Butlers first began to appear in hotels a quarter of a century ago. However, they have been in service for a millennium and have become synonymous with the highest level of service to employers and guests alike. How butlers reached such giddy heights is not the subject of this article, but how their standards of service are being recognized and adopted as the most important consumer trend in 2010 is what you will find in the following few paragraphs. High-end hospitality providers and those who care to provide superior service will recognize their own standards being validated, and it is to them this article is dedicated.
Despite national media attention, the Ritz Carlton South Beach has had a perennial problem keeping its “Tanning Butlers” over the past seven years that it has offered this service: modeling agencies keep snapping them up.
Hotels interested in attracting the wealthier set have been creative for the last two decades in leveraging the cachet (prestige) of the butler: nanny butler, fireplace butler, technology butler, pool butler, dog butler, and maybe you have others to add. All positions characterized by the offering of a narrowly defined service that has nothing to do with butlers, but the implication being that the same level of service is provided.
At the same time, the International Institute of Modern Butlers, as the guardian, so to speak, of the standards of butling, has been busy decrying this dilution of the butler name into a commercial opportunity. The Institute offered the Hotel Butler Rating system precisely to differentiate the serious efforts of hotels with real butler service from these “wannabes,” so that guests would be clear on the degree of butler service being offered by any hotel they planned to visit.
The irony, however, is that the Institute has also reached beyond the narrow confines of its own profession, and even its cousin, the hospitality industry, with a persistent, and some might say unwelcome, drum beat over the last six years: the need to export the mindset of the butler to all service industries (any business or organization, large or small, whether government bureaucracy, hospital, airline or hotel staffs, etc.)—wherever one person provides another with a product or service—as the biggest-return strategy for improving the service experience and loyalty of clients, guests, customers, patients, etc.
A case of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it, too?
The Butler Goes Mainstream
Perhaps; certainly of a conflicted message of “brand name protection versus promulgation of what the brand stands for.” Fortunately, trendwatching.com helped bring into focus and so resolve these unaligned positions in its April 2010 issue, identifying the most important trend in the consumer world to be Brand Butler. Trendwatching.com’s hundreds of trend watchers in 120 countries actually recognized this emerging trend back in 2007 (when they coined Brand Butler).
How do they define Brand Butler, why is it so important to the corporate and hospitality world, and how does it manifest in, and relate to, the hospitality industry specifically?
Brand Butler is a brand that is brand new and a thousand years in the making. It is the recognition that increasingly, brands are morphing into offering services that assist consumers/clients/guests, rather than the old model of selling them a lifestyle and identity. This translates into less “guff” (the promotion of reverential, soft-focus utopias) and a return to more down-to-earth relationships and practical service offerings. It is the recognition that the butler mindset includes valuable traits in the mind of the consumer, and so of any service or product provider: a high understanding of the client/consumer/guest/patient, a high degree of respect and liking (even for unlikable individuals), and a superior ability to communicate. It is a tried and proven path to the solicitous (showing interest or concern) service that trendwatching.com has highlighted as being the missing ingredient, or the next big breakthrough, in servicing customers, consumers, guests, patients, et al.
In the words of trendwatching.com:
“With consumers looking increasingly for control, for convenience, for assistance, and yes, to be cared for (both offline and online), brands need to shift their product development and advertising prowess to brand-consistent services (and an accompanying butlering mindset) that assist consumers in making the most of their daily lives. For brands, this means that there are now endless creative and cost-effective ways to deliver on this need for assistance, for butlers….
“It has never been more important to turn your brand into a service. Jaded, time-poor, pragmatic consumers yearn for service and care…. Basically, if you’re going to embrace one big consumer trend this year, please let it be Brand Butlers… we believe that now is the time to go all-out on ‘serving is the new selling.’”
As a side note, one could ask “why Brand Butler and not Brand Concierge, as concierge is another term that has been adopted by other industries as a flattering descriptor. For instance, Westin introduced Running Concierges a couple of years ago to accompany guests walking around the city. Apart from the obvious alliterative advantage, we can only suggest that butlers have been around longer than concierges and so come more readily to mind when talking of solicitous service.
Looking for Brand Consistency
When trendwatching.com talks of “butler mindset,” however, one may wonder exactly what that is in the corporate world, and hospitality in particular, over and above finding ways to assist the client, customer, guest, or patient “consumer.”
If one simply create applications, policies, and SOPs for employees to implement (such as Adidas’ Tokyo store where customers can use showers, locker rooms, attend workshops, and even design their own shoes or rent running gear), then one may well still be falling short, because the butler mindset is not an app, policy or SOP, but a mindset (that is obviously best supported by apps, policies, and SOPs that are aligned with and reinforce the mindset). A mindset can design something to reflect that mindset, but it requires a mind to have a mindset, and that, in Adidas’ case, would be not just the designer of the services offered, but also the front-line employees providing the services.
In other words, the app developers and managers need to understand and adopt the mindset, in order to then create the apps and SOPs; and beyond that, customer service employees in each company need to understand and adopt the mindset in order to apply the procedures that have been conceived with the butler mindset in mind, and so bring about brand consistency. Which is to say, the trend does not just impact product development and advertising, as outlined by trendwatchers.com, but also the actual service provided when it is person-to-person.
Otherwise, launching Brand Butler as a brand strategy may well result in confused ideas, SOPs, product and service offering design at the front end, and poor service at the back end for lack of extending the Brand Butler concept through to customer service—and therefore a lack of brand consistency that jaded customers will reject as care without soul or passion.
The main challenge in achieving this brand consistency is translating the butler mindset into practice drills, role-playing, and one-on-one procedures that bring about the required mindset and smooth communication skills upon which genuine service is predicated.
For more information on this trend, and examples of services major brands are providing in their pursuit of Brand Butler, see http://trendwatching.com/trends/brandbutlers/
The latest (mid-May) example of Brand Butler that came across my desk(top screen) is Monkey Butlers. The mind boggles, but the nod to butlers comes from Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers For The Disabled, which trains South American Capuchin monkeys, at a cost of $45,000 a head, to help amputees and paralyzed soldiers from the Afghan and Iraqi wars. The vets shine a laser pen at an item and the monkey butler will fetch it (or switch it on, for instance, in the case of a light switch; or open it, in the case of a peanut butter jar, etc.). Assistance on a practical level with an exclamation point.
Hitching onto the Brand Butler Star in Hospitality
Leisure services already see this Brand Butler service-over-sales approach, in such as Ski Butlers (in ten locations across the US), who are front-runners in ski services in the country.
Another recent application of Brand Butler comes from the venerable Lanesborough in Knightsbridge, London, one of the first adopters of real butlers in hotels, which initiated its Picnic Butler in May, 2010 to deliver the “ultimate hassle free picnic” at $400 a pop to “cash-rich, time-poor picnickers.” This, at first blush, would seem to weaken the status of their “Butler Butler,” but it need not. The Picnic Butler lays out the picnic in Hyde Park with crystal glasses, china, rugs, and cloth napkins, serves champagne and dishes such as Cornish poached lobster with Beluga mayonnaise, balotine of truffled foie gras, and Cropwell bishop stilton trifle with pear marmalade and oatmeal sable.
This bright and mouth-watering idea, most probably conceived over some beers by marketing rather than within the bowels of the Lanesborough kitchens, is something they are selling; but it is also, given the solicitous execution (more than the use of the word “butler”) of the service, a Brand Butler-oriented move designed for its particular guest list.
Le Richemond in Switzerland, likewise, recently instituted a “Watch Butler” to indulge the horological aficionados amongst its guests.
Each of these brands elected to use the word “butler” in their newly created titles…a tendency peculiar to hotels in the main. Do we now need to add a suffix to each hotel title: “Receptionist Butler,” “Valet Butler,” “Housekeeping Butler,” etc. in order to signify that we are serious about Brand Butler?
No need to answer this question. It is the actual service that counts, not assertions of service embedded in titles. This issue, however, might well be the next windmill toward which the Institute will tilt its lance.
In the final analysis, not all hotels can afford to, or will find it appropriate to its guest lists, to field a butler department. But they cannot afford to miss out on the Brand Butler trend with the rest of its employees. A genuinely caring mindset is part of the butler mindset, but there is a lot more to understanding and adopting the butler mindset. It is not something that occurs with a few days of ongoing training. But any attention to the subject helps.
Does Brand Butler represent a long stretch for hotels? Not high-end ones, where the effort is always to find something that will make the guest experience more pleasant and desirable. There is the butler in everyone in hospitality—the honesty, the creativity, the caring, the social graces, the phlegmatic (calm disposition); it is rare to find someone with all these qualities who is able to keep them turned on day in, day out, despite all the reasons not to; and rarer still to find the entire team like this. All of which reinforces the value of the butler mindset, and the skills to achieve it, in its various manifestations to hotels and resorts around the world.
Butlers, however, having been at it longer than hotels, may be able to offer pointers to reinforce the existing push.
Copyright © Steven Ferry 2010 All Rights Reserved
This article also appeared in the July 2010 issue of HotelExecutive.com
About the Author (Author Profile)Steven Ferry is chairman of the International Institute of Modern Butlers and the author of bestsellers "Butlers & Household Managers 21st Century Professionals" and "Hotel Butlers, The Great Service Differentiators." He also trains and consults for the profession around the world.
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