What are the elements that make up great customer service? Columnist Caroline Cooper from Zeal Coaching dissects this complex topic and shares her advice on achieving great customer service.
The service your guests receive will often be the most memorable part of their stay. Few people will return by choice, where they’ve experienced poor service, nor recommend a hotel even when they’ve received average or good service. Service is invariably your opportunity to create a key differentiator to your hotel. So as a manager what can you be doing to contribute to your service levels?
Last week I attended the inaugural Boutique Hotel Summit in London. Although I don’t think anyone could quite agree on a precise definition of “boutique”, one theme that came up consistently was that of delivering consistently great customer service.
So how do we ensure that our staff deliver great customer service?
Define Great Service
Well, the first thing to do is define great service. I’m not proposing here to define what I think it is – I’m sure you already have your own ideas. But if you needed to explain this to any of your team, would you be able to define it? I believe the starting point is to reflect on what it is that your guests expect and how they define great service. Understand your customer and who you’re targeting.
What is the style of your hotel, and how is this reflected in the way you serve your guests? There’s often a fine line between uninterested or unreceptive and being over attentive and bordering on being intrusive. There’s then striking a balance between formality and overfamiliarity. These are things that we often know when we see it, but it’s sometimes difficult to describe this to staff.
Recruit on Attitude
Once you know what level of service you’re looking for, you’re in a much better position to get your staff on board. Start by getting the recruitment right. In my book, attitude will always be a higher priority than skills. You can develop skills by training, but it’s much more difficult to change people’s attitudes; an eagerness to please people, a willingness to go the extra mile, and an enthusiasm to learn are the key attributes to look for at the recruitment stage.
Develop a reputation as a good employer. This way you’ll be in a much better position to attract the type of people you really want when the need arises, rather than your hotel being a last resort for those desperate for any job they can get.
We’ve already talked about defining what we mean by great service – now this needs communicating.
Discuss with your team what your guests expect and how to meet those expectations. Focus on telling people what you want to achieve, i.e. the end result, rather than dictating how to do it. This gives people flexibility to adopt their own style.
However, be prepared to explain in behavioural terms when necessary. So, rather than simply saying “welcome guests”, give some examples of the types of things you would expect to see them doing or hear them say if there’s any doubt about what this means.
The more specific you are and more examples you give, the easier it is for people to understand. Then lead by example so there are no mixed messages.
Encourage your team to take the guest journey, and see everything from a guest’s point of view as often as possible – they will invariably spot things that can be improved to enhance the guest experience, and this helps them put the whole customer experience into perspective.
Establish systems and guidelines where necessary and adequate tools and resources to meet these expectations. Too much red tape, staff shortages, unreliable equipment or a poor product will only lead to frustration and is bound to have a knock-on effect on staff’s ability to deliver great customer service.
Keep staff up-to-date at all times. Conduct daily briefings to cover such information as: VIP guests, special needs, regular guests and any known preferences so staff can anticipate their requirements, today’s menu and details of all ingredients, special offers and events or deals, other activity in or around the hotel that could impact the guest in any way, staff shortages and cover of responsibilities.
These actions ensure your staff are fully briefed and competent to deal with any guest queries or concerns.
The daily briefing also provides an opportunity to get feedback on guest comments. You can discuss any questions or suggestions that arise about operational issues that could have a bearing on the level of service your guests receive.
So, even on your busiest mornings make sure these briefings still happen – it’s generally on the busiest days that things go wrong!
Upskilling your team by giving them the appropriate training, coaching and support enables you to delegate authority and gives your staff a sense of responsibility, so they take the initiative and make decisions. You’ll be surprised how often they end up improving the process. It means you don’t have to keep an eye on things 24/7, in the confident knowledge that your guests will always get great customer service.
Encourage staff to think ahead and anticipate guests’ needs, rather than waiting to be asked. Demonstrate your trust in the team by giving them responsibility and authority to respond to guests’ expectations and requests in the way that they see fit.
Develop champions for areas of responsibility that need a specialist knowledge or particular attention. This promotes a sense of pride and responsibility and will encourage continuous improvement. This in turn can have an impact on your guests’ experience, when specific knowledge is required to gain the guest’s confidence, for example dealing with function bookings, or food allergies, when from the customer’s perspective someone with specific expertise in that area may be needed.
Giving your staff authority to deal with unplanned situations (including complaints) enables them to resolve issues quickly and with minimum fuss. This is not only far better for the guest, but less effort in the long run for you and your team if they don’t need to find you or a manager. Telling a guest you don’t have the authority to deal with an issue is both frustrating for the guest and degrading for the team member.
There will naturally be situations where a manager’s input may be required, but aim to keep those to a minimum by ensuring that any one of the team can deal with the most common issues, questions or complaints.
Motivate and encourage your staff in making guest service a priority. Create a culture of continuous improvement by encouraging your team to ask for guest feedback. When they receive favourable feedback ask them to suggest ways to build or capitalise on this, and when less favourable to come forward with their own suggestions of where and how things can be improved.
Recognise and reward staff who go the extra mile and give exceptional customer service. Listen to your guests and acknowledge the feedback they give you and pass that on to your team. This helps both you and your team or to understand what your guests appreciate and value, and help identify where you may be falling short.
Encourage your team to come forward with their own ideas of how customer service can be improved and make every effort to take their ideas on board where appropriate. This gives the team a sense of ownership and pride which will inevitably have a positive knock-on effect on your guests.
Lead by Example
Your personality is part of the business. Making yourself visible in your hotel and engaging with your guests not only builds rapport and trust with them, but sets the tone and example for your team to follow. If you hide yourself away in the office, or seldom even visit the hotel, this sends the message that it’s okay to hide away from guests.
Talking to your guests is far the best way to get feedback, and they may tell you things that they wouldn’t feedback to your team. Get to know your guests personally; their likes and dislikes, their routine, their suggestions, their network. All this not only builds rapport but makes it a lot easier for you to tailor your offer and service to meet your guests’ needs and expectations.
A Team Effort
Service should be seamless, and to achieve this the entire team must support one another. Encourage staff to take ownership when necessary, rather than passing the buck. Allocate responsibilities to specific team members to conduct briefings, training, collate feedback and suggestions. This spreads the responsibility, gets everyone involved, ensuring these happen even when you’re not there.
All this adds up ultimately to making your customer service memorable, and a potential point of differentiation – for the right reasons.
By Caroline Cooper