We’re all familiar with the plethora of online rants about poor customer service, made possible by social media platforms and online reviews that give consumers a voice.
But there are also countless examples of excellent service, which highlight the fundamental difference between the concept of service versus hospitality. While the two are interlinked, hospitality takes service to the next level, by enriching the experience with a human touch.

For context, here’s a perfect example
Earlier this year, my fiancé and I spent 3 nights at the Robertson Small Hotel where we had a holiday like nothing we’d ever experienced. All the usual expectations were delivered to perfection, but then they added clever touches like a portable phone next to the bed with a sign: “For reception, dial 1234”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone through all brochures in a hotel room, desperate for the reception extension.

The delightful touches continued when we got back to our room after dinner, we found snacks and two bottles of water (on a coaster!) next to the bed. The bedside lamps had been turned on, shutters closed, blinds pulled down and the curtains drawn. There was a note on the bed with the next day’s weather forecast, and as I was thinking, we should have asked for fresh towels for the morning, I noticed that our towels had already been replaced.

The following morning, in the scorching heat, we found the valet cleaning our car. As we were on our way to a couple of vineyards, I said, “Thank you so much, but it’s only going to get dirty when we go out now.” With a huge smile on his face, he simply replied, “No worries! I’ll clean it again tomorrow”.

Throughout our three-night stay, we were staggered by Robertson Small Hotel attentiveness, over and above “good service”. The thoughtful gestures cost nothing and required very little effort, yet created a priceless experience that has turned us into fervent ambassadors.

“Hospitality” is about taking “service” to the next (human delight) level. This wonderful experience marked a defining moment where I realised the difference between service – doing something in exchange for payment- and hospitality, how you make your customers feel.

‘Hospitality’ lies at the heart of our ethos
At Red & Yellow, our students (customers) are at the centre of everything we do. Being @more human” is the only antidote to a world of increasing automation. Just think of how insanely frustrated and helpless most call centres make you feel when a robotic voice either demands you “dial x” (yet none of the options match your query) or advises “you are number 46378 in the queue”, followed shortly by “your call is important to us” and schmaltzy music. When all you wanted was a human being to answer your questions.

Bringing it to life

Writing this article reminded me of the first course I coordinated at Red & Yellow. One of my UK-based students was going through a pretty tough time. After reading her email, and knowing how committed she was to the course, I knew that a written response, while easier, would be the equivalent of a cop-out. Instead, I scheduled a call and we had a good chat. For me, the phone call acted as a virtual hug, which said: “I know you’re going through a difficult patch, but you’ve come this far and you can do it. We’re here to see you cross that finish line!”

At the end of the 10-week course, Rachel wrote:

“Each time I posted a query on the Forum, I received a prompt and really helpful response. And phone calls with Sheetal made the learning experience more personal, and less remote. “

Rachel then went on to complete five courses with us! One simple human connection that made online learning more personable, supported the student and encouraged a life-long learning journey.

Another perfect example of how a small action that requires very little effort can make an enormous difference. We understand that online learning can seem isolating and daunting at times, which is why our Course Coordination team is obsessed with nurturing the customer relationship. Little things like reminder emails when assignments haven’t been submitted; friendly check-ins to see why one assignment was weaker than others; or impromptu “Hi, I just wanted to see how you’re doing” calls.

The ethos of hospitality pays off
This kind of genuine care cascades through everything we do. The reassurance of knowing that people (in an organisation) actually care about you (as an individual) is what makes our students return again and again. Just like Rachel. We all need to stop and think about how we can contribute to transforming ‘service’ into ‘hospitality’, and how simple human connections can take ‘pedestrian’ to ‘perfection’. As the world becomes more automated and tech-oriented and less personal, hospitality is what will set us apart from our competitors.

About the author: Sheetal Makhan is the Course Coordination Manager at Red & Yellow. She loves discovering productivity and organising hacks, long walks on Sea Point promenade, and deep conversations that feed her mind and soul.