service excellence

March 18, 2024 •

8 min reading

Defining service excellence: Setting the highest standards of service in 2024

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Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a time when excellent service was the hallmark of a luxury experience – one that was desired by the people and delivered by the best of companies. Today, it is an aspect of the service sector that has come to be expected by customers. Companies in the service industry have claimed their adherence to the words ‘service excellence’ since time immemorial. One of the best examples of service excellence is the Ritz-Carlton's Gold Standards, with their famous $2,000 rule which employees are empowered to spend to delight a guest above and beyond fixing problems. How many of us actually know what ‘service excellence’ truly means? Read on to discover the definition of service excellence in 2024.

What is service excellence, and why does it matter?

Service excellence is not just about delivering luxury-level service. By definition, service excellence refers to the ability of service providers to consistently meet and occasionally even exceed customers’ expectations. This implies that the true meaning of excellent service is relative to the service itself and customers’ expectations of it, which also means that the burden of providing excellent customer service falls on even the most budget of brands.

At the same time, 72% of customers would share a good experience with 6 or more people. In the world of word-of-mouth marketing, this is an immense figure, as 74% of consumers consider word-of-mouth as a key influencer in their purchase decisions. Therefore, as online reviews and recommendations from friends and family reign supreme in this conversational era, proper service design and delivery of customer experience have become more crucial than ever to the long-term profitability of a service company.

However, unlike getting right a double-shot cappuccino with soy milk and two pumps of vanilla syrup, delivering excellent service is like rocket science – because the answer to every question in hospitality too often seems to begin with the all-knowing: it depends.

With this 7-step process, you will have all the tools you need
to master your company's Customer Experience.

The key elements of service excellence

What makes service excellence stand out compared to other brand experiences? Service excellence is when a venue, brand, or even a single staff member takes action beyond the service standard to ensure that a guest or client has a truly wonderful time. This might mean solving a guest's problems swiftly and creatively, providing a thoughtful detail to their service that makes the moment special, or even anticipating a problem and solving it before it manifests.

Let's take a closer look at the key elements of service excellence.

Core service standard

The first essential element of awe-inspiring service is a high core service standard. When your institution already strives to provide a flawless experience, service excellence can be achieved with only small variations on an already high-quality standard. Guests already experience minimal delays, luxurious surroundings, and well-trained hospitable staff. Excellence in this environment is often simply a touch of personalization or energetic responsiveness to personal requests.


Service excellence often focuses on optimizing convenience for your guest or client. Removing delays, hassle, or extra steps from their experience so that they can glide through their service with graceful ease. Quickly sourcing missing items, arranging a ride, or simply having the client's information already pulled up as they approach the concierge desk are all wonderful examples.


Show responsive consideration for the client. Pay attention to the details. If they are planning a romantic weekend, have flowers and champaign waiting in their room. If they have a fussy young one, send a soft toy or a coloring book instead. If they are under the weather, deliver nourishing soup and vitamin C packets to boost their immune system.

A little consideration and personalization can surprise clients by showing how much you care, and leave them with a lasting memory of the truly special quality of your service.

Proactive solutions

Get proactive. Don't wait for the client to request something special. Instead, be creative in both surprising clients with great service or solving a client's problem on the go. If they're running late for their conference on an icy morning, have a car ready to take them. If their booked tour was canceled, have three others to choose from that fit their interests. Surprise clients with your readiness to solve problems and make their experience unforgettable.

Do whatever it takes

Go above and beyond. Do whatever it takes to make a problem right or an evening special, even if the client's struggles are no fault of your venue. Stun your guests with what you are willing and ready to do for them. Stepping "outside the box" of usual service is the very definition of service excellence.


The changing faces of service excellence

When the bed and breakfast concept began to boom in the 1980s, hospitality may have been about providing a ‘home away from home’. Today, however, the industry is coming to be defined by its ability to create an experience more luxurious than the comforts of home.

As hotel companies continue in their rat race to prove that their brands represent the best, they are beginning to provide more, and guests are learning to expect more. While sleek and funky designs may have been a trademark of upper-scale hotels, the rise of brands like JO & JOE and Citizen M illustrates that hotel brands may no longer be put into traditional chain scales – guests no longer walk into a “mid-scale” Mama Shelter expecting mid-scale service – they expect service befitting the image of the hotel, which may appear anything but mid-scale.

Yet, growing customer expectations is not the only pressure hotel companies face.

As hotels turn to technology to automate processes and drive operational efficiencies, the number of physical touchpoints between guests and employees is diminishing. This means that each touchpoint carries additional weight in defining the guests’ perception of their experience and that every interaction needs to deliver a service experience beyond what a machine could do.

Furthermore, heightened awareness of privacy issues means that consumers are less willing to share their data, and even fewer believe in the data-for-personalization narrative. In other words, guests want you to know them – but not too much – and especially not from the personal data that they share with you; they want just the right level of service, though however would you know what that means anyway? (hint: they probably couldn’t tell you either)

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Complex problems, simple(r) solutions?

The growing complexity of delivering service excellence may make it tempting to believe that the way forward is to go up – larger open-space lobbies, more personalized services, and higher-end in-room technology. But what if the solution could be a little simpler?

Too often we spend time analyzing past behavior, guessing what the guest may want, without understanding enough what they need. So rather than giving guests what we think they want, perhaps they could simply be better empowered to customize their own experiences. Hotel apps should be more than just a booking and concierge tool, but be used to give feedback and customize experiences throughout the guests’ stay.

For example, what if you could tell your hotel app that you only wanted housekeeping to make up your room every other day, or that you liked the new cocktail on today’s menu, but you prefer sweeter drinks? The key, then, would be in storing this information that the guests willingly share, and then asking (perhaps through an automated message) – “Mr. Smith, would you like your usual cappuccino delivered to your room at 8 a.m. tomorrow?”

In addition, the future of hotels has been said to lie in technology, with hotel companies looking to implement tech such as the Internet of Things (IoT), facial recognition, and even augmented reality.

But the question is – to what extent would your guests value these investments? It is no secret that the latest trends in the industry include offering authentic experiences, building communities, and creating shared value – none of which are driven by such high-end tech.

While the adoption of these technologies is an exciting trend in itself, it is important to weigh the benefits of pouring money into developing these new gadgets, rather than simply enhancing the essentials of the hotel experience; could it be that your guests would rather enjoy the comfiest bed in town, than an interactive mirror that could allow them to try on different hairstyles and clothes?

Similarly, hotel companies invest a lot of money into building a brand image – expensive media advertisements, professionally shot videos, and elaborate publicity stunts – all in a bid to attract their target audience. However, looking at the case of Zappos, who took all the money from its marketing budget, put it into the customer experience, and let the customer satisfaction market itself, one may wonder if the hotel industry could take a page out of the online retailer’s book.

Discover THE Service Excellence Guide: From Service Design to Service Recovery


Preparing your team to go above and beyond

When seeking to achieve service excellence, it's important to ask yourself what you are prepared to do to reach that goal. More importantly, how can you prepare and empower your staff to provide service excellence at every possible opportunity? And how much budget you're prepared to invest in service excellence in order to ideally see a return on that investment after some intial trial and error.

Take another look at the Ritz-Carlton Gold Standards.

Talking of investment, that brings us back to the example of the Ritz-Carlton with their $2,000 rule and and their motto which says, "We are ladies and gentlement serving ladies and gentlemen".

In addition, they have developed a credo, 12 service values, 3 steps of service, and empower their team to spend in order to make guests happy. They approach the challenge of service excellence from every direction: Company culture, employee training, and the freedom to get creative in the effort to delight guests.

Approach your own service excellence with a similarly comprehensive strategy:

  • Establish your core service standards
  • Define what service excellence looks like in the context of your brand experience
  • Create guidelines for employees in how they can step "outside the box" to provide service that exceeds expectations
  • Provide training that reinforces service excellence procedures
  • Empower your employees to take actions based on each client's individual needs and experiences
  • Reward employees for their dedication to excellence

The future is nigh

The service sector appears to be becoming a victim of its success – as more companies purport to be able to offer hyper-personalized services and deliver excellent service, what used to be a unique selling proposition is fast becoming a non-differentiating factor – and is what guests are coming to expect, rather than appreciate. With choices abound and profits stretching thinner, it will remain crucial for service companies to understand what their customers want – and also what they do not care about. In other words, where should you invest your money, and where can you offer mediocre service without hurting the top line?

The hospitality industry has been and will be measured by its ability to deliver service excellence, however elusive its definition may be to each different individual. Nonetheless, it would be difficult to imagine that the basic meaning of excellent customer service will change very drastically in the (near) future. After all, the constructs of hospitality shall remain – a good bed, good food – everything else is simply the icing on the cake. But how much icing does your guest like on his cake? Well now, that depends.

Written by

EHL Alumna (2021), Assistant Vice President, Hotel Financing at Aareal Bank AG

SERVICE EXCELLENCE: A 7-step process to master your company Customer Experience.

1. Customer Behavior
2. Customer Culture
3. Service Design Roadmap
4. Customer-Focus Governance
5. Customer Service Goals
6. Employees Service Excellence Training
7. Service Performance & Continuously Improve