Improve Your Customer Service

A hotel thrives on the quality of its customer service – and as the marketplace becomes increasingly more competitive, establishing meaningful engagement with your customers through high-quality customer service is more important than every before.

We speak to Mario Dolcezza, author of How to Be Great at Customer Service, and find out how you can improve your own customer service … and why tipping should be abolished! How do you define customer service?

Dolcezza: This is actually quite a tricky question. Customer service is the degree of assistance provided by the business in order to facilitate a purchase by the customer. More importantly the customer’s experience is directly related to the effort put into the customer service and can be positive, indifferent or negative. Just because you’ve done enough to fill a bed or book a conference room doesn’t mean that you have developed any engagement with the customer, which is essential if you want a long term relationship.

I don’t ever want my customers to be satisfied, I want them to be delighted. Are UK hoteliers good at customer service? How do we compare to other markets?

Dolcezza: In my experience UK hoteliers are not unlike any other industry I work with. Some are truly outstanding when it comes to great customer service, whereas others are quite simply appalling. Speaking generally I don’t have the impression that UK hotels are particularly good at customer service and would probably err towards the ‘less than competent’ end of the spectrum. Why is this? Well I think that the hospitality industry generally lacks good customer service skills mainly because not a lot of investment is given to coach them. How can you define and manage your customers’ expectations?

Dolcezza: This is two questions, so I’ll start with the first part, which is how you can define your customers’ expectations:

To do this you need to put yourself in your customers’ shoes, step out of the box and look at your business as if you were a customer visiting for the very first time. You’re going to find this really hard to do, mainly because little details that you have previously ignored have become accepted and therefore part of the norm. And of course there will be some things that you will not have even considered before, for instance whether or not your business is welcoming enough or well signposted.

You’re going to have to think differently and be hyper-critical to get a true measure of how your business performs. If you’re not sure you can do this then customer feedback is always a good steer for where you’re going wrong or mystery shopping. A word of warning about the latter, mystery shoppers don’t think or behave like real customers, they behave like mystery shoppers.

Managing customers’ expectations is about really good communication. Let me give you an example of where it’s so easy to go wrong:

  • If a customer calls you to find out what’s happening – you’ve failed. Chasing you for information isn’t going to make them feel very important.
  • If a customer arrives as expected and you’re not ready – you’ve failed. Either you should be ready or you should have called them beforehand.
  • If you’re late – you’ve failed. Late is rude because it means that you haven’t met your time agreement and you haven’t been bothered to call ahead to reschedule.
  • If it’s not what the customer expected – you’ve failed. It’s your job to ensure that the customer is kept properly informed.

These are just a few examples of how things can go wrong, if you’re proactive with your customer communication you can go a long, long way to ensuring you don’t make these mistakes. Remember though, managing your customers expectations is a good start but if you really want to generate loyalty then you have to exceed your customers expectations. Why do think tipping hospitality staff should be abolished?

Dolcezza: Contentious I know, but this is more about redefining hospitality staff as professional hosts. Tell me any other profession where tips are the norm and absolutely essential in order to earn anywhere near a living wage? While we continue to propagate tips within this industry we support the premise that hospitality staff are low-paid, unskilled staff – which in the main is what they currently are.

Let me put it to you a different way: how many of us would tip the maître d’ of a top swanky restaurant? Not many I suspect. The fact is that it would be a little embarrassing. The maitre d’ is considered to be at the pinnacle of his or her industry, the crème de la crème, he or she could and should be considered to be highly professional. They would no more expect to be tipped than say your accountant. Why can’t we apply this level of professionalism to all our hospitality staff? Let’s not forget that these staff are quite often the face of our business, the people who are our first and sometimes our only contact with our most precious commodity – our customers. How happy are you with the people that are looking after your most precious commodity? What are the two most common customer service mistakes made by UK hoteliers?

Dolcezza: OK – the first mistake is not properly training staff. This leads to a whole host of errors the most common of which is not putting the customer first. This is particularly prevalent in the hospitality industry where staff think that washing glasses, filling fridges or polishing mirrors takes precedence over serving the customer – end result, a rubbish experience that does nothing to engender customer loyalty.

The second mistake is the way the industry gathers and manages feedback. Not enough is done to capture meaningful feedback and those businesses that do tend to focus on what the business wants to know rather than what the customer wants to say. A really good feedback system will identify issues long before they reach TripAdvisor, giving you the opportunity to put things right, go the extra mile and create a customer for life.

For me it’s quite simple, if you want to grow your business then you need to give your customers more of what they like and less of what they don’t like – the best way to find this out is to ask them. Meaningful customer feedback, and I don’t mean surveys, is the basis for growth in any business. Done well it shows your customers that you value their business, creates loyalty and builds profitability through repeat business and referrals. What two things can a hotelier do today to improve their customer service?

Dolcezza: Wow, pick just two? OK I think if I had to pick just two then I would start with making a good first impression. As the saying goes you only get one chance to make a good first impression and how you manage the experience of first time visitors sets the scene for your relationship with them thereafter.

The second would be this: take every opportunity to show your customer that you really value their business.

'How to Be Great at Customer Service' by Mario Dolcezza

'How to Be Great at Customer Service' by Mario Dolcezza

About Mario Dolcezza: Mario Dolcezza, Customer Service and Loyalty Expert at Diciamo, developed a passion for customer service more than 20 years ago working in the hospitality industry, where he earned a reputation for transforming businesses. He has gone on to become a leading authority on customer loyalty.
He is also author of How to Be Great at Customer Service.
Mario is a recognised authority on customer service making regular appearances on radio and in newspaper articles. His company Diciamo helps businesses in all industry sectors develop clear customer focused strategies, which generate strong bottom line profits.

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