Tag Archives: hotel customer service

Are customer complaints a good thing?

Do you see complaints is a good thing?

Getting feedback from your guests is essential to gauge whether or not what you offering is right for your target audience. Whether it’s positive or negative and whether you agree with it or not is key to your success.

So why is it then that so many businesses seem to ignore this fact?

There was a time when customers were reserved about giving direct feedback, particularly complaints; they didn’t want to be seen to making a fuss, and anyway if they did complain they felt nothing would change. They would just vote with their feet and just not come back again.

Of course all that’s changed now with the advent of social media; people do complain, but all too often this comes too late for us to remedy the situation and instead of just telling us they tell the whole world.

So the more we can do to get direct feedback, warts and all, the greater the likelihood we have of resolving the situation there and then, turning it around and turning what could have been a tragic moment into a magic moment.

Unless we get people’s feedback we can’t do anything about it.

Most people accepted that with the best will in the world from time to time things go wrong, and how we resolve the situation gets remembered.

 

Prevention is better than cure

Make sure your guests feel comfortable to give feedback at every opportunity.

Face-to-face feedback will always be the most effective and ideally we need to get feedback before it’s too late to do something about it. If what you have provided fails to meet expectations you’d rather know about it before the guest leaves so you can resolve it, there and then.

As well is asking at the end of each course, the meal or their stay, be observant and look out for signs that things aren’t right or that someone wants to get your attention. For example if a diner has hardly touched their steak but eaten everything else that might suggest there was a problem with the steak. Or you hear a guest complaining about the temperature of their room to others in their party probably suggests something that needs investigating.

If you know that something’s not right be up front with your guests and let them know before it becomes a problem. Offer alternatives if necessary and then keep them informed of the situation.

For example if you know their room won’t be ready tell them the situation, offer them the option of afternoon tea in the lounge, or a nice walk they might like to take, and give them an expected time that their room will be ready.

Equally if you’ve a backlog in the kitchen and they may have a wait for their main course let them know as soon as possible. If they are on a tight schedule they may not be prepared to wait but at least they’ve been given the option to choose a simpler dish, skip a course  or as a last resort eat elsewhere before they are committed or you prepare something they don’t have time to eat.

 

Talk to your guests

Being visible in your hotel or restaurant, and making contact with your guests 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 staff too, so encourage them to talk to your guests. 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. Bare in mind your guests will tell you things that they wouldn’t feedback to your staff, and vice versa.

 

Ask the right questions

Making statements such as “I hope you enjoyed your meal” or “was everything all right for you?” is not likely to get the customer to open up. We need to ask specific questions that will give something more than a yes or no. Open questions starting with how or what are the most useful; for example how would you rate …, how could we improve on …, what did you like most about ….

I don’t mean put guests on the spot. If you’ve already got a good rapport with your guests you’ll be able to do this quite naturally in a conversational way.

Guests will be flattered if you ask for their opinions. So also ask for their feedback on how things can be improved and their recommendations and new ideas. Then keep them up to date with the changes they’ve made to demonstrate that you have been listening. What a great excuse to invite them back again to show them the changes you’ve implemented?

Capture the good and the bad. Even if you don’t agree with feedback you need to find out (tactfully) what has led to their perception, as this may lead to the root of the problem.

Questionnaires are impersonal and few people like to fill them in except maybe when they’re really unhappy about something. The more you can find out through a two-way conversation with your customers the better. But it does give those who didn’t want to say anything at the time, perhaps because they were embarrassed or didn’t want to make a fuss in front of their party a chance to feedback.

 

Online reviews

Love them or hate them, online reviews do get read and will influence prospective customers. Sadly statistically people are more likely to be prompted to post a review if they’ve a bad experience than when they’ve had a good one. So aim to redress this balance, by encouraging as many as your guests as possible to post reviews, so you get the good ones as well as (hopefully only occasional) bad ones.

Display your confidence by encouraging your guests and website visitors to link to TripAdvisor and other review sites. One of the easiest things you could do is to put a link from your website, and on your post stay e-mails, and prompt people who have enjoyed their stay to post a review.

But the least you can do is show people you appreciate the feedback (good or bad) by responding quickly to the feedback you receive. Register with TripAdvisor, etc. and set up a Google alert so you know whenever anyone is talking about your business online, so that you can monitor your reviews by receiving notifications.

This is particularly important for negative feedback to show that you have looked into the situation and taken things on board. If I see a complaint online that the management hasn’t made a reply to I think they don’t care.

Feedback that you feel is unjustified can be frustrating, but the way in which you handle this will reflect on your professionalism and reputation, so deal with it in a constructive way. Take the discussion off-line as quickly as possible by asking them to phone you. This then provides an opportunity for you to get more detail and having a better chance of resolving the situation without having to share the discussion with the rest of the world.

Don’t be too concerned about the occasional negative comment. This demonstrates authenticity of the content and in some cases can actually help to highlight the type of hotel you are. For example, if you have a comment that the hotel is not child friendly, this may be seen as a positive for some potential guests.

Watch out too for feedback through Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites so you can respond accordingly.

 

Dealing with negative feedback

It can be easy to get defensive when we receive feedback, particularly when we feel it is not justified or we totally disagree with it. What we need to ask is what led to this customer’s perception. This sometimes involves asking questions in a tactful way. The key thing is to show some empathy with the customer’s point of view.

Even if we disagree, something must have triggered their perception.  So listen to what your guest is saying, and aim to turn a negative into a positive. The least you can do is apologise (even if you’re just apologising that they feel that way) and demonstrate what changes you’ve made if appropriate.

 

Empower your team

Develop a culture of customer service amongst your team. Give your team the skills and authority to deal with complaints as they happen. Encourage them and train them how to ask for feedback and just as importantly how to respond when they get complaints or negative feedback.

This is far better for the customer because it gets a quicker solution, far better for the team member because they’re able to deal with it which gives them pride, and far better for you because it means you don’t have to always been involved. This doesn’t mean to say that don’t want to hear about complaints particularly if there are common recurring problems that need to be resolved.

Don’t assume because you’ve told people how to do something they will be able to just go out and deliver it consistently.  It’s all very well knowing what to say, but you know how sometimes when you come to say something the words just don’t trip off the tongue as you might hope!  Let your team practise in a safe environment, based on different scenarios.

Agree with them their levels of authority so they know just how much leeway they have in offering the customer/guest compensation, and at what point they may need to involve a manager.

Observe how your staff handle complaints and give them feedback after the event on what they did well, what they could do more of, and give the appropriate support and guidance on areas where they need more help.

It’s all too easy when we hear of a complaint to blame someone in the team for the problem. Put the team first and they’ll reward you with avoiding problems.

 

Here’s a little checklist you may find useful:

LEAF

Listen

  • Listen to the customer – they want to get it off their chest – You need to identify the problem
  • Show you’re listening – remember your body language and keep eye contact
  • Reflect back to the customer to check your understanding and show the customer you’ve understood
  • Park the emotion and focus on the facts

Empathise

  • Apologise – this isn’t necessarily accepting responsibility, but apologising that they’ve been put out or disappointed or that they feel that way
  • Do not take it personally
  • Show you care and that you understand their concern, why they might be disappointed or why they feel angry
  • They’re not interested in excuses – even if the problem wasn’t your fault show that you’re looking to come to a solution to the problem for your guest

Action

  • And ask what they would see as an acceptable solution
  • Offer alternatives so the customer feels they are in control of the solution
  • Look to overcompensate by at least a few percent – there’s no need to go overboard but just consider what would be reasonable for both parties – It’s not always about throwing money at the problem
  • Tell the customer what you are going to do and not why things went wrong (unless that’s what they ask)

Follow Up

  • Keep your promise and deliver
  • Check that the customer is happy with the outcome
  • Learn from the feedback you’ve had and look into recurring trends – aim to prevent a similar complaint happening again
  • Pass on to your team so they know how to resolve similar situations in future

With the right approach complaints can turn a negative into positive. You can’t always get everything right, but when you don’t make sure you fix it!

Join me on my webinar this Wednesday when I’ll be discussing:

“7 critical things to ensure you stay on your customers’ radar to tap into the EASY business that’s right under your nose”

Register here

 

Caroline Cooper


Keep your customer informed

I’m still waiting.

I’m still waiting for something I ordered two months ago.

Now I accept that things go wrong. Sometimes an order gets misplaced. Sometimes you run out of stock. Sometimes there are delivery or staff issues in getting the product to the customer. But two months without so much as an apology? I don’t think so.

This is a company I’ve used without issue for over two years, and up till now always good service and at a reasonable price. So you could say I was a loyal customer.

Notice the use of the past tense here. I was a loyal customer, but alas no more.

Having chased the article in question over a month ago I was told it was out of stock but I’d have it by the end of June. No explanation, no apology, and no offer of a refund instead.  Said item didn’t arrive in June and still has not. I have since had an apology of sorts from their customer service department, but did it come uninitiated? No, only after I’d chased again.

So what can we learn from this for hospitality businesses?

Well things do go wrong. The better your team and your systems the less likely, but even with the best will in the world sometimes there are things that get missed or things that are totally out of your control.

Guest mostly understand this….. providing you keep them informed.

  • Let them know when there will be a delay, so they can make a decision on whether to wait or change or cancel their order.
  • Let them know when what you’ve promised can’t be delivered so they can plan accordingly
  • Offer an alternative or give the guest a number of options
  • Offer something by way of a reasonable compensation to show you appreciate their patience or inconvenience
  • And most of all, admit to any mistakes on your part. Don’t be too proud to apologise.

Your hotel or restaurant guest will appreciate your honesty and this all helps to keep the trust and relationship sweet, so unlike me your guests remain loyal.


Creating rapport with your hospitality business customers

Yesterday, we looked at the principles of building rapport, be that with customers, staff or suppliers within your hospitality business.

 

Words

What we actually talk about and the words we use will go some way to building rapport, so listen out for the terminology others use and try to use their terms rather than yours. But this also extends to showing common interests, common goals and common values.  So assuming you share these let them know, as these can help to bond you together.  A relationship with a customer will be a lot easier if you share something you have in common.

What terminology will your restaurant or hotel customer best relate to? This doesn’t only apply to face to face communication – it also extends to any other forms of communication – so consider this in your marketing messages, on site promotions and any customer notices or information.

 

Tone

A part of building rapport is respecting the state, style and feelings of others – essential factors when dealing with customer complaints, and staff concerns; e.g. if someone is feeling frustrated by poor service show understanding for that frustration.

The biggest impact on this is our tone – Do we indicate an understanding for someone’s complaint rather than sounding defensive?  Do we sound empathetic towards a customer’s frustration instead of sounding irritated by it? And if someone is excited or happy about something, do we also show excitement or happiness, or do we dampen their mood through being apathetic and impatient.  The closer you match the other person’s tone the greater the degree of rapport.

What if they are angry? Should we still match their tone? In a way, yes. What we want to match is the level of energy in the voice. Let’s put this into context. If a customer has a complaint and is angry about this and they then get a placid, calming response, instead of calming the person down, in the first instance it may actually make them worse as it appears patronising and as if they are not being taken seriously. By matching the level of energy and concern in your voice you indicate to the customer that you are taking it seriously, so you’ll get into rapport more quickly. Then (and only then) are you in a position to lead towards a calmer tone.

 

Physiology

I am sure you have experienced a time when you have arrived somewhere and felt instantly out of place because you felt either under dressed or overdressed.  This is just one example of how our appearance matching those of others helps build rapport.  But this aspect also includes the wider and less obvious aspects of our body language, gestures and facial expressions, and can also extend to our actions, and even our breathing.

Next time you are out, just take a look around you and you can easily spot people who are in rapport.  The way they stand or sit will mirror, their facial expressions will be similar and the chances are that when one reaches for their drink or to take a bite of food, the other person will do the same.  So to build rapport, ensure you match the other person – you don’t want to be too obvious about it, but it is surprisingly easy to do this without it appearing as if you are mimicking.

So remembering that the tone and physiology will be more unconscious ways to build rapport, next time you are in disagreement with someone (i.e. the 7% based on words) work on matching the other 93% – their tone and physiology – and you will be amazed at the impact this can have on your ability to reach agreement.


How to achieve great rapport for your hospitality business

Yesterday, we looked at why rapport is important. Today we’ll discuss how to get into rapport with your customers be they a hotel guest or restaurant diners or anyone else you deal with to a run a successful hospitality business.

Think of people with whom you already have great rapport.  What is it you do, how do you communicate and what do you talk about?  All these factors can give us a clue to the key aspects of building rapport.  But what can you do in business if it doesn’t occur naturally?

Firstly show your interest. It’s more important to be interested than trying to be interesting! Show that you’ve been listening by using their name and asking appropriate questions. Sincerely. Most people spend 95% of their time thinking about themselves. They love it when you show genuine interest in what they’re doing. Use this as an opportunity to find common ground from the beginning of the conversation. Generally, people like people who are like themselves.

Smile and make eye contact. And hold it for longer (without the mad staring eye routine). Make your body language open. Uncross your arms, avoid covering your heart and turn to face the person you are talking to. This encourages openness and trust.

Listen for verbal thinking preference clues. Is the person you are talking to Visual (I see what you’re saying…), Aural (I hear you), Kinaesthetic (How do you feel about?)…

Step into the other person’s shoes and try imaging life from their viewpoint. Not a single person on the planet has exactly the same perspective on life, yet we often imagine other people see things exactly the way we do.

We need to pay conscious attention to matching or mirroring (not mimicking) those elements that are part of natural rapport.

There is often quoted research that suggests that as much as 55% of the message we convey comes from a person’s appearance and physiology. That a person’s tone, volume, pitch, emphasis accounts for a further 38%. And that only 7% of our communication comes from the words that we use – for example the use of common expressions, terminology, etc. Although this research was applicable to a slightly different context, there’s no denying that body language and non-verbal communications is by far the most powerful.

So how do we make use of these factors?  Well, the closer we can match these (not mimic) to the other person the more likely we are to build rapport.

Tomorrow we’ll take each in turn.


Why is rapport important for your hospitality business?

How is it that we are able to just ‘click’ with some people, and with others it’s a real uphill struggle?  When I’m training I frequently get asked to help delegates establish rapport.  In hospitality – whether you are in a hotel, restaurant, café, spa or conference centre, the ability to build rapport is key. Having rapport with you hotel guests or restaurant diners will inevitably give them a better experience, but it’s also important to have rapport with suppliers and staff, in turn making our job a lot easier and more enjoyable.

And of course it’s important that our team know how to build rapport too, so they can do their job effectively.

What is rapport

Rapport is a relationship of mutual understanding or trust and agreement between people.  It is what happens at an unconscious level that makes us ‘click’ and is enhanced by a perception of likeness and liking.  It includes the ability to see the other person’s point of view (even though you may not necessarily agree with it), and is a vital element in any form of communication, including the business context.

Indicators of good rapport include

  • Similar body posture
  • Gesture in similar ways
  • Same rhythm in movement and speech
  • Breathing levels are similar
  • Voice tone

Why is rapport important for your hospitality business?

So let’s establish why rapport is important for your hospitality business be it a hotel, restaurant, café, spa or conference centre.

How often have you heard “She was so rude”, “He just didn’t seem to care”, “You don’t understand”, “I’m not sure if I trust him”.  Rapport gives the ability to relate to others in a way that creates a climate of trust, openness and understanding; it is a key part of building relationships in the business world.  Having the ability to build rapport helps with:

Customers: All things being equal people will have a better experience being served by people they can relate to, and are more likely to do business with people with whom they have good rapport.   And by maintaining that rapport throughout will enable us to identify what our customers really want, to help us provide the best services we can.  And the more relaxed and at ease our hotel or restaurant customer the higher their willingness to spend, and ultimately the greater our chances of further business.

Suppliers: Be it your butcher, your plumber or your accountant, having a good rapport usually leads to better service, puts us in a better position to negotiate when we need to, and makes it easier to ask for assistance when it’s needed.

Your team: Having great rapport with your team will open up 2 way communication and builds trust.  You’ll get the best out of them if they feel comfortable to make suggestions, they are less likely to be critical of ideas offered to them, and for you it will be a lot easier to call in a favour when it’s needed.  And it makes for a more pleasant working environment all round. Having good rapport with management is likely to have a rub off effect in increasingly the likelihood of a staff having a good rapport with your customers too.

Tomorrow we’ll look at how to build rapport.


How to achieve great customer service – Part 4

Recognition

Recognise and reward staff who go the extra mile and give exceptional customer service. Listen to your guests and acknowledge the feedback they give you and pass that on to your team. This helps both you and your team or to understand what your guests appreciate and value, and help identify where you may be falling short.

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 knock-on effect on your guests.

 

Lead by example

Your personality is part of the business. Making yourself visible in your hotel and engaging with your guests not only builds rapport and trust with them, but sets the tone and example for your team to follow. If you hide yourself away in the office, or seldom even visit the hotel, this sends the message that it’s okay to hide away from guests.

Talking to your guests is far the best way to get feedback, and they may tell you things that they wouldn’t feedback to your team. Get to know your guests personally; their likes and dislikes, their routine, their suggestions, their network. All this not only builds rapport but makes it a lot easier for you to tailor your offer and service to meet your guests’ needs and expectations.

 

A team effort

Service should be seamless, and to achieve this, the whole team must support one another. Encourage staff to take ownership when necessary, rather than passing the buck. Allocate responsibilities to specific team members to conduct briefings, training, collate feedback and suggestions.  This spreads the responsibility, gets everyone involved, ensuring these happen even when you’re not there.

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


How to achieve great customer service – Part 3

Empower

Upskilling your team by giving them the appropriate training, coaching and support enables you to delegate authority and gives your  staff a sense of responsibility, so they take the initiative and make decisions. You’ll be surprised how often they end up improving the process.  It means you don’t have to keep an eye on things 24/7, in the confident knowledge that your guests will always get great service.

Encourage staff to think ahead and anticipate guests’ needs, rather than waiting to be asked. 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 knowledge or particular attention. This promotes a sense of pride and responsibility and will encourage continuous improvement. This in turn can have an impact on your guests’ experience, when
specific knowledge is required to gain the guest’s confidence, for example dealing with function bookings, or food allergies, when from the customer’s perspective someone with specific expertise in that area may be needed.

Giving your staff authority to deal with unplanned situations (including complaints) enables them to resolve issues quickly and with minimum fuss. This is not only far better for the guest, but less effort in the long run for you and your team if they don’t need to find you or a manager. Telling a guest you don’t have the authority to deal with an issue is both frustrating for the guest and degrading for the team member.

There will naturally be situations where a manager’s input may be required, but aim to keep those to a minimum by ensuring that any one of the team can deal with the most common issues, questions or complaints.

Motivate and encourage your staff in making guest service a priority. Create a culture of continuous improvement by encouraging your team to ask for guest feedback. When they receive favourable feedback ask them to suggest ways to build or capitalise on this, and when less favourable to come forward with their own suggestions of where and how things can be improved.

 

In the final part this week,  it is about reward and recognigtion for the staff that go that extra mile for the customers.


How to achieve great customer service

The service your guests receive will often be the most memorable part of their stay. Few people will return by choice, where they’ve experienced poor service, nor recommend a hotel even when they’ve received average or good service. Service is invariably your opportunity to create a key differentiator to your hotel. So as a manager what can you be doing to contribute to your service levels?

 

Last year I attended the inaugural Boutique Hotel Summit in London. Although I don’t think anyone could quite agree on a precise definition of boutique, one theme that came up consistently was that of delivering consistently great service.

So how do we ensure that our staff deliver great customer service?

 

Define great service

Well, the first thing to do is define great service. I’m not proposing here to define what I think it is; I’m sure you already have your own ideas. But if you needed to explain this to any of your team, would you be able to define it? I believe the starting point is to reflect on what it is that your guests expect and how they define great service. Understand your guest and who you’re targeting.

What is the style of your hotel, and how is this reflected in the way you serve your guests? There’s often a fine line between uninterested or unreceptive and being over attentive and bordering on being intrusive. There’s then striking a balance between formality and overfamiliarity. These are things that we often know when we see it, but it’s sometimes difficult to describe this to staff.

 

Recruit on attitude

Once you know what level of service you’re looking for you’re in a much better position to get your staff on board. Start by getting the recruitment right. In my book attitude will always be a higher priority than skills. You can develop skills by training, but it’s much more difficult to change people’s attitudes; an eagerness to please people, a willingness to go the extra mile, and an enthusiasm to learn are the key attributes to look for at the recruitment stage.

Develop a reputation as a good employer. This way you’ll be in a much better position to attract the type of people you really want when the need arises, rather than your hotel being a last resort for those desperate for any job they can get.

 

In tomorrow’s blog we look at direction and how to focus on what you want to achive.


Are your team dependant on others?

Time
Not having enough time to do the job to standard can be very sole destroying for people, particularly when they want to do a good job, but they just don’t have the time to do that effectively.  Spend time with your staff to assess how long a task should take. And if it is taking longer than it should, assess what is causing the extra time. It may be down to the equipment, products or systems causing a bottleneck, or again it may be down to lack of training on the best approach to complete the task.

If you give a member of staff additional responsibilities or duties, be realistic; unless you are increasing their hours something else will need to give to make way for this. Spend some time now identifying how that time can be made up. If you’re not careful they could end up cutting corners on the most critical tasks rather than cutting out low priority ones.

People
What happens when a member of staff leaves, or goes on holiday? What impact does that have on the rest of the team? The effects may be felt in other departments too, if they are dependant on this person for information or ordering, for example.

Are there skills shortages in certain areas, which only affect you once in a while (e.g. certain types of events, or when people are on holiday) but when they do, they put pressure on the whole team?

The more flexibility you have in your team the better. This does not mean you make everyone a jack of all trades, but ensure there is always more than just one person who is able to perform each task, so there is an element of cover, and the whole place does not fall apart, just because one person is off sick.

Tomorrow, I will be looking into the systems and red tape that sometimes gets in the way of a good performance from your team.


Who are your salesmen (and Women)? Part 3

Yesterday in Part 2,  it was all about gaining knowledge and skill to help the business overall,  today will be bringing together by confidence building with your staff.

 

Building Confidence

It’s all very well knowing what to do and say, but you know how sometimes when you come to say something the words just don’t trip off the tongue as you might hope!  Let your team practise in a safe environment, based on different scenarios.

In the UK we’ve had a recent TV series on front of house service hosted by Michel Roux. I recently watched an episode when the trainees were at Paul Heathcote’s restaurant, where they failed to sell the dishes of the day. The reason?  They lacked experience to spot the sales opportunities? Staff need to be able to identify all the situations that lend themselves as an opportunity to upsell – not just in their own department – but across all areas. For example: options on accommodation – room upgrades, special packages, champagne in rooms; in the restaurant – bottled water, suggestions for starters, accompaniments, side  orders, deserts, desert wine, specialist coffees, after dinner drinks; in the bar – branded beers, snack items, pasties with their coffee, and so on. Ask staff to look at opportunities for each other’s departments too; they often spot opportunities those closest fail to see.

Staff need to be taught the importance of timing – for example selling desserts – ask too soon and people say they are still too full,  and go straight on to coffee; ask too late and they have gone off the idea, and want to head up to bed or off home. Train staff to be perceptive to buying signals as well as knowing when the customer is simply not interested.

Whether an objection is perceived or real, staff need to know how to deal with these.  One awkward qu estion can shatter confidence, so train staff to get to spot and handle different situations. Help them to distinguish between a definite ‘No’, and a simple request for more information before buying.

The ability to build rapport will also help staff to sell.  Do they know how to demonstrate empathy and understanding of the customer’s
perspective, and how to gain trust by matching the response or offering to meet  the customer’s needs.

 

Tomorrow  is the final part will all be about reward and recognition for you staff.