In the hospitality industry, there are two vital components necessary to ensure customers speak highly of their experience, and share that thinking with others, so the organization gets the benefit of word-of-mouth business.
The first of those components is customer service. This is what happens at the interface between the paying customer and the person providing the service. In this situation the experience the customer has is in part dependent on the actual product received, but also on the way in which the service is provided; that is, the approach the employee takes with the customer.
A straightforward way to address this is to initially identify a set of standards for the customer interaction, and then train against those standards, with ongoing reinforcement by the on-site managers.
An example of standards would be:
Desire to return
To illustrate, accuracy would mean that any order placed is consistently delivered to the customer as they expected to receive it. If they order decaf coffee with no cream or sugar, that’s what they get, not caffeinated coffee with sugar.
Timeliness means that the order was provided to them within the timeframe that the customer expected; that is, they didn’t have to wait unduly long in the drive-through lane or at the table.
Courtesy is the interpersonal interactions that occur between the service provider and the customer. Was the provider friendly, respectful, and a good listener? Did they generally project a demeanor that the customer found appropriately engaging?
Desire to return is more complicated in that it reaches beyond simply the customer-service provider’s interaction into other things. For example, if the washrooms at the location are consistently dirty, then the customer will probably shy away from returning. Similarly, if the tables, floors, and other ancillary items are unclean, or in disrepair, then once again, the customer would probably prefer not to return. If the overall way in which the customer was treated from the time they walked in to the time they left caused them to feel unwelcome, or a “ nuisance,” then again, they would probably prefer not to return.
Clearly, standards are dependent on the type of hospitality location. In a white-tablecloth restaurant, the concept of timeliness is not nearly as important as in a fast food drive-thru. Similarly, in an entertainment environment, quality would be more important than accuracy.
These standards must also be prioritized; for example, is accuracy more important than timeliness? After all, it’s more annoying to get the wrong product immediately than it is to have to wait for the right product. So, as standards are created, attention needs to be given to ensure they are in the right priority order.
To bring the standards to life, the on-site manager must understand them, and be there not only to model them – that is, to be an example and live the standards – but also be available and willing to coach.
Often employees, especially new employees, are unclear on how the standard should be applied in certain circumstances, or perhaps, even what the standard means. They may, for example, feel that it’s less important to clean the washroom than it is to fill the napkin holder, and they are looking to their line manager for guidance.
The second vital component is customer centricity. This refers to the fact that every employee within the organization is thinking about how the decisions they make affect the customer. This is much harder to have in place in an organization, and is nowhere near as front and center for most hospitality organizations as customer service. But it is perhaps far more important.
For example, if the service provided to the customer is great, but the food is stale, (e.g., the bagels), or unavailable (e.g. out of stock), then no amount of great customer service can offset the disappointment, or annoyance, the customer feels.
In these examples, ensuring a proper supply chain of fresh product has little to do with the activities of the frontline serving staff and everything to do with the back room team that is making sure the operation has what it needs and when it needs it. Similarly, there is nothing the frontline staff can do if the process for issuing a return is cumbersome and unwieldy. The frontline employees are simply following the policy laid down for them. Whoever created that policy, perhaps somebody quite distant from where the customer interactions occur, is writing policies that make sense corporately, but do not make sense in terms of the customer.
An organization that is customer centric trains every employee to ask whether the decisions they make will have an impact on the customer, and if so, what that impact would be. The employees then determine how to create an impact that will actually increase the customers” desire to continue visiting that location.This requires an intentional focus on the principle of every decision being made with a customer in mind.
One tool that helps with this is equipping employees to think within the paradigm of: “Care, Own, Do.” That is, they should care about the customer’s expectations, own the impact their actions will have on the customer, and do what is necessary to ensure the impact is as positive as possible.
Bear in mind that customer centricity needs to be implemented within the larger context of organizational priorities. It is conceivable that some decisions made to delight the customer would have such a severe negative financial impact on the organization that the company would be irresponsible to make them. Consequently, customer centricity training also needs to include what is appropriate, and what is not, within the larger context of both meeting the needs of the customer, and the needs of the shareholders.
About the Author
Phil Geldart is the founder and CEO of Eagle's Flight (www.eaglesflight.com), a company focused on improving individual and team productivity. Prior to founding Eagle’s Flight, Geldart was with Nestlé Canada, where he worked for 18 years, the last five of which he served as a member of the executive team in the capacity of Senior Vice President of Human Resources. He also is author of several books, including In Your Hands: The Behaviors of a World Class Leader, Experiential Learning: Changing Behavior to Improve Performance, and Lead Yourself Lead Others: Eight Principles of Leadership.