After ten years of guest and customer service in the hospitality industry, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve worked with global chains and independent boutiques. I’ve worked with casinos, luxury brands, and even an old riverboat renovated into a floating hotel. And no matter how long I’ve been in this industry, I genuinely appreciate the opportunity to help the customers I encounter.
Hotels occupy a special place in the travel process, as we provide guests their home away from home; this is a responsibility that has the potential to make or break a guest’s entire travel experience. And so, it's our opportunity to take hospitality customer service to a level of excellence.
Here are a few tips to help you provide excellent customer service to your guests.(And yes, these work for all customers, regardless of the industry.)
Meet them with the right emotion
Travel can be an incredibly stressful experience—endless lines at airports, hours at a time in cramped spaces, and the frustration of navigating unfamiliar streets. This means that guests often enter a hotel property already displeased. And thus, hotel service must focus on two distinct things: positively engaging with disappointed guests, and avoiding guest disappointment in the first place.
Hotel service must focus on two distinct things: positively engaging with disappointed guests, and avoiding guest disappointment in the first place.
One of the most important (and hardest) aspects of hospitality customer service is maintaining an appropriate emotional response to guests having difficulties. While cheeriness is certainly a positive trait in customer service, reacting to someone’s frustration with joy makes your service appear disingenuous. To slightly simplify the complex spectrum of human emotion, let’s divide it into three parts: positive, baseline, and negative.
A positive attitude and demeanor are great for engaging with customers who are positive or baseline themselves. When dealing with guests who are having a negative experience.
A baseline attitude is appropriate to convey that you understand the seriousness of their concerns.
And a negative attitude is rarely, if ever, productive.
Perception is reality
Although it can sometimes come across as cliche, perception is reality. A customer's frustration cannot always be traced back to a specific failure on your part; perception is often an unfortunate mismatching of expectations. It can be tempting to address customer issues with detailed explanations of policies and standards, and while that can sometimes help create understanding, it also misses the point. When someone is in the midst of an experience that has caused them negative emotions, listening to a cold, logical explanation of why their feelings aren’t valid does not typically bring them any relief. The way they feel is their reality and needs to be addressed on its own terms.
A customer's frustration cannot always be traced back to a specific failure on your part; perception is often an unfortunate mismatching of expectations.
Know your stuff
A hotel is so much more than a place to sleep. For many, it is the gateway to a whole new world of experiences. To others, it is a safe haven from the stresses of working away from home. For others still, it is a reliable place to stay for their favorite conventions and events. Every hotel, from Four Diamond luxury properties to budget highway motels, has a responsibility to understand and engage with the activities that drive people to their front doors.
Engage with the community? Yes. It is your responsibility to be the unofficial spokesperson for every neighboring restaurant, shopping center, landmark, event, concert, convention, tour, and anything and everything else that drives your business. Nowadays, the internet has become an invaluable resource for recommendations and reviews, but at the same time, the internet can be a crutch. People want to trust they are getting reliable knowledge, and making sure you are familiar with the basics is a good starting place for providing that trust.
Follow-up on improvement areas
When a guest has a request or complaint, the customer service agent needs to be prepared to do as much as possible to respond to the guest’s needs. This can be as simple as having a robe sent to the room in a timely manner, to switching rooms for a guest, or even escalating the issue to management. A common trap that agents fall into is considering the matter resolved because they responded to the guest accordingly. But this is just the beginning of closing the feedback loop.
A customer who makes you aware of problems is the best form of feedback and the most effective way of pinpointing areas of improvement. So reward them! If a guest is having trouble with the air conditioning being too cold, don't just send up a repairman. First, deliver extra blankets (and perhaps some nice hot tea), and then follow-up with a call after the unit is functioning. Little things will help the guest feel appreciated. And of course, make sure the appropriate parties receive notice of broken towel bars, dirty linens, and malfunctioning air conditioners.
Policy informs good service
This final tip is, in my opinion, both incredibly important, as well as incredibly subjective. I’ve worked at hotels that are a part of global chains, with expansive rewards programs and customer service departments. I’ve also worked at boutique, independent hotels with only one front desk agent on duty at a time. Whether it’s a huge brand or a small property, a foundation for good customer service is a clear and concise understanding of policy—what can and cannot be done for guests.
Whether it’s a huge brand or a small property, a foundation for good customer service is a clear and concise understanding of policy—what can and cannot be done for guests.
I’ve worked at properties that forbid usage of the word “no,” which can be a useful trick for maintaining a positive atmosphere, but also obscures a tricky reality—denying requests is itself an integral part of providing service. Just be careful not to deny services in a shallow and flippant way, rather as a purposeful and meaningful means to finding true resolution.
In closing, drop the confusion
The hospitality industry’s current focus on rewards programs has created an unfortunate side effect—a lot of confusion for guests. It's not uncommon for a customer to get one answer from the front desk and yet another from the rewards hotline. Onsite staff too are confused, as they see their policies overridden by people in distant contact centers. While rewards programs are undoubtedly lucrative and unlikely going anywhere anytime soon, it is imperative that staff have a firm understanding of the policies and can make hard judgments. This is a subjective area—one that can sometimes come into conflict with tip number two above. There is no single rule for every situation, and policies inevitably give rise to exceptions, but as long as there is a real respect, both for the staff and the guest, consistently great customer service will be the result.
This story was originally published on All Things CX, and is found here, with edits and permission from the author.
Diego Alamir is a data-minded, customer-centric professional disrupting #SaaS markets. He's passionate about the intersection of people and technology and is the founder of All Things CX. Diego also keeps customer experience humming at AOL/Oath. Diego can be found on Twitter at: @DiegoAlamir.
Jonathan Sandoval, is a hospitality and service professional based in Los Angeles, CA. Jonathan currently manages guest services for luxury brand hotels and is passionate about improving hotel and guest experiences.