Top Tips: Delivering Memorable Customer Service

Columnist Caroline Cooper from Zeal Coaching shares her top tips on delivering memorable customer service.

It’s no longer enough just to deliver good or even great customer service; it needs to be something outstanding and something that will wow your guests if you want to talk about it and give them a reason to return.

The service you provide is an ideal opportunity to create a key differentiator for your hotel. Getting your customer service right can do far more for attracting and retaining your custom than any amount of marketing or refurbishing. But it won’t happen by magic!

1. Define what you’re looking for

Everyone in your team needs to know exactly what defines outstanding service for your guests and for your hotel. Start by defining your values; what are the non-negotiables and what defines your culture. Once we understand these we can communicate these and bring them to life by identifying the actions and behaviours that make this happen.

Use this as a basis for your recruitment so that you are only appointing people who can commit to these values. This avoids the uphill struggle of trying to train somebody to ‘conform’ to your way of doing things.

Consider the style of your hotel and the type of guests who stay with you. What are their expectations in terms of service? We need to communicate this to your team. This is sometimes easier said than done; we are often talking about abstract concepts and emotions but we need to make these as tangible as possible. For example if we are talking about a friendly welcome, what defines a friendly welcome; do we want the Labrador puppy approach of being all over somebody the second they pull up in the car park, or do we (or our guests) expect a discreet and minimum fuss approach? If so, what defines discrete?

Focus on telling your team what you’re aiming to achieve, for example making people feel welcome, relaxed and the ease, rather than dictating how to do it and precisely what to say. This leaves people with the flexibility to adopt the style, and to be far more natural than having some formal script (that they generally can’t remember anyway!). You can still give people examples of the types of things you might expect to see them doing or hear them say; and of course lead by example so you’re acting as a role model for your team.

Establish systems and guidelines where necessary and provide 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 the ability to deliver outstanding customer service.

2. Team development and communication

Explaining your expectations is just the start of the journey. Build your team’s confidence by allowing them to practise in a safe environment and giving them feedback on how well they are doing.

Product knowledge is a must, not only to build your own team’s confidence, but also to build trust with your guests. And what you offer changes from month to month, week to week or maybe even on a daily basis. Keep your team up to date; not just for their own departments, but what’s happening and available in other parts of the hotel.

Conduct daily briefings to cover other information such as known preferences for guests who were checking in, special offers and deals, what else is going on today in other parts of the hotel, and what’s on locally that may be of interest, or be the reason your guests are staying. Be open about any problems that could impact on the guest experience such as problems with the website, traffic congestion, potential disruption from a major function, staff shortages in any area of the hotel, etc. You might not be able to avoid these situations, but if your team are briefed and prepared they are in a better position to avert or deal with any guests’ queries, concerns or complaints as they arise, and to empathise with them.

The daily briefing also provides an opportunity to get feedback on any guests’ comments, and for you to 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!

3. Recognition and reward

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 to understand what your guests appreciate and value, and help identify where you may be falling short.

Share successes and results so everyone recognises the impact. And reward publicly. It doesn’t have to be a lavish incentive; look at ways to reward that create a win-win: maybe a stay or a visit to a sister hotel or somewhere where they will be on the receiving end of outstanding service and are motivated to bring back more ideas that can be implemented in your hotel.

4. Involvement and ownership

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.

Encourage everyone in your team to take the complete customer journey so that they see everything that your guest sees from start to finish, not just in their own departments, but from booking to check in, the rooms, restaurant, leisure facilities and meeting rooms. This not only helps to open their eyes, but provides a great opportunity for you to get their feedback on what they see and what might be improved. It’s easy for people to get blinkered when they work in the same department every day; this provides a fresh pair of eyes and a different perspective.

Service should be seamless, and to achieve this the whole team must support one another. Encourage team members to take ownership when necessary, rather than passing the buck, even when this isn’t normally part of their role.

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.

5. Empower

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.

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 service. It also gives scope for them to inject their own personality.

Giving your team the authority to deal with unplanned situations (including complaints) enables them to resolve issues quickly and with minimum fuss; far better for the guest, as well as 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.

Motivate and encourage your team in making guest service a priority. Create a culture of continuous improvement by encouraging them 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.

Finally empower and encourage everyone in the team to be confident about making personal recommendations and suggestions to guests or doing something out of the ordinary for your guests that leaves them feeling they’ve received extraordinary customer service. It’s always the personal touches guests remember.

All this adds up ultimately to making your customer service memorable, and a potential point of differentiation – for the right reasons.

About Caroline Cooper: Caroline is a business coach with over 26 years experience in hospitality. She is the founder of Zeal Coaching, specialising in working with hospitality and leisure businesses, helping them get more of the customers they love, and is author of the Hotel Success Handbook. For more information and articles from Zeal Coaching, please visit www.zealcoaching.com.
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