The Platinum Rule of Service

Most people are familiar with the golden rule, which says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." There is another approach, however, that may yield a happier and more satisfied clientele. The Platinum Rule, introduced by Tony Alessandra, Ph.D., and Michael J. O'Connor, Ph.D., in The Platinum Rule: Discover the Four Basic Business Personalities and How They Can Lead You to Success (Warner Books, 1998), puts another spin on the age-old rule. It says, "Do unto others as they would have you do unto them."

Although treating others how you want to be treated is widely endorsed, the Platinum Rule recognizes that people have very different preferences than those around them. Your clients may not necessarily like what you like. Instead, give them what they want, not what you want.

There are countless opportunities to practice the Platinum Rule all around you. For example, my wife and I decided (misguidedly) to diet straight through the holidays this year. We watched helplessly while kind friends brought plate after plate of unwanted cookies, candy, and cake to our home. One thoughtful neighbor, however, brought us a box of balanced diet bars. What gift do you think we most appreciated?

Another example can be applied to your staff. Perhaps you don't mind public speaking. You may assume others feel the same. With that in mind, you invite one of your best therapists to give a talk on the benefits of massage therapy to a group of potential clients. Instead of enjoying the experience and making a great impression, the therapist suffers an acute case of stage fright and delivers an incoherent speech. Keep in mind the proverbial story of the boy scout who assisted the elderly woman across the street only to discover that she didn't actually want to cross the street.

The Platinum Rule teaches empathy. When you put yourself in other people's shoes, you're better able to meet their needs and desires. Don't assume that others want what you want. This simple concept can make all the difference in the way you design and execute your product and service offerings. It shifts the focus from "this is what I want, so I'll give it to everyone" to "first I need to understand what customers want and then I'll give it to them." The key is to listen and observe what customers need and appreciate and then try to deliver. Alfred B. Sloan, former chairman of General Motors, said it best when he stated, "The quickest way to profit is to serve the customer in the way the customer wants to be served."

At Mindshare, we provide automated customer feedback across more than 20 service industries. This gives us a front-row seat to a wide range of customer perceptions regarding service. Let's take the case of what I call Chatty Cathy in the spa industry. It's a fact that many people go to a spa to relax while others go to socialize. A talkative, chatty manicurist fits the bill for someone looking for a more social environment. Some clients don't care to make small talk. A treatment is often a time of thoughtful contemplation. How can you use this information to your spa's advantage? You can have your staff members note their customers' preferences each time they visit, and then meet those expectations. Some therapists even go so far as to ask the customer if he or she feels like talking today.

The wait staff at a service-savvy Chinese restaurant I visit asks the following question as the customers are seated, "Would you like me to leave a pitcher of water on the table, or would you prefer I fill your glasses throughout the evening?" When you don't know what your customers want, it's best to ask. Here are some easy steps to apply the Platinum Rule of Service to your spa.

1. Find out what customers want.

2. Develop a way to give it to them.

3. Monitor delivery to make sure they're receiving it. Consider real-time customer surveys.

4. Make adjustments to improve operational execution. Offer immediate training or enact process changes.

Putting this rule into practice, a seafood restaurant found through a real-time customer survey that people weren't satisfied with the clam chowder. Several customers complained that there were no clams in their chowder. The store manager was able to fix the problem the next morning by sharing the comments from the night before with the wait staff and then training them to stir the soup before serving the individual bowls. It was an easy fix because clams sink to the bottom of the pot. This one minor change made a big difference in creating more satisfied customers.

Although the Golden Rule is an excellent tenet for the ethical treatment of others, the Platinum Rule is better for providing superior customer service in a diverse world. Treat your clients the way they want to be treated, not the way you would want to be treated.

Richard D. Hanks is president of Mindshare Technologies, a leading provider of real-time automated customer feedback solutions. For more information, visit