…if your work is about providing hospitality on the internet.

I spend a lot of time thinking about customer service, and how we can provide really excellent hospitality, and I have made a career out of putting those thoughts into action both on and off of the Internet.

If you’re interested in making products that delight people, and creating the kind of environment where your customers feel safe, powerful, and smart, I have some book recommendations for you.

These five I can recommend with my whole heart to any hospitality practitioner working in tech today. The first one is first because I have recommended it to so many folks it’s become almost a joyful habit for me – the rest are unordered.

1.) Setting the Table, by Danny Meyer. Danny Meyer is a man for whom I have tremendous respect, both as a businessman and as a leader in the hospitality industry. It feels like he wrote this book just for me, and I bet you’re going to feel the same way.

It’s ostensibly about managing a restaurant, but what it’s really about is the power of hospitality. It details the way that making hospitality a first priority, a real touchstone of your business, can transform the way that the business operates. Transform, Meyer would say, for the better (and I would agree).

From Setting the Table we get ideas like athletic (or proactive) problem solving, and hiring for culture as well as skill. Do these sound familiar? Meyer was applying ideas that we use today back in 2006, and not in Silicon Valley – in a restaurant, in Manhattan.

Setting the Table is almost ten years old, and I still find worthwhile gems in each re-read.


2.) Managing Humans, by Michael Lopp. This may seem like a strange choice to recommend to hospitality providers – a book about managing software developers and development projects?

Hospitality isn’t just about serving your customers. In order to create a hospitable environment for your customers, you have to cultivate a culture of hospitality within your company. You’re going to be working with development teams, and design teams, and you want to be very well equipped to understand their thinking, and their work, and their approach to that work.

Managing Humans will give you a look into that world, and arm you with at least some language and a common understanding that will help you avoid the classic Support vs. Development miasma.


3.) The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries. This has become a highly influential book in modern startups and software companies – it combines my existing appreciation of lean manufacturing with very practical advice on how to think about business in the startup context.

There is a huge amount of potential in the Lean Startup approach when it comes to working support for a software company – the Build, Measure, Learn cycle is especially suited for thinking about hospitality, since providing support in novel or unorthodox ways can be accomplished quickly, and measured in many different ways.


4.) How to Lie with Statistics, by Irving Geis Darrell Huff. This is a neat little book (almost a pamphlet), and I would recommend it for anyone who works in software today, not just folks in hospitality. Data is a big deal, and if you want to navigate within a data-motivated company in a meaningful way, you absolutely need to understand how statistical information can be conveyed in manipulative ways.

This is also important because support departments generate a lot of data themselves, and being able to present that data using the correct language, and avoiding even unintentional manipulation, will help you to represent yourself and your department in the best possible (and most accurate!) light.


5.) Delivering Happiness, by Tony Hsieh. I couldn’t leave off Delivering Happiness! This book is about serving customers at an internet company, and it totally deserves a spot on your bookshelf. Again, there’s a discussion of culture, and how important culture is when it comes to hospitality, both inward- and outward-facing. The import of being specific about culture but flexible about how to best serve the customer has really stuck with me.

These are my top five books, but I sure haven’t read every book that’s out there. I’m excited to hear your recommendations for hospitality professionals, and I’m always up for a spirited debate. You can find me at my blog, or on Twitter at @saouderkirk .

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