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5 strategies for developing customer service
December 11 2012

Executing outstanding customer service can do more for attracting and retaining customers than any amount of marketing or refurbishing. But it won't happen by magic.

Highlights
  • The hardest thing for your competitors to copy is the customer experience that you create.
  • Build your team's confidence by allowing them to practice in a safe environment and giving them feedback on how they are doing.
  • Giving your team the authority to deal with unplanned situations enables them to resolve issues quickly and with minimum fuss.

It’s no longer enough to just deliver good or even great customer service. If you want to give your guests a reason to return, customer service needs to be outstanding and will “wow” your guests.

The hardest thing for your competitors to copy is the customer experience that you create; it's your single most valuable competitive advantage. Executing proper customer service can do more for attracting and retaining your customer than any amount of marketing or refurbishing. But it won't happen by magic.

1. Define what you're looking for
Everyone on 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. Use this as a basis for your recruitment so 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 there. What are their expectations in terms of service? Communicating this to your team is sometimes easier said than done. We are, after all, often talking about abstract concepts and emotions, but we need to make these as tangible as possible. For example, how do you define a friendly approach? Is it approaching clientele by being extremely attentive the second they pull up in to the hotel, or do we (or our guests) expect a discreet and minimum fuss approach? If so, what defines discreet?

Focus on telling your team what you're aiming to achieve. For example, give staff the flexibility to adopt their own style than having a formal script they have to follow. You can still give your employees 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 negative 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 practice in a safe environment and giving them feedback on how they are doing.

Product knowledge not only builds your team's confidence but also builds trust with your guests. Because what you offer often changes, keep your team up to date on what’s happening in other parts of the hotel as well as their own departments.

Conduct daily briefings to cover other information, such as known preferences for guests who were checking in, special offers and deals, activities happening in other parts of the hotel and local events that may be of interest to guests, which could be the reason they’re staying at your hotel. Be open about any problems that could impact 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 is briefed and prepared, they are in a better position to deal with any guests’ queries, concerns or complaints.

The daily briefing also provides an opportunity to get feedback on any guests’ comments, and for you to discuss any questions about operational issues that could have a bearing on the level of service your guests receive.

3. Recognition and reward
Recognize and reward staff who go the extra mile and give exceptional customer service. Share successes and results so everyone recognizes the impact. And reward publicly. It doesn’t have to be a lavish incentive. Look at ways to reward that create a win-win situation. Maybe a stay at a sister hotel, or a place 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 effect on your guests.

Encourage everyone on your team to take the complete customer journey so that they see everything that your guest sees from start to finish. This provides a great opportunity for you to get feedback on what can be improved.
To achieve seamless service, the whole team must support one another. Encourage team members to take ownership when necessary, 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 and gets everyone involved.

5. Empower your staff
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’s knowledge, which will encourage continuous improvement. This, in turn, can have an impact on your overall guest experience. For example, if a guest has food allergies, then someone with specific expertise in that area may be needed.

Upskill your team by giving them the appropriate training, coaching and support. This will enable you to delegate authority and give your staff a sense of responsibility, so they take the initiative to make decisions. You'll be surprised how often they end up improving the process. 

Giving your team the authority to deal with unplanned situations (including complaints) enables them to resolve issues quickly and with minimum fuss, which is far better for the guest and less effort in the long run if your team doesn’t need to find a manager.

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. Finally, empower and encourage everyone on the team to be confident about making personal recommendations and suggestions to guests, including doing something out-of-the-box that leaves guests feeling they've received extraordinary customer service. It’s always the personal touches guests remember.

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

Caroline Cooper specializing in helping hospitality businesses retain their existing customers by focusing on the customer experience and long term engagement. She has over 25 years’ experience hospitality and is founder of Zeal Coaching, and author of the 'Hotel Success Handbook'.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HotelNewsNow.com or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

COMMENTS   Show All
Kennedy Gitahi
12/20/2012 1:01:00 PM
Sometimes a pat in back or a treat in the Kitchen after a job well done also goes a long way in motivating staff to put more effort, because they will feel recognized for their input towards reaching a certain goal either in past, present or in future and in their good mood both the Employer and Client will both be happy parties
K.V.Simon
12/11/2012 10:30:00 PM
Providing and maintaining a service level that is above and beyond in a consistent manner So as to build a sustainable service culture is a challenge and an opportunity. AHLEI ' s Guest Service Gold Certification program is an effective tool to set the ball rolling in the right direction. A certified property can make a difference.
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