When we learn we start at unconscious incompetence, working through conscious incompetence and conscious competence towards unconscious competence.
Last week I was reviewing progress as a result of some training I’ve been conducting with some managers – helping them get the best from their team, who are all customer facing. I love working with junior managers who lack the experience of managing people, as it is so rewarding when they start to see the results.
In this instance these results just weren’t coming fast enough for their manager! He was expected instant changes. I reminded him Rome wasn’t built in a day!
There were two things we needed to take into consideration to reach the level of unconscious competence:
Having the resources
In this instance the training flushed out a number of resources that were needed for them to do everything they wanted to implement, some of which required time and others needed sign off.
Although you might believe people have everything they need, their perception may be different. And if they believe they don’t have the time, tools or authority to put their new skills or knowledge into practice it becomes a barrier. And the longer it takes to remove that barrier (be it real or imagined) the less likely your training will be put into practice.
So ask them to identify anything that might stand in their way, and resolve any obstacles promptly, otherwise it implies it’s not important.
Moving from ‘conscious incompetence’ to ‘conscious competence’
During training you normally established the standards or process, set expectations, and hopefully people have had a chance to practise their skills in a safe environment.
But, often the only way to really hone these skills and develop true competence is once applied on the job. It simply can’t always happen in the confines of the training room.
When we learn anything new we always begin at stage 1 (‘unconscious incompetence’) on the conscious competence learning model, and end at stage 4 – ‘unconscious competence’, having passed through stage 2 – ‘conscious incompetence’ and – 3 ‘conscious competence’.
At the point people finish a piece of training they are somewhere between consciously incompetent and conscious competence. Unconscious competence will only come later.
At conscious competence they still have to stop and think about how they do something; it doesn’t flow naturally. It takes longer and they’re still learning a little from trial and error. Confidence can be low as they get to grips with it all.
Think of it as you were when you first passed your driving test; you probably took things steady, you had to concentrate really hard, not being distracted by tuning the radio, or chatting to your passengers. And you wouldn’t have rushed out to drive in snow and ice or at full speed on a busy motorway.
So, when your team go through any training, allow time for people to practise, to get feedback on how they are doing, and where it’s OK to ask for help or make a mistake so long as they learn from it. This will help them move from conscious incompetence conscious competence if they’re not get there, and then onto unconscious competence.
It might still be on the job, but don’t expect them to be able to put everything into practice brilliantly straight away. If you do you run the risk of losing their confidence
And when something doesn’t work right first time around it’s all too easy for them to go back to their comfortable old familiar ways, and go back down the competency ladder.
If you only do two things to help people achieve unconscious competence:
Ask people if they are missing any resources they need to implement their training.
Allow time and opportunity for people to build up new skills and habits gradually, giving them plenty of time for practice.
A different way to approach your staff training and development
As we approach January, this is often a time to catch up on staff training.
Most managers think of staff training and team development to achieve one of two things:
to fix someone’s weaknesses
as a way of grooming somebody for promotion
But there’s an alternative way to approach your staff training and development…
Seeing strengths versus fixing faults
It’s all too easy to end up with everybody becoming a “Jack of all trades and master of none”. Whilst it’s good to cross train your team so you make cover easy, you don’t want to end up everyone mediocre in everything, but expert in nothing.
Imagine what would happen if you were to focus on people’s strengths instead – in the same way you might expect an athlete or members of a football team to hone their skills in areas where they already perform well. You could help them go from a strong performance to real excellence in their areas of greatest ability. How much more motivated would team members be if they could focus on what they’re best at?
Everyone has skills, it’s just that different jobs require different skills. It takes a certain type of skill to organise an hectic event, to calm down an irate customer, to clean a room in a room in 25 minutes.
Often these are skills they don’t necessarily recognise themselves, as they take these things for granted. When you recognise these strengths it can boost confidence, and often the tasks they’re good at are those they enjoy more, so it helps to keep them engaged.
Of course, in reality we can’t always let people just do what they’re best at, but we can at least make sure that they’re not always under pressure to improve what they’re worst at! But by focusing on individuals’ strengths you can balance your team so they complement potential shortcomings in others so you can bridge any gaps you have elsewhere.
Stagnate versus stretch
Not everyone wants to progress, but that doesn’t mean you let them stagnate.
We often think of development as grooming people for promotion. This might be one outcome or intention, but it shouldn’t stand in the way of development. Even those who you believe have reached the limits of their capability or have no desire for more responsibility shouldn’t be left to stagnate.
After all, a bored employee is unlikely to shine and even less likely to wow you or your customers!
Look for opportunities to set new challenges within people’s current responsibilities. How can you add variety or stretch them further in areas where they’re already strong?
– asking them to find ways to make efficiencies or refine a process
– giving them responsibility for training others
– allocating ownership of specific procedures
By giving individuals ownership of particular tasks you create a sense of pride and responsibility.
You’ll be amazed what people can achieve when their strengths are recognised, and they’re given the authority to apply them.
This can also take the pressure off you as that person then becomes the go to person.
Sadly, it’s often only when people leave that we miss what they bring to the team. (….could that lack of recognition be the very reason they leave?)
Here’s an exercise you can carry out with your team to recognise their strengths to take into account before staff training.
If you only do one thing: take a step back and identify one strength – however small – for each one of your team members, and let them know you value this.
One of my clients was telling me last week of her frustration when her team were reluctant to get involved in training. “They think they know it all already” she said.
Have you ever experienced that too? I know I have.
A big barrier to training, particularly customer service training or management skills, is when an employee thinks they know it all or are already doing everything correctly already. So they see the training as a criticism.
This means they are not receptive, which is not only frustrating for you, but means in all likelihood your training is a waste of time, money and effort.
When carrying out customer service training as well as sharing knowledge (e.g. about your products) we are developing skills, and skills require practice and feedback to get them right and build confidence.
During the training you would have established the standards, your expectations, and hopefully people will have had a chance to practise their skills in a safe environment.
But, sometimes the only way to really hone these skills and develop true competence is once applied on the job. It simply can’t always happen in the confines of the training room.
When we learn anything new we always begin at stage 1 on the conscious competence learning model, and end at stage 4 – ‘unconscious competence’, having passed through stage 2 – ‘conscious incompetence’ and – 3 ‘conscious competence’.
At the point people finish training they are somewhere between consciously incompetent and consciously competent.
At consciously competent you still have to stop and think about how you do something, it doesn’t flow naturally. It takes longer and you’re still learning a little from trial and error. Confidence can be low as you get to grips with it all. Think of it as you were when you first passed your driving test.
So when you plan your training, schedule time to allow the team member(s) to practise and get feedback on how they are doing. It might still be on the job, but don’t expect them to be able to put everything into practice perfectly straight away. If you do you run the risk of losing their confidence. And when something doesn’t work right first time around it’s all too easy for them to go back to their old and familiar ways.
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.
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. But this just makes te whole complaint handling process more difficult. 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 training in Complaint Handling and the 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 Complaint Handling checklist you may find useful:
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
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
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)
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:
I’m on a mission at the moment. To be able to get a decent cuppa when I go out!
After a lovely afternoon tea with friends at the Savoy last week it brought home to me just how much of an opportunity we are missing in hotels, restaurants and cafes. The top hotels have truly embraced this; look at what they are delivering at the Berkeley for example with their royal hats themed cakes, and local to me at Pennyhill Park in Surrey.
But if tea really is such a British institution couldn’t we be making more if it?
Nowadays we can get every possible permutation for coffee. But as a tea drinker few offer anything like the same selection of teas or put in anything like the same amount of effort.
According to the Tea Council tea outsells coffee by 2:1, but of this 86% is drunk at home. Is this because tea drinkers don’t trust hotels, restaurants and cafes to make a decent cuppa?
Do the numbers add up?
There’s certainly a commercial argument for getting tea right. The potential margins on a cup of tea are higher than coffee, and if you make an occasion of it this gives the opportunity for upselling a full afternoon tea package.
And unlike coffee you don’t need fancy and expensive equipment to make your perfect cup or pot of tea.
If 7/10 people drink at least one cup of tea a day (opposed to only 4/10 who drink coffee) there has to be an opportunity for any hostelry to be tapping into this market, surely?
According to Bill Gorman of the Tea Council in his presentation at Caffe Culture last week, contrary to popular belief tea does not contain more caffeine than coffee, it actually contains about half the amount compared to instant coffee and a third of filter coffee. Tea is also widely known to be rich in a particular group of antioxidants called flavonoids; there is about eight times the amount of ‘anti-oxidant power’ in three cups of tea than there is in one apple.
And above all else tea is refreshing. So when we do get a summer, it’s a great way to rehydrate. Tea makes up 1/3 of what we drink. Whilst the black tea market has plateaued speciality tea is growing by 7%. The biggest competition comes from water and juices.
There’s a lot of snobbery around loose tea. Loose leaf can still be poor quality. Your customers will trust the big brands, which use a plucking standard (2 leaves and a bud) which produce approximately 4-5% fibre, whereas a cheaper economy tea might use 6-7 leaves and get 40-50% fibre, which makes for a pretty poor drink.
There a huge range of quality teas, both loose leaf and tea bags. I just love those sexy little pyramid bags such as Novus http://www.novustea.co.uk/ . Exploit the branding and if you use a quality product you are going to be more confident in charging a decent price. If you are just starting to expand you tea range do it gradually; judge your customers tastes, avoid wastage and build up your team’s knowledge gradually.
Why do we hide our tea offer? You look at the menu and see all the coffees listed out and then hidden somewhere in the middle you’ll spot ‘Tea’. Give it prominence on your menu, and give some detail to educate your customers. At the Savoy the tea menu (all 4 pages of it!) each tea had a description. Not only this, the waiters were able to describe each tea, and asked what sort of tea we liked so they could recommend. (At the time I thought this a bit ironic to have a Canadian and a German knowing way, way more about tea than the 4 of us Brits put together!)
If you are in a setting where your tea is on view, make sure it is presented in a way that shows you give your tea some care. Leaving it sitting in a tatty cardboard box on top of a water boiler, getting dried out does little to enhance its appeal. You wouldn’t expect a customer to buy a can of Coke sat at an ambient temperature on the counter. Talk to your tea suppliers about display tins or stands.
Tea needs freshly drawn water (so there’s oxygen and nitrogen in the water apparently, but please don’t ask me about the science behind this!) For black tea the water needs to be boiling. This means that water from your coffee machine won’t be hot enough for a decent tea. On the other hand green tea will become bitter if made with boiling water, so let the temperature drop to 85°C.
Everyone likes their tea differently. So train your staff to ask how people like their tea. In our house my Earl Grey gets half the brewing time of hubby’s English Breakfast.
Give a perception of value by serving a pot of tea rather than just a cup or mug. Not only does it mean 2 cups (at no extra cost to you) it gives the customer the flexibility to brew their tea to their preferred strength.
If you serve tea in a cup or mug, provide somewhere to put the spent teabags – that’s accessible with one had (i.e. not a swing top bin – one hand holding the cup, one hand holding the bag, result – tea dribbles all over the bin top as you nudge the bin open with the tea bag!) Just a little thought not only makes it easier for your customer, but leaves less mess and probably saves a fortune on napkins into the bargain. Even with teapots provide somewhere for teabags in case your customer wants to stop the tea brewing any further.
Milk is the bane of my tea drinking experience. Following the principle that the water needs to be boiling to brew the tea, if you serve tea in the cup never put the milk in before the bag comes out. In Norway I was even presented with a cup of tea where the milk went in before the water and my tea bag was left on the side – with the best will in the world this will never make a decent cup of tea, however good your raw ingredients.
Use semi skimmed milk and preferably allow the customer to pour their own milk; however much or little you put in, it will never be right!
Educate your team on your tea offer and train them in the art of tea making. Use your suppliers for advice and to help with training. If they can’t or won’t do this find a supplier who will. It’s a great way to impress your customers and build trust. Not only will be a lot easier to upsell to other products, but goes a long way to establishing your reputation as a place to trust for a decent brew.
Make a feature of tea
Once you’ve mastered the art of making a decent cuppa, use this as a basis for tea themed offers and promotions. Introduce a tea of the month, ask your supplier to work with you on a tea tasting, look at your sandwich and cake offering to combine with your tea for the quintessential English afternoon tea, and promote this to improve footfall for otherwise quiet times of the day.
So in summary my 10 top tips for a perfect brew:
Use quality tea and a recognisable brand
Build up your range of teas gradually
Review your other offers to make a special feature of afternoon tea
Give your tea menu prominence and add descriptions
Present your tea attractively
Invest in some teapots (and hot water pots)
Check the temperature of your hot water and ensure it is boiling for brewing black tea
Give customers somewhere to put their teabags
Use your tea supplier to educate your team on the properties and flavours for each of your teas, and
Train your staff in how to make a decent cuppa
All this talk of tea has made me thirsty. Time to put the kettle on…
We’ve already talked about defining what we mean by great service, now this needs communicating. Discuss with your team what your guests expect and how to meet those expectations. Focus on telling people what you want to achieve, i.e. the end result, rather than dictating how to do it. This gives people flexibility to adopt their own style.
However, be prepared to explain in behavioural terms when necessary, so rather than just saying ‘welcome guests’, give some examples of the types of things you’d expect to see them doing or hear them say if there’s any doubt about what this means. The more specific you are and more examples you give the easier it is for people to understand. Then lead by example so there are no mixed messages.
Encourage your team to take the guest journey, and see everything from a guest’s point of view as often as possible; they’ll invariably spot things that can be improved to enhance the guest experience, and this helps them put the whole customer experience into perspective.
Establish systems and guidelines where necessary and adequate tools and resources to meet these expectations. Too much red tape, staff shortages, unreliable equipment or a poor product will only lead to frustration and is bound to have a knock-on effect on staff’s ability to deliver great customer service.
Keep staff up-to-date at all times. Conduct daily briefings to cover such information as: VIP guests, special needs, regular guests and any known preferences so staff can anticipate their requirements, today’s menu and details of all ingredients, special offers and events or deals, other activity in or around the hotel that could impact the guest in any way, staff shortages and cover of responsibilities. These actions ensure your staff are fully briefed and competent to deal with any guest’s queries or concerns.
The daily briefing also provides an opportunity to get feedback on any guests’ comments. You can discuss any questions or suggestions that arise about operational issues that could have a bearing on the level of service your guests receive.
So, even on your busiest mornings make sure these briefings still happen; it’s generally on the busiest days that things go wrong.
Tomorrow in part 3 of the blog, I will looking into empowerment of the staff and by giving them the training and skills that are needed, to gain the customer’s confidence.
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.