Author Archives: Caroline Cooper

Maintaining service standards however busy you are!

maintaining service standardsMaintaining service standards when busy

Maintaining service standards when you’re busy is just as important as it is at any other time.

Is a customer any less important to you when you’re busy than when you’re quiet? They certainly shouldn’t be; and from the customer’s perspective, they expect to get the same positive customer experience when busy as they would at any other time.

Here’s my second article related to maintaining service standards during the Christmas Season. Of course, consistency is important at any time of year and everyone in your business needs clarity on your expectations (see ). 

Whether you’re a leisure, hospitality or retail business in the thick of Christmas festivities, a sporting, health or wellness business anticipating a flurry of activity from New Year’s resolutions, or a tourism business with a Christmas spectacle, your customers – be they guests, members or visitors (or any other term you use to describe your customers) – don’t really care whether you’re busy, short staffed or having a meltdown; they still want to be catered and cared for just the same as any other time of year.

But if you want to maintain your customer service standards, most of the points are equally applicable to any business at any time of year when you expect to be busy or you experience peaks of activity.

7 ideas for maintaining service standards

  1. First impressions count.  Remember, when you’re busy, many of these customers may be coming to your business for the very first time, so don’t let the volume of customers be an excuse to let customer service standards drop. Create a memorable first impression and a reason for them to return.
  2. Maintain your reputation. Avoid damaging your reputation with your loyal regulars by allowing your normal standards to drop just because you’re stretched. It may have taken years to build loyalty and trust, and this can be broken in an instant. Even more so if they are entertaining; nobody wants the embarrassment of bringing their friends to their favourite haunt, only to have their expectations dashed.
  3. Be up front. Most customers accept that things can go wrong from time to time. But, they are far more understanding if they’re forewarned. Keep the customer informed of the situation and give them options. Customers will appreciate your honesty which helps maintain trust and keep your customers loyal.
  4. Don’t over commit. Be realistic about what’s feasible, and what’s not a practical proposition when you’re busy, so you don’t make commitments you can’t deliver. Check your team are aware too, particularly if something regulars normally expect isn’t currently available. What can your team suggest or recommend as an alternative?
  5. Manage expectations. For example, if you know when you’re likely to be busy, make every effort to let your customers know this. If you let them know when the quieter times are, this not only helps them, it potentially evens out the peaks and troughs for you too, enabling you to maintain customer service standards.
  6. Avoid disappointments. When you know something is unavailable give customers as much notice as possible – through your website, when booking or enquiring, prior to travel or on arrival – to minimise disappointment. But, offer customers choice and alternatives. Being kept informed is not about making excuses!  It’s about honesty so the customer can make an informed decision.
  7. Try something new. If something a customer might normally have isn’t available; will it be available later or not at all? What’s the alternative? What can you offer that might be as good as or even better? Take the opportunity to introduce your customers to something they haven’t tried before, or something that could be classed as an ‘upgrade’ (at no additional cost to them, of course). It’s a perfect opportunity to let your customer experience something over and above what they were expecting, so enhance their perception of customer service and value for money.

So whether your busy season is Christmas, the January sales, or sizzling summer days, the same customer service principles still apply…

Take action

Trust is the basis for building loyalty, and the quickest way to lose this is make promises you can’t deliver. Be open and honest with your customers and brief your team fully so they know what’s available and what’s not.

p.s. If you’d like some help auditing your venue to check it meets your customers’ expectations here are 3 different audit checklists to give you a head start.

Keeping your team engaged over Christmas

Keeping your team engaged over Christmas

Keeping your team engaged over Christmas, and keeping your customers happy too!

If you run a business that depends heavily on Christmas trade (or have peaks of activity at any time of year) a lot will hang on how good your customers’ experience during this time.

And if your team are feeling the pressure, if they’re rushed, tired from long days, or just fed up with demanding customers, all of this will be picked up by customers.

So it’s important you focus on keeping your team engaged over Christmas if you want them to impress your customers.

First impressions count.  Remember, when you’re busy, many of these customers may be coming to your business for the very first time, so don’t let the volume of customers be an excuse to let customer service standards drop. Create a memorable first impression and a reason for them to return.

Whether you’re a hospitality, leisure or retail or business already in the thick of Christmas activity, a health and wellness business anticipating a surge of activity as a result of New Year’s resolutions, or a tourism business who may see big spikes in visitors as festivals or shows attract the masses, your customers don’t really care how busy you are; they still want to be loved and cared for.

And this starts with your team!

So, here are 11 tips to keeping your team engaged over Christmas, to keep them smiling,  and continue to meet your customers’ expectations.

1. Keep your team informed

A well-informed team not only gives them confidence and enables them to make decisions, it also helps establish trust with your customers. Let everyone know what’s going on in your business through regular staff briefings. When you’re busy it’s easy to let these slip, but it’s on your busiest days that things are most likely to go wrong, so these are the days when your team briefings are most important.

2. What’s available

Ensure everyone in the team knows what’s available and what’s not as part of your Christmas offerings. People can’t sell something they don’t know exists, and they don’t’ want to look stupid if a customer orders a regular item then discover it’s not available over Christmas.

Let your staff sample products and/or services as far as possible, explain what products are normally sold together (e.g. in a restaurant what accompanies each dish) what the price includes and what’s extra. If they have a role in up-selling what are the products you want them to promote, including any future events?  If your core team are incentivised, make sure you include seasonal staff in the scheme.

3. Promote teamwork

Play to the strengths of your permanent team, and use them to support your seasonal team. Introduce temporary team members to everyone else in the whole team and define everyone’s areas of responsibility so there are no gaps and no duplication of effort. Avoid any friction that can occur when someone hasn’t pulled their weight or others are seen to ‘interfere’ with your way of doing things.

4. Common courtesies

Treat your team with the same care, courtesy and respect as you’d like them to show your customers.

Keep your commitments; letting people down suggests a lack of respect, but if you can’t do what you say you’ll do at the very least say “I’m sorry”.

Give a simple please and thank you, a sunny smile and a cheerful “good morning”, and a “good night and have a good evening” at the end of their day or shift.

5. Pay attention

Listen and observe. Keep your ears and eyes open to recognise when things aren’t as they should be, and spot concerns quickly. When everyone is focused on the customers having a good time, it’s easy to miss the tell-tale signs things are not as they should be. Left to fester these can snowball into bigger problems.

Be approachable, and listen and observe so you can act on any staff concerns before they become a problem. Provide support and be receptive to when this might be needed.

6. Debrief

Get feedback from your team at the end of each day or after each major event, so can you make things go smoother every day.

What went well? What was challenging and where did they struggle to meet customers’ expectations? What can be improved on for next time, or done differently to ensure the customer experience is still a great one even when you’re busy.

Listen to their ideas and suggestions, and show them you value their opinion.

7. Guide and support

Give your team the support, resources and guidance needed to do a good job. This starts with providing clear direction on your expectations and providing everyone with the resources they need (including sufficient time and manpower).

Observe your team in action and give supportive feedback, encouragement and coaching, so you build their confidence and their productivity.

When busy it’s easier for things to go wrong. Equip your team to deal with the unexpected and empower them to handle these situations with confidence.

8. Two-way trust

Lead by example and be a role model so there are no mixed messages. Ensure all your management team use the same criteria for rewarding and recognising the team’s contribution, so people don’t get confused of feel deflated when something worthy of recognition gets ignored.

Play to people’s strengths and demonstrate your trust by delegating some control and ownership. This gives a sense of pride and a desire to get things right.

9. Time Off

If your team have to work unsociable hours, long nights or sacrifice personal social lives, be open to some flexibility. Recognise that people may be missing out on family and friends’ events, so help make up for this in some way.

And even when busy it’s important for everyone in the team to have a chance to recharge the batteries; it’s when people are tired and frazzled that accidents happen, or mistakes get made.

10. A simple thank you

The most obvious and easiest thing you can do to show your team you care about them is to make a point of thanking them. Whether that’s a heartfelt thank you at the end of a busy shift or hectic day, when they’ve made an extra effort or used their initiative, or gone out of their way to help a colleague or a customer.

11. Have some fun

It’s the festive season and your team want to have some fun too! People are more productive when they’re happy and relaxed. Laughter is the best medicine and a good hearty laugh release tension and it’s contagious, so will certainly rub  off on customers too. This doesn’t mean being unprofessional, but looking for opportunities that create a relaxed and enjoyable place to work.

Give them a treat to look forward to after Christmas.

When your team have worked long or unsociable hours that had an impact on their personal life, extending the treat to be shared with their loved one not only makes your team member feel good but shows your appreciation of the support given by their friends and family. This paves the way for future good deeds too!

Finally, take the time to celebrate your successes and give yourself and your team a well-earned pat on the back for a job well done.

This all helps in keeping your team engaged over Christmas, and into the New Year.

Take Action

If you only do one thing – Take a few moments today to review how things are going. Ask for some feedback from the team and thank them for their contribution so far.

Related article: Improving Productivity:

Getting out of a skid

Service Recovery

Service Recovery

One frosty morning a few weeks ago I was driving to an early morning meeting. I’d negotiated the local country lanes without incident, but just after joining the main road my car went sliding into a skid. Thankfully nothing was coming in the opposite direction and I recovered the situation and regained control.

In this instance no harm was done, but I certainly wouldn’t like a recurrence and I will be more mindful of the conditions on that stretch of road in future.

In business, as with driving, there are times when the unexpected catches us out. Even the best run businesses have problems, and when these affect customers it’s the recovery of the situation that gets remembered.

It’s somewhat counter intuitive, but customers will often have a better perception of  their experience when they’ve had an issue that’s been taken care of swiftly and professionally, than if they didn’t encounter any problems and their experience was just as expected.

I’ve written on complaint handling many times before, (see but here are 5 key considerations to aid your service recovery so your customers’ perception of their experience is even higher.

1. Report near misses

Rather than waiting for things to go wrong, create a culture where it’s accepted that mishaps happen from time to time, and encourage your team to come forward with details of near misses. If they fear a reprimand or criticism they’ll never come clean if they were close to causing an issue.

Whether it was an error on their part or not, the focus should be on learning from the situation, and identifying what needs to happen or be in place to avoid such a situation arising again. Is it a call for better systems, equipment, time, training?

Follow up promptly, or your team members will get the impression it’s not that important.

2. Ownership

A customer doesn’t care whose fault it is, all they are interested in is getting the problem resolved. Empower your team members to take whatever action is in the customer’s best interest. This may involve seeking information, support or action from a colleague, but the important point here is that they take ownership and see the problem through to its resolution.

This is made easier when you have systems and processes in place for service recovery, and when everyone in the team has the same understanding of these.

3. Support

With the best will in the world, you can’t anticipate every conceivable issue. Allow your team members to practise, get feedback and coaching on how they handle service recovery, and learn from everybody else’s experiences.

Listen out for hesitation; when you hear a team member saying  “I can’t…” that might be an indication they are fearful of making a mistake. Talk this through with them to identify any obstacles.

Build confidence; often people know what they should be doing, but just lack that certainty and confidence to do this really well, so give time and an opportunity for them to practise in a safe environment.

4. Prevention is better than cure

Of course, in a perfect world you’d prevent such things happening, and never have to take any steps towards service recovery! Rather than it falling on you to spot potential problems and their solutions, involve your team in ‘hazard spotting’ and in looking for solutions to common issues. Often they’ll foresee issues you’ve never considered and before they’ve become a problem.

Even if you can’t avoid a potential issue altogether, your goal is to minimise the negative impact on the customer experience, so look for ways to do this!

5. Process

The great thing about hearing about a service issue is that you have an opportunity to put things right. But, it’s also important to learn from it, so you prevent a recurrence (even if the issue was purely a misunderstanding on the customer’s part – what led to their understanding or perception, and how do you avoid that perception in future).

Have a process in place – not just for dealing with such issues – but also for reporting or feeding back on them, and following-up to prevent re-occurrence. Ensure every team member understands the process and recognises the importance of it, so they are able to get out of the ‘skid’ if it happens.

If you only do one thing

Look back over the past couple of weeks, and review any issues that have affected customers and discuss with your team how well they handled the service recovery, and what they’ve learnt from it.

Is Anyone Listening to Customer Feedback

customer feedback

How to handle customer feedback and avoid adverse reviews.

Are you listening to customer feedback? Last week someone posted on LinkedIn a cringe-worthy letter she’s been sent by the CEO of an airline following her complaint at having to wait 11 months for a refund, with no apology, no empathy and no acknowledgement. Although not quite in the same league as the “United Airlines breaks guitars” video (19 million views on YouTube!) it was still pretty damning feedback which simply got compounded by the crass response from the CEO.

It’s easy to get defensive or take things personally when hearing negative feedback from customers. But without it how do you identify what’s working and what’s not in your customer eyes? Customer feedback can give you actionable insights that help you make educated business decisions, rather than taking a shot in the dark. Value this honest feedback from customers.

The bad news is most customers won’t give you a second chance if their first experience is bad. That’s why it is paramount to gather customer feedback at the first available opportunity, so you have a chance to put things right before it’s too late.

Too many businesses rely on customers completing feedback forms or questionnaires. The trouble with these is that firstly, people have better things to do than fill out a survey, and if they’re going to say anything they’re far more likely to post a comment on social media, telling the whole world rather than just you.

Secondly, if someone has taken the trouble to give feedback it’s usually too late to rectify things if there was anything they didn’t like. And there are bound to be occasions when you don’t understand what they’re referring to, and by now it’s difficult to ask questions to unravel the issue.

First-hand feedback

Getting feedback directly from your customers gives you an opportunity to capitalise on positive feedback and minimise the impact of any negatives. It gives you the chance to ask questions to really understand the specifics.

When a customer has had a good experience, sharing this with you at the time helps reinforce those positives, whilst if it’s negative you have an opportunity to put things right.

Give your team the confidence to ask well-structured questions to get feedback on specifics; there’s a big difference between bland statements such as “I hope everything was OK” rather than asking about specifics such as “What did you think of the…..?

Talk to your customers

Being visible in your business, and making contact with your customers builds rapport and trust. Once you’ve gained this you’re in a far better position to gain valuable feedback first hand.

The same goes for your team too, so encourage them to talk to your customers. Give them the appropriate training to ask for feedback in the knowledge that they are confidence to deal with feedback – good or bad – in a positive way. Bear in mind, your customers will tell you things that they wouldn’t feedback to your team, and vice versa.

Welcome complaints

When there is something wrong, if you get to hear about this early on, it puts you in a position to empathise, apologise and do something about it whilst there’s still time to remedy the situation.

If you don’t agree with the feedback, rather than getting defensive, find out (tactfully) what has led to their perception, as this may lead to the root of the problem. If you don’t know what disappoints customers or has led to a negative a perception, you can’t improve on it, so make sure you are prepared to listen to, and take on board any thoughts on what lets you down, so you can learn from this and address it.

It’s easy for team members to shy away from listening to complaints. Instead, train them to be observant and look for clues that things are not as they should be – a customer’s body language, facial expressions, the tone of their voice or hesitation, or their behaviours, such as leaving half their meal untouched, cancelling their order, asking for the bill earlier than expected.

Empower your team and give them the confidence to do whatever is in the customer’s best interest, without having to get approval from a manager, so any issues can be resolved swiftly and professionally with minimum fuss.

Online reviews

Whether it’s TripAdvisor, Google, or Facebook, there’s no getting away from the fact that online reviews – and the responses to them – are shared publicly and may be seen by hundreds or even thousands of prospective customers.

Encourage positive reviews: The most effective way to generate positive reviews is organically, by offering such a positive experience that customers feel compelled to tell others. People are more likely to write reviews when expectations are surpassed, and this is often found in the small details and the special care of customers.

When you know the customer has had a positive experience, don’t be pushy, but sometimes just giving them a little nudge to post a review can make all the difference “I’m happy to hear you enjoyed your stay. It would mean a lot to us if you helped spread the word by posting a review on TripAdvisor.” Or for your team members to have cards they can write their name on and hand to customers, making the review process a little more personal.

Accept that you will get (hopefully only occasional) negative reviews. Whatever you do, don’t get drawn into defensive mode; research indicates that when customers see a business respond positively and professionally to a negative review, they are more than twice as likely to buy from that business than if they had not responded. It shows your customers that you care, and are willing to learn and adapt if relevant to meet their needs.

If the review is asking for a response or needs more discussion before it can be resolved, take the discussion off line by asking reviewers to phone/email you directly.

If you get drawn into a debate or argument, just think how many of your potential (or existing) customers could see that response. By the same token, if you feel justified or compelled to make a refund, you’re in danger of setting a precedent if you make this public online.


Make it easy

Have systems in placed to make it easy to gather and review feedback. Take note of the language your customers use to describe what they like. Capitalise on this information and use it in your marketing.

Capture the good and the bad.

Every bit of feedback you get from your guests is valuable to you, whether it’s positive or negative and whether you agree with it or not. So treat it as such.


If you only do one thing:

Have a process, system or forum for your team to share and review customer feedback so it can be acted upon quickly to learn from it and build on it to make continuous improvements.

p.s. if you need more ideas to get your team on board and give them the skills in  asking for feedback see 38 Training Exercise & Activities to Engage, Energise and Excite your Team in Customer Service for ways to hone these skills


Customer Experience Goals

Customer experience goalsBegin with the end in mind ~ Your Customer Experience Goals

I love listening to books; I used to hate reading, so discovering Audible has introduced me to some brilliant books, which I’d probably never head read. I’m currently listening to Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. This is one book I have read before, and refer to his habits often.

If you’re familiar with the “Habits” you’ll know that the second habit is “to begin with the end in mind”.

Last week I talked about managing expectations, where one of the tips was to identify  the experience you want your customers to have, and the emotions you’d like them to feel. This is an example of beginning with the end in mind.

Whenever I’m working with my clients on improving their customer experience or creating a customer focused culture I find this is the best place to start. I like them to imagine either the conversation customers will be having in the car on their way home, or what they’d like their customers to feel, say, or do as a result of their visit or experience with you.


Emotions Matter

What emotions do you want to create for your customers? What would you like them to feel before (bear in mind a customer’s experience is influenced way before they ever set foot in your venue or business), during and after their visit?

Do you want them to feel confident in their decision, feel excited about their visit, feel special as they arrive, feel relaxed as a result of their visit? What would you like them to say about their experience? What memories do you want them to take away?  What do you want to be remembered for?

So, for example, if your venue is primarily for leisure you might want your customers to feel relaxed, energised, or calm. If it’s all about adventure you might want them to be feeling exhilarated, ready for anything, or on a high.  If your customers come to you to be pampered and spoilt you may want them to leave feeling a million dollars, feeling special, or confident.

You might not want them to be saying something on the lines of “Wasn’t that fantastic / great value / fun/”, or “We must tell John and Sarah about this place”, “We’ll definitely go back there again next week / month /year”.

What you want them to do might be to pick up the phone and book to come again, you might want them to pass on your details to their friends and you might want them to be posting a rave review on TripAdvisor. (Or of course all three!)

So how does this help you?

Once you know what you want the end result to be it’s considerably easier to plan the experience you deliver for your customers – all working towards that end goal.

You can create the activities, experiences and emotions that prompt them to feel, talk and act in this way.


Know what good looks like

Once you’re clear on the experience you want your customers have and the emotions you’d like them to feel (and the more precise you are the better), the easier it is to design each touch point of the customer journey to achieve this.

What do you and your team need to do, what behaviours would you expect to see or hear to achieve this? Ensure you have clearly defined expectations and standards. If you can’t describe or demonstrate what good looks like, how will your team know when they’re doing it right?

And once you’ve determined what it is you want your customers to be feeling, saying and doing as a result of their stay with/ visit to you, share this with your team.  Once they understand this you’ll not only all be working towards the same goal, but they’ll start to come up with their own ideas and spot opportunities to leave your customers feeling, saying and doing all the things you’d love them to.


Take Action

If you only do one thing – Ask everyone in your team to sum up in one word how they’d like customers to feel as a result of visiting your venue or doing business with you. Hep them keep these in mind to help them achieve your customer experience goals.



If you’d like some help determining your customer experience goals and  ‘What Good Looks Like’ for your customer experience, book a 30 minute call with me here, where we can get crystal clear on your end goal and your priority actions to achieve this.


Managing Expectations

Managing expectations isn’t always easy. So what can you do to manage your customers’ expectations?

managing expectations

Have you ever had that experience on your birthday or Christmas when you’re all excited about opening a beautifully presented gift, only to find what’s inside is a real disappointment?

Or you’ve waited patiently for the delivery of that new shirt you’ve ordered, but when you open it up it’s nothing like described on their website; the colour looks different, the fabric feels cheap and it’s a poor fit.

One of the quickest ways to lose trust is when you or your marketing has promised one thing, but what your customers get is different (even if only from their perspective).

And, of course, it’s no wonder people leave unhappy if we’ve failed to meet their expectations.


Understand their expectation

We can help to manage customers’ expectations, but we need to define these first. Start by thinking about who your customers are in general, and what’s important to them. What are their expectations of your target audience, and are you able to meet these? Identify the experience you want your customers to have, and the emotions you’d like them to feel.


Clarifying expectations

Unclear expectations will lead to misunderstanding, disappointment and withdrawals of trust.  Managing expectations of individual customers starts with clarifying those expectations with the customer. Many expectations are implicit, make the expectations clear and explicit in the first place.  This can take a real investment of time and effort up front, but saves great amounts of time and effort in the long run.  When expectations aren’t clear at the outset even simple misunderstandings become a problem, turning into disappointment or even anger.


Implicit promises

Be honest with customers; yes, your marketing needs to sell your venue or business, but be clear about what you don’t or can’t deliver, too.

Are there any facilities, products or services that comparable venues or businesses offer and therefore customers might expect, but that you don’t provide? If you are upfront about these in the first instance your customers are less likely to feel let down. Capitalise on what you do offer instead.

A picture paints a thousand words, so is all your imagery representative of what a customer will see when they arrive. If all your images are of your suites and deluxe rooms, but what they booked is the equivalent of a study bedroom in an annex, is it any wonder they end up disappointed?


We’ve run out of chicken

Imagine how you’d feel if you’d travelled for something specific, only to find it’s not available?

Do you remember the KFC incident earlier this year? There may be occasions when circumstances are totally out of our control. Hopefully not quite as extreme as KFC running out of chicken! But we can still learn from how KFC’s responded to this, with a cheeky full-page apology.

If there’s anything which would normally be available, particularly if it’s one of your signature products but due to seasonal factors, breakdown, or the weather, is temporarily unavailable, inform customers in advance of their visit.

When you know you’re going to be exceptionally busy, and there’s a risk of long waits or products being in short supply, let your customers know upfront by whatever means you can. If people have a booking, let them know by email or text, if not, the very least is to let people know via your website.


Just to let you know…

Consider the circumstances which can impact your customers’ experience, even if they’re out of your control. For example, roadworks en route to your venue, or other events happening in your area which might impact customers. Even though this might be nothing to do with you, your customers will always appreciate being kept in the know, so they can make allowances.


User error

Are there any aspects of your product or service which are impacted by ‘user error’?

For example: If you need customers the return choices or confirm numbers by a certain date so you can meet their deadlines or ensure they get what they asked for. Or if there are certain steps they need to follow for something to operate smoothly such as automated systems or electronic keys.

If so make it crystal clear (in a non-threatening way!) to customers why what you’ve asked of them is important – not as a convenience to you, but how it might impact on their experience.


Keeping commitments

There’s probably no larger withdrawal of trust than to make a promise that’s important to someone and then not keep that promise.

Stick to agreed times for returning calls, meetings, deliveries. If you’ve agreed a time or deadline, stick to it.

If your team have to let customers know of delays, ensure they are realistic about time frames; always better to over-estimate a delay, than underestimate.


Admit mistakes

It is one thing to make a mistake, and quite another not to admit it. A sincere apology and having empathy with the customer when they feel they’ve been let down is the least you can do. Most customers accept that things can go wrong from time to time. But only if they’re kept informed.

If something they’ve asked for is no longer available; will it be available later or not at all. What’s the alternative? What can you offer that might be as good as or even better?

If there is a delay, does the customer wait, or do they do / have something that doesn’t involve waiting? That might depend on just how long they have to wait; is it expected to be a 2 minutes wait or half an hour? Being honest (and not making false promises and under estimating) allows the customer to make an informed decision.


Explanations, not excuses

Being kept informed is not about making excuses!  It’s about keeping the customer informed of the situation and giving them options…

However, there may be times when a little explanation helps diffuse the situation. If there’s been an accident, if it would be unsafe, if their preferred option is not up to standard and likely to disappoint. If it’s relevant to help them see why they’re not getting the experience they’d hoped tell them; if not, don’t!

Customers really aren’t interested in your staff shortages or that your suppliers have let you down or that the ‘x’ machine is broken.


Take action

Trust is the basis for building loyalty, and the quickest way to build this is to deliver what you’ve promised.

If you only do one thing – review your ‘promise’ to customers with your team and ask what do you say, do or show that could lead to customers having expectations beyond what you deliver. What else can you do towards managing expectations and maintain your customers’ trust?

p.s. If you’d like some help auditing your venue to check it meets your customers’ expectations here are 3 different audit checklists for hospitality and tourism businesses, to give you a head start.




Better teamwork to relieve the pressure

With Christmas festivities only a matter of weeks’ away you may now be planning your staffing to ensure your customers get a consistent experience no matter how busy you are.

Last week my tip was to upskill and cross train your team so they can cover each other when need be, and help them respect each other’s roles.

But this is also a good strategy to help improve teamwork and relieve some of the pressure in busy periods, be those Christmas or any other peak periods in your business.

Here are 10 tips to get you started…

  1. Set up job swaps so everyone has a greater appreciation of each other’s roles and create better teamwork.
  2. Encourage staff to take responsibility when necessary, rather than passing the buck.
  3. When there are special circumstances, such as working on a big project, seasonal peaks, or staff shortages, define everyone’s areas of responsibility to ensure no gaps and no duplication of effort. Avoid the frictions that occur when someone hasn’t pulled their weight or others are seen to ‘interfere’ with your way of doing things. (Customers invariably pick up on these little issues too.)
  4. Capitalise on people’s strengths, rather than making everyone mediocre at everything. Identify staff champions for routine activities so there is always at least one person other than you keeping an eye on each aspect of the service. This is not only good for people’s development; it also helps the team respect other’s roles and share the burden.
  5. Get rid of rotten apples. It only takes one or two negative people to get in the way and spread their negativity onto everyone else and drag them down to their level. Deal with them or get rid of them!
  6. First impressions count. Ensure everyone in your entire team knows the minimum standards for welcoming and greeting customers; answering the phone, including initial enquiries; taking messages or booking procedures even if this is only an occasional requirement.
  7. Set your expectations of new team members early on; no one likes uncertainty or being left in the dark. Establish a thorough induction programme, so new team members can get up to speed as quickly as possible, making it easier for them and putting less pressure on the rest of the team.
  8. Train from scratch in your way of doing things. Even if you recruit someone with extensive experience in customer service it’s vital they fully understand your service culture not just how they did things in their last job.
  9. Observe the same principles for your seasonal team as you do for your permanent team members. Your customers won’t differentiate, and one person not knowing the ropes can have a negative impact on teamwork, and the service they give.
  10. Check everyone’s level of competence and confidence before letting new team members loose on customers. Not just for the sake of your customers, but for the team member too.

Upskilling and cross train your team give you greater flexibility amongst the team and gives them more variety in their roles. It means they can cover each other’s responsibilities ensuring you are not left in the lurch when key team members are sick or on holiday, or you simply need an extra pair of hands in one area of the business when they’re not needed elsewhere.

Take action

If you only do one thing – check you have at least one other person who can readily cover any one of your key roles, so you’re not left short if someone is unexpectedly absent for whatever reason.

p.s. If you need some guidance on onboarding new team members, so put less pressure on the rest of the team get my Onboarding programme template here


Falling at the final fence

last impressions

What’s your last impression…?

You’ve had a fantastic time. You’ve been well cared for, attended to with fantastic hospitality. Your meal, stay or day out was wonderful, the atmosphere was relaxed and all your friends and family have had a good time.

But then they fall at the final fence…

It’s time to go home and suddenly no one is interested. You want to pay, but nobody wants to take your money! You take a visit to the loos and wish you hadn’t. You’ve lost your gloves and want to report it to lost property, but can’t find anyone. You were told about membership to get your entrance fee refunded but there’s no one to be found, so you think “forget it!”.

Has this ever happened to you?

More importantly has it ever happened to any of your customers?

One of the most important determining factors in prompting a positive lasting memory, a potential repeat visit or a glowing recommendation is what happens in the very last few minutes of the customers’ experience. It’s this last impression that influences their biding memory.

What’s the very last thing your customers see, hear, smell, taste or feel as they leave.

If your customers only ever get to speak to you by phone what’s the last thing they hear?

What’s the very last touch at the point of purchase; for example a confirmation or thank you message, a farewell, a follow-up invitation, invitation for feedback, etc.

Do your customers feel appreciated and that you’re sorry to see them go?  Or are your team members unintentionally making signs that they’ve other more important things to be getting on with? The equivalent of impatiently looking at their watch or getting the Hoover out! It may not be obvious, but letting customers know you’re running late, that you’re relieved it’s home time or closing time, showing signs of rushing them out of the door or off the premises.

What process do you use to get personal feedback from customers? If this is done before customers leave it means you have an opportunity to reinforce positives. It’s an opportunity to resolve any problems or concerns before customers leave, so they still leave with positive last impressions. It also shows customers you are interested in their feedback; all adding to the feeling of being appreciated.

How sensitive is your team at picking up when a customer is in a hurry and they need to speed up? When customers are in a hurry or ready to leave, and we keep them waiting to pay their bill or check out; that’s not the best impression to leave with a customer when they have to wait to part with their money! But it might be the one thing that puts a damper on an otherwise great experience.

What’s going on behind the scenes that’s not quite what you’d like your customers to experience? Are your toilets as pristine at the end of a busy day as they are at the beginning? (Just reflect on how many of your customers make the ladies or gents their last port of call before setting out on their journey home.)

What’s the last conversation they hear as they leave? Is it all genuine smiles and sincere thank yous, or do they get to hear the back-stage gossiping and gripes? Or the complaints about how busy they’ve been and how tired they are, or about the slow internet connection which is why they’ve been kept waiting.

What’s the last thing they see on their way to the car park? Particularly if there’s a sneaky short cut via a rear exit.  Is it the chaos of a back office, the cluttered cleaning cupboard or the over flowing bins, or even your team having a crafty cigarette by the back door? Not good last impressions.

What do they see or feel in the car park? How secure do they feel if it’s dark? Is the level of service consistent with everything else, or is the last person they see a grumpy car park attendant or off duty team members fooling around and letting the side down?

Even if you’re dependent on a third-party provider and you have no direct control over it, your customers won’t differentiate. So if your security or cleaning is outsourced, if you have products which are delivered by couriers, or if your offers or feedback surveys are managed by a marketing company, this is one of the most critical touch points of your customers’ journey; do you really want to leave it to chance with your suppliers?

Everything your customer experiences during their visit up to this point might be seamless and perfect.

But it’s those last few moments which influence the end result – how they feel, what they say, and what they do as a result of their visit.

So don’t let it all fall down at the final fence.

Take action

If you only do one thing – conduct an audit of the final phases of your customer journey. What’s the last impression your customers leave with, and what one thing could you and your team do differently to make it even better.

There are some more auditing tools for hospitality and tourism businesses here

Dealing with Poor Performance

dealing with poor performance

Dealing with poor performance is a bit like picking up acorns

Most people who know me, know I love my garden.  I can happily while away hours pottering in the garden, and my idea of a good workout is a good bit of digging or lopping vegetation (beats the gym any day!).

Our garden is surrounded by mature oak trees, which means at this time of year we get lots of acorns, and I mean LOTS!

And, as we know, from tiny acorns mighty oak trees grow…

Following my accident last summer my gardening activities were somewhat curtailed. Which meant none of the acorns got picked up last year. So, lo and behold, a mini oak forest is popping up all over the garden! And having spent most of Saturday pulling them up, I can report oak saplings put down strong roots very quickly! Of course, had I managed to deal with these last year they would have been a darn sight easier to pull up!

It’s the same in business; if we don’t deal with problems early on, they can escalate into something much more challenging; like pulling up oak saplings rather than picking up the acorns.

Two particular types of problems come to mind, both of which can have an impact on the team and your customers: team members’ poor performance and unhappy customers. I’ve written many times before on dealing with unhappy customers, so my focus today is on picking up on dealing with poor performance.

I often find junior or inexperienced managers in particular tend to avoid dealing with poor performance. One reason is for fear of repercussions.

So here are 10 principles you can share with them to give them the support and guidelines to nip any performance problems in the bud (or eliminate them altogether!)

  1. Set expectations, so everyone in the team knows what’s expected of them. The clearer these are (ideally expressed in behavioural terms) and the less they are open to misinterpretation, the easier it is for everyone involved to monitor poor performance.
  2. Ensure people understand why things are done the way they are; if people fail to appreciate the importance of what they’re expected to do it’s very easy to lose any buy-in or commitment.
  3. Addressing an issue straight away might be relevant for everyone in the team. However, beware; giving everyone a lecture in a group meeting makes the ‘non offenders’ irritated that they are all being ‘accused’, whilst those to whom you are aiming your comments either just laugh it off, or it goes by without them realising you are referring to them.
  4. Conduct regular 1:1’s with team members where you review good performance, discuss shortfalls, and set targets for the coming period. This is an opportunity to pick up on any shortfalls before they become an issue, and identify the cause.
  5. When feeding back on performance (whether good performance or where improvements are needed), use the AID model. Stick to facts, not your interpretation of the facts.
  6. Recognise not all shortfalls are down to the individual; maybe it’s a training need, it could be through lack of resources, perhaps the system doesn’t allow it to happen, or maybe simply that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Find out the cause; if you don’t know this, how can you correct it?
  7. Use the ‘3E’ structure – Establish the gap – Examine the reasons for the gap – Eliminate the gap
  8. Be prepared for the excuses – “well Nancy does it all the time and gets away with it”, or “I don’t see why that’s a problem”, or “No one’s ever told me that I had to do that”. These last two responses suggest that some more explanation or training is needed, and you may need to draw a line in the sand and set out your expectations for the future.
  9. Focus on the end result. Irrespective of the issue – whether it’s someone being late, not greeting a customer in the way you’d expect, breaking health and safety rules, failure to carry out part of their job, arguing with another member of staff, or doing something in a haphazard way with a poor result – Your goal is to resolve the issue and improve performance in future.
  10. Recognise that failing to take any action about poor performance sends the message to everyone else that it’s OK to break the ‘rules’. We sometimes misguidedly believe that it’s a one off or the problem will go away; but before you know it the problem has escalated – either the person in question continues to disregard the standard, or it becomes custom and practice for everyone to follow suit.

Of course, every business should have its own disciplinary process, and I am not suggesting by-passing that. But if you nip the issue in the bud hopefully you’ll never need to get as far as the disciplinary process.

Take Action

If you only do one thing – Share this list with your junior managers and supervisors and give them the support they need to nip poor performance problems in the bud.

p.s  If you need some more help with developing your junior managers let’s have a chat to see how I can help. 

Related articles

How to give constructive feedback

Dealing with poor performance ~ Part 2

How to attract, recruit and retain great staff

attracting recruiting retaining staff

How to attract, recruit and retain great staff

And it’s not just about pay and hours…

You and I both know the quality of your team have a direct impact on your customers’ experience. But there’s also no getting away from the fact that many businesses are struggling with attracting and/or retaining good quality people.

This was certainly a common theme in the seminars at last week’s Restaurant Show. I can’t say I get very excited about heavy duty kitchen equipment or the latest design in tableware. But I always make a B line for the seminars as I love to listen and learn from others.

Here are some of my takeaways from the seminars, plus a few of my own.

And it’s not just about pay and hours…

1. Bolting the Stable Door

Identify the real cause of people leaving. Sit down with leavers to find out as much as possible about their motives for leaving.

Prevention is better than cure. Although it might be too late to change the mind of this employee, it might allow you time to address any problems to prevent the same thing happening again and again.

They say that people don’t quit jobs they quit bosses, so if this is the case the interview is best conducted by someone other than the employee’s line manager; it is unlikely that you’re going to learn the truth if the line manager is asking the question.

Look for the tell-tale signs that could lead to future employee turnover: lack of job satisfaction, poor team dynamics, inflexibility to meet personal needs (e.g. flexibility on working hours), cultural mismatch.

Ask for regular feedback from your team (see

2. The Grass is Greener

Keep your talent in-house. Promote from within wherever possible. A perceived lack of career progression or obvious career path can be a key contributor to staff turnover.

Look for internal opportunities – either in your own establishment, or if you’re part of a group in other sites.

Always let your existing team members know when a position is available. Even if this is not a step up, it may present a new challenge to keep someone motivated. If internal candidates do not get the job ensure you give feedback to help with their development and to encourage them to apply for future positions.

Put processes in place to identify potential, develop people and encourage internal promotion, such as regular1:1’s to talk about aspirations, strengths and opportunities.

Support people’s development to minimise the risk of them leaving to take on more senior roles for which they may not yet be ready and may be out of their depth.

3. Build your Network

Develop relationships with recruitment officers from local colleges and universities, get involved with schools to help raise the profile of the industry, network with other local businesses.

Allow your existing team to participate in professional associations and training where they’re likely to be in contact with potential candidates.

People know people like themselves, so ask your team to help in your recruitment efforts.

When there are so many retail businesses closing, what can you do to attract the ‘fall out’ from these businesses?

4. Become an employer of choice

Create a culture where the best employees will want to work, and build a reputation as a good employer so you attract the best people.

A prerequisite is looking after your existing staff; they are far more likely to recommend you to others and spread the word that it’s a great place to work.

Monitor the reputation of your business; listen to what your staff say, especially those who leave. It’s not just about pay and hours. People won’t want to work for you if they don’t see any development opportunities, if their contribution isn’t recognised or if they’ve no sense of purpose.

Keep an eye on sites such as Glassdoor, pick up any clues or comments that could impact on how you’re perceived in the job market, and what steps you might need to take to make any changes. Comments from disgruntled employees will do you no favours whether their gripes are valid or not.

Shout about what’s good about working there. What’s the culture? What development opportunities? How do others feel about working there? What are your values?

5. First Impressions Count

Your recruitment and onboarding process needs to be professional, fair and welcoming for applicants; it’s as much about them finding out about you, and if they think they’d be happy working there.

Use communication channels and language to suit your audience, e.g. using text rather than email.

Involve your team in the recruitment process so you can create a buzz about what it’s like to work there. This demonstrates your belief in them and strengthens their commitment to helping the new employee succeed.

If you’ve more than one vacancy to fill consider recruitment days.

Engage and involve new starters as early as possible, to avoid second thoughts before their first day. Let them know you’re looking forward to them starting and what is mapped out for their first day.

Ensure a well-planned induction programme so they aren’t left wondering what’s expected of them. There was a lot of talk about gamification in the seminars, but at the very least, add some fun to help starters relax and build confidence. See Induction Guide here

Help them to make a meaningful contribution early on, so they have a sense of achievement. Set a mini project for them or allocate a small area of responsibility.

How well you demonstrate you care for them from day one will influence how much they care about you, your business and your customers!


Take action

If you only do one thing – on the basis that prevention is better than cure, spend some time this week with each of your team and discuss their aspirations and development needs, so they recognise they have a future with you.

p.s. If you’d like a head start designing your induction programme I’ve done the hard work for you with my Guide to On-boarding available here