatever it takes to deliver on your promise.
“It doesn’t matter what your product or service is; if you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business.”
2. An emotionally connected customer is your best brand ambassador.
Always put your client on a pedestal to make them feel special. An emotionally connected customer is your best brand ambassador. It doesn’t matter what your product or service is; if you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business.
I see Christmas, birthdays, holidays, and wedding anniversaries as good opportunities to reignite and sustain emotional connections. Just showing up counts. Our corporate gifts are sourced from charities that Colin Cowie Lifestyle supports. I always send Christmas and birthday cards to our clients (past and present) and creative partners.
On a couple’s first anniversary they get a card. For some very special clients, I’ve had a duplicate of the top of their wedding cake recreated as a gift. I’ve also celebrated each anniversary thereafter with gifts that fit the particular year’s theme: a book with their initials engraved on the cover for paper, a tray inscribed with lyrics from their first dance for leather, a replica of their reception centerpiece for flowers. These are things they will talk about with their friends and families, and those people may become my new clients.
3. The importance of personalization, attention to detail, and elegance.
The gold standard of customer service always includes three things:
- Personalization. You want to engage with customers in the most personal way. Write their name, use their name, print their name—creating that personalized moment is paramount.
- Attention to detail. When you show extreme attention to detail, presenting a product or project fabulously and flawlessly, people will take note.
- Elegance. Add a filter of elegance to everything you do. Put elegance in front of anything, and it naturally elevates the style.
“The gold standard of service means making your customer feel as special and appreciated the fifth time they visit your restaurant, store, or website as they did the first time.”
The gold standard of service means making your customer feel as special and appreciated the fifth time they visit your restaurant, store, or website as they did the first time. At Colin Cowie Lifestyle, that begins with assigning one producer and one designer to each client, who then attend to that client from the first meeting to the end of their event. The client gets the same gracious welcome at every meeting; they’re served the beverages they prefer and snacks on good china and starched linen, every time. It makes them feel familiar and comfortable.
Keep in mind: While the three most important elements of excellent customer service are personalization, attention to detail, and elegance, none are possible without teamwork and communication.
4. There are two types of service in the world: reactive and proactive.
Reactive service comes from 95% of the world’s service providers. When something goes wrong and someone puts up their hand with a problem, your response is reactive service. In this instance, only if you deal with the situation correctly can it buy customer loyalty.
Only 5% of service providers deliver proactive service—because it is much harder to do. These providers are experts at anticipating the unanticipated needs of guests and customers.
While I was staying at The Boca Raton in Florida, I experienced proactive customer service that was above and beyond. I’d been there for four days and exhausted all the on-site options for dinner. At lunch on the fifth day, I asked the young waitress if there were any other places to eat in the area. She told me she’d come up with some suggestions, and when she gave me the check, she also handed me a handwritten note with the names, addresses, and phone numbers of four restaurants. “I just spoke with my friends behind the bar,” she told me, “and these three restaurants are within a fifteen-minute drive. This one is thirty-five minutes away, but it’s worth the trip.”
“Only 5% of service providers deliver proactive service—because it is much harder to do. These providers are experts at anticipating the unanticipated needs of guests and customers.”
She went on to tell me about why she thought I’d have a wonderful experience there. I had only asked for other options, but she took it upon herself to find more than I expected, and went above and beyond. That got my attention. I was asking for a reference to a competitor, and they didn’t think twice about the request because their concern was for me. As a result, I was back at the hotel restaurant the next day.
5. Lead with your best self.
The gold standard of customer service is a top-down experience. I believe that respect, integrity, and honesty are the tripod that you stand on. If you are missing one of those, you’re going to fall. I strive to be the best version of myself, and have woven my values into day-to-day business operations.
At Colin Cowie Lifestyle, we lead by example. We produced an outdoor wedding in Miami that got rained out, and we had to move the reception indoors. Part of the job was transporting the guests from the hotels, and I told the drivers to take the long way around. I improvised rain gear out of garbage bags to protect my tuxedo, and with my good shoes under my arms, and in bare feet, I helped carry the formal arrangements all the way through the gardens, in the rain, to the new venue indoors. My staff knows I’m not above getting down on my knees to pick up a napkin or clean around the toilet, and they follow my example. Everyone in my organization has graduated from the University of Whatever It Takes.
To listen to the audio version read by author Colin Cowie, download the Next Big Idea App today: