Standards, Habits, and Success

Airbnb is working these days to establish more standards that their hosts are asked to maintain.  The reason for this is because it is becoming clear to the company that their customers expect fresh linens and little amenities like soap and shampoo.  They also want a bit more of a hotel experience where the staff are courteous and blend into the background only to come to the foreground when asked or approached.  Nothing crazy here, just basic service standards that any hospitality professional would be familiar with yet Airbnb is struggling to make them a reality across their enterprise.

Part of the problem is the business model where hosts are supplying their personal space to the company; they expect a certain amount of leeway with how much control Airbnb has over them.  On Airbnb’s side though, they know customers want a reliable experience where they know what they’re getting with no major surprises.  This is true of just about any customer experience; people want certainty and little risk but with Airbnb, you are at the mercy of the host and that makes for an unreliable, uncertain, risky venture at best.  It’s a real problem that Airbnb must solve.

This predicament reminded me of problems experienced by many companies with consistency and quality of customer experience, mostly due to a lack of clear standards and accountability.  When new employees are onboarded, most companies have some sort of training where standards are communicated with laminated cards handed out to act as reminders, etc., however, from there the employees are on their own to sink or swim, and in my experience, it would seem many drown once they get in the real world on the front line with customers.

Think about how many times you’ve been in a store where no one said a word to you or where price tags were missing from a vast number of products.  Saying hello and pricing items are standards one would think yet they are missed or simply forgotten and it is the customer who suffers.  I n this case, because they feel unwelcome and uncertain about what they are paying.

While Airbnb’s problem is due to trying to make the rules during the game because they didn’t establish the standards from the start and now they are playing catch up, most companies have a slightly different problem, keeping the standards they set alive.  At most companies, it would seem standards are on life support at best.

So how is it done?  How do you set standards and keep them going?  How do you make these things habitual?  I believe there are three keys to making this happen and these keys are true whether you are trying to create a personal habit at home or trying to help employees develop habits at work, Remind, Do, Reward.

REMIND – Clear communication:  At the outset, every team member must understand and embrace the standards, but it doesn’t stop there, you must have ongoing communication, call it reminding if you want to, but it must be regular and consistent.

DO – Performance coaching:  As team members are performing, managers must be observant and coach them when they see standards being forgotten, and this coaching doesn’t have to be complicated.

Manager: “I was watching you work.  What would you say is working really well for you? … Are there any of our standards that would make it even better? … What can I do to help you do this regularly?”

REWARD – Recognize great performance:  When an employee is doing the right things, they deserve to be recognized for it.  The brain is a great thing, and when we get acknowledged, it gives us a hit of chemical love in the form of dopamine, a little shot of “feel good”.  And feeling good is not all, when we get that hit, it makes us want to do it again, we want that feeling again.  Hence the power of reward in creating habits – reward, feel good, do it again, reward, feel good, do it again, and so on until, voila, it’s a habit.

Airbnb has a big task ahead trying to establish new habits in the midst of the game but hopefully your business established the standards at the start and all you need to do is breathe new life into them.  Get going with Reminding, Doing, and Rewarding and you will see your own reward in happier customers and higher revenues.

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