When I worked as a hotel server and bartender, my co-workers and I attended many guest service (hotel speak for ‘customer service’) trainings. We were told to smile, use the guest’s name and accommodate special requests. There was no discussion of these directives and workers were not encouraged to ask questions or provide feedback. The following issues cropped up:
1-SMILE- Must I smile all the time? Not sure this is physically possible and/or appropriate in all situations. Customers often share upsetting stories: luggage was lost, room isn’t ready, son missed his plane. If I listen and respond with a bright smile pasted on my face, clearly I’m not hearing and empathizing (maybe I’m crazy!). What about when I’m busy serving a full restaurant: taking orders, processing checks, delivering food and drinks? I’m focused on the task(s) at hand and probably stressed. My priority is to stay calm and manage the workload- smiling is the least of my concerns. Yet it’s #1 in customer service training.
2- USE GUEST NAME- The goal is to make the guest/customer feel special and valued, but this may have the opposite affect. If I ask your name, that may be seen as intrusive (I don’t want to know you- you’re just supposed to wait on me!). If I find your name from the front desk or reservation list, this may feel like stalking (How do you know my name? I’ve never been here before) And finally, knowing and using the name may create a false sense of familiarity between customer and employee (We’re not friends).
3- ACCOMMODATE SPECIAL REQUESTS- This one is particularly tricky because there are no limits set. How far do I go? Guest requests a drink that is time consuming to prepare and requires ingredients from the kitchen (on another floor). I can’t leave my post, so I need to find someone to make the trip to the kitchen to pick up and deliver the ingredients. Then I’ll need to take more time to prepare the drink. One customer is happy (maybe- it was a long wait!) but what about all the others requesting a glass of wine, beer or martini? They have to wait too, while I accommodate the special request. Now I’m stressed, behind in my work and more guests are unhappy. Was this the right way to go?
Training needs to be much more specific and these real life scenarios need to be addressed if management hopes to truly ‘serve’ the customer. Employees need to work through difficult situations with supervisors, so they are clear on how to proceed.
Smiling should be encouraged, but not required throughout the shift. Teaching employees how to use their personality- sense of humor, empathy, interests and knowledge- to connect with guests is needed to develop a strong authentic relationship. A smile (especially if it’s pasted on) is not enough. Using the guest’s name- maybe, if a relationship has developed (regular customer) but workers need to know the boundaries and how to professionally set them. It’s not part of my job to make ‘friends’ and giving customers a false sense of familiarity can muddy the waters and prevent me from effectively doing my job. Accommodating special requests is fine, but again- specifics. What are the policies and protocols? Once workers know when to set limits, they need to be taught how to effectively and professionally tell the customer: I’m sorry, that’s not possible. And deal with the fallout.
Training that is specific and practical is time consuming and requires management to think through their policies and expectations. Take the time to do this- it is well worth the effort. Your employees will appreciate it and begin to develop an authentic relationship with customers. No need to demand the smile now- it will come naturally- for both worker and customer.
An edited version of this appears on Art Petty’s Management Excellence Blog. Lots of great articles
and Art is terrific.