Visiting a client: why hospitality wins over customer focus

I recently had an appointment with Dutch pensions insurer PGGM. The day before the appointment I received a personal email from my contact confirming the appointment, with directions and parking advice. As soon as I presented myself at the barrier, there was a friendly greeting on the intercom: ‘Good afternoon, Mr Groenenboom, we have booked a parking space for you near the entrance; just turn right immediately after the barrier.’ Then when I entered through the revolving door, the receptionist was waiting to take my jacket and get me a cup of coffee. She led me to the meeting area where my host was already present. In short, a warm welcome. And all this was for someone who wasn’t even a PGGM client; in fact, it was the other way around: I was the guest of my client. To me this seemed like the ultimate form of hospitality.

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I often visit organisations, and it’s apparent that many of them struggle with the question: ‘What is hospitality?’ Very often hospitality is confused with a customer focus. When that happens, everything revolves around the client. ‘How do we give the client what he wants?’ Customer focus focuses solely on persuading the client to choose your product or service. Hospitality goes a step further.

When an organisation concentrates on hospitality, it wants to create a pleasant environment for everyone. The issue with hospitality is to create an atmosphere in which the client feels welcome. By receiving him or her in a pleasant atmosphere, you attempt to exercise positive influence on their feelings without forcing them to make a specific choice to your advantage. The positive feelings which arise lead to a more positive impression of the hosting organisation, which can be a significant competitive benefit.

In my view, PGGM’s hospitality policy is a text-book example of hospitality. In recent years they have won a number of prizes for their hospitality strategy. They have shown that good service provision begins even before you walk through that revolving door. Hospitality has become a component of the business culture, which is why it feels ‘real’. I can certainly attest to this. That pleasant reception at PGGM left me feeling heartened. Without my being aware of it, that positive feeling stayed with me and ensured that I made the right choices to the advantage of PGGM. Without feeling any pressure to do so.

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