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Company culture is about your core values, vision and mission AND is also about your people assets, their voice, input, and feedback.

Ask Jill! The difference between customer service and hospitality

How to go above and beyond to make your customers feel like celebrities.

Hospitality is defined as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” In the restaurant industry, we are all in the hospitality business. I feel we in hospitality are our own breed, so to speak. We thrive on teamwork, interacting with other people, and working hard with passion. We are committed to serving others.

I was recently asked, “Since we’re all in hospitality, what’s the difference between delivering great customer service and what is thought of as hospitality?”

The difference is simple: Customer service, even great service, is merely delivering the basic expectations for the transaction, the exchange of money for goods or services. It’s what I call the “given,” the bare minimum and what basically defines a “transaction.” Hospitality, however, goes above and beyond to make your customer feel pampered, like celebrities. It is giving them a Celebrity Customer Experience (thus the name of the show I host on LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube). When genuine and authentic hospitality is given, your customers will feel like you have their back. They will also sense and viscerally feel when the staff lives and breathes true hospitality, witnessing the team having each others’ backs during service. Employee and customer experience are intrinsically intertwined, inseparable, thus why employee experience leads to customer experience, EX2CX. In short, this is the difference between delivering great customer service and hospitality. But there are some other factors I’d be remiss not to discuss.

The difference is culture.

The difference will be your bottom-line revenue.

The difference will be ability to scale while maintaining your brand promise for brand loyalty.

So let’s break these down. When speaking at a company event or a conference, or when meeting people at a networking event, I ask the people what business they’re in. I’m always intrigued by the many avenues of an industry and to learn how leaders and management see themselves within that organizational structure as to how they make the most impact. 

So what do you think I hear? “I’m in the hamburger business.” “I’m in marketing.” “I sell XYZ products to the restaurant industry.” You get the idea. But, actually, we are all in the same business despite the industry or role, whether you’re selling hamburgers, dry ice, houses, or software. So my response is, “Yes, and…” Regardless of what you’re selling, ultimately, we are in the “people business.” We sell a specific product or service AND we are all selling a hospitality experience through interacting and connecting with others. In hospitality we are in the business of Transforming Transactions Into Interactions. When we become people-focused from the inside-out, starting with our internal customers (employees), this value becomes self-evident to our end customers. This becomes the foundation of our people-centric culture. 

Company culture is about your core values, vision and mission AND is also about your people assets, their voice, input, and feedback. Imagine the multitude of benefits that will come from a culture stemming from the central spirit of hospitality, on which our industry is founded. Your employees are your best source of information on what’s working and what is not working from the customer’s perspective. They communicate your culture to your customers. No one is more valuable than your employees who are face-to-face engaged with your customers who, if you provide them the opportunities and channels, will provide priceless feedback to help your culture, and your bottom line, grow. 

You cannot escape a C-level and upper management meeting that does not discuss the bottom line. Of course, the financials are crucial; the numbers, KPIs, and data are all pivotal, as it ultimately must be a profit center to exist and thrive. But, who do you think is responsible for making those numbers work? We always hear about “People, Process, and Technology,” but the weighted priorities usually hold “people” as third tier. Why is that? Your people are the ones responsible for creating a hospitality environment for your paying customers. It is your people who uphold the process with the use of technology becoming more ever-present. The technology is what functions in the background to create a seamless, friction-free customer experience in order for your people to have more time to interact with and create genuine human connections with your customers. So if we’re talking about bottom-line revenue, money in / money out, you cannot ignore the enormous importance of the role of your employees. Bottom line, your people will be the greatest factor affecting that bottom-line number. 

The second highest costs for restaurants after the cost of goods sold (COGS) is their labor- from recruitment, interviewing, onboarding, educating and training, wages/salaries, bonuses and benefits… and let’s not forget the cost of turnover which exponentially multiplies all of these expenses! 

Research from Gallup states that the cost of replacing an employee from turnover due to employee disengagement is 34% of their annual salary. So what does that general number mean specifically to you and your business? As a complimentary resource, use my Employee Churn Cost Calculator to determine what your restaurant’s unique cost is. I think you’ll be shocked. (Go to www.jill to find out the cost to your business.)

When you have a strong positive people-focused culture that breeds the hospitality spirit throughout your operations, you solve this problem by becoming the employer of choice, thereby attracting AND retaining the right people for an engaged culture. Imagine what your bottom line will be when you increase your attraction of value-aligned staff and reduce your employee turnover. 

Once you’ve created the strong company culture with the core value of genuinely exuding the hospitality spirit across all of your operations throughout your processes, only then will you have the ability to safely scale while maintaining your brand promise for brand loyalty. How often have we all experienced falling in love with a restaurant, their food, the vibe of the interior decor, music, look of their menu and the energy of the staff, only to go to another concept of that group (or even another franchise of the same brand), and feel like you’re in a totally different place having a totally different cultural experience. How is it that we often don’t ‘feel’ like there is any connection whatsoever between the two restaurants? It’s because there was no system in place to assure the same core values, mission and vision (assuming they created one) are in play. The education of these characteristics is vital to develop brand continuity, and thus brand loyalty. It’s because the documentation of their hospitality charter for their people to create and evoke a hospitality atmosphere is absent. As a result, employees think they’re just there to deliver the service and food as expected when someone pays the price on the menu. They forget that this is basic customer service. This is not authentic hospitality. They deliver a transaction. Transactions are a dime a dozen and offered by your competitors. Don’t fall into that trap. Just imagine how your employees and end-customers will feel when your restaurant stands out with a strong company culture which screams amazing hospitality.

The establishment and delivery of real hospitality, the spirit of our restaurant industry, is what separates it from service. This is the difference between customer service and hospitality. 


Jill Raff is the globally recognized EX2CX Advisor, working with executive leaders who recognize the paradigm shift: the non-negotiable creation of a more humanized culture prioritizing their people. She helps organizations that recognize their people are their greatest asset but need help creating new systems and procedures to develop the culture resulting in higher retention and greater productivity. Companies experience employee and customer lifetime value using her methodology connecting the employee experience (EX) to the customer experience (CX) — EX2CX. 

Jill grew up working with her parents, owner/operators of McDonald's franchises, starting with store No. 150. Her customer service philosophy of Transforming Transactions Into Interactions starting with the employee originated from observing her parent's work and their interactions with legendary founder Ray Kroc. EX and CX is in Jill’s DNA. Based on her diverse background working in multiple industries — and living in 7 countries — Jill developed her Inside-Out Framework based on her “3+1 Recipe” to build a culture creating attraction and retention, often described as “where McDonald’s & Michelin meet.” Contact her at [email protected]

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