Inside Hospitality: Tips for Excellent Customer Service for your Guests
After ten years of guest and customer service in the hospitality industry, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve worked with global chains and independent boutiques. I’ve worked with casinos, luxury brands, and even an old riverboat renovated into a floating hotel. Experiencing all of that, the most important thing I’ve learned is that no matter how long you’ve been in this industry, you will never stop being surprised by the people you meet and the feeling of helping them.
Here are a few tips to help you provide excellent customer service to your guests.
Meet with the Right Emotion
Travel can often be an incredibly stressful experience, whether it’s endless lines at airports, spending hours at a time in cramped spaces, to the frustration of navigating unfamiliar streets. This means the very real issue of guests entering your property already displeased. Hotels occupy a special place in the travel process, as we provide guests their home away from home; this is a responsibility that has the potential to make or break a guest’s entire travel experience. Hotel service must focus on the positive engagement with disappointed guests as much as it focuses on avoiding disappointing guests in the first place.
One of the most important aspects of this type of customer service is maintaining an appropriate emotional response to guests having difficulties. While cheeriness is certainly a positive trait in customer service, reacting to someone’s frustration with joy makes your service appear disingenuous. To slightly simplify the complex spectrum of human emotion, let’s divide it into three parts: positive, baseline, and negative. A positive attitude and demeanor are great for engaging with customers who are positive or baseline themselves. When dealing with guests who are having a negative experience, a baseline attitude is appropriate to convey that you understand the seriousness of their concerns. Finally, it should go without saying that providing service with a negative attitude is rarely, if ever, productive.
Perception is Reality
Although it can sometimes come across as cliche, one of the most important foundations of good service is understanding that perception is reality. People’s frustrations cannot always be traced back to some specific failure on the hotel’s part, and is often simply an unfortunate mismatching of expectations. It can be tempting from a service standpoint to address these issues with explanations of specific policies or standards, and while that can sometimes help create understanding, it also misses the point. When someone is in the midst of an experience that has caused them negative emotions, listening to a cold, logical explanation of why their feelings aren’t valid does not typically bring them any relief. The way they feel is their reality and needs to be addressed on its own terms.
Know your Stuff
A hotel is so much more than simply a place to sleep. For many, it is the gateway to a whole new world of experiences. To others, it is a safe haven from the stresses of working away from home. For others still, it is a reliable place to stay for their favorite conventions and events. The point being that every hotel, from 4-Diamond luxury properties to budget highway motels, has a responsibility to understand and engage with the activities that drive people to their front doors.
This includes things as simple as having an adequate knowledge of the restaurants, shopping centers, and landmarks in the area of your hotel, to becoming unofficial spokespeople for the events, concerts, conventions, tours, and anything and everything else that drives your business. Nowadays, the internet has become an invaluable resource for providing high levels of this service, but at the same time, can be used as a crutch. While it can be good to show a willingness to find out the answer to a question, people want to trust they are getting good knowledge from someone who knows what they are talking about. Making sure you are already familiar with the basics is a good place to start at providing that kind of trust.
It should come as no surprise that when a guest has a request or complaint about the front desk, the agent needs to be prepared to do as much as they can to respond to the guest’s needs. This can be as simple as having a blanket sent to the room in a timely manner, to switching rooms for a guest, or even escalating the issue to management, if the agent cannot provide a satisfying solution. A common trap that agents fall into is considering the matter closed just because they did one thing. Guests making the hotel aware of problems is the most effective way of pinpointing areas of improvement, and they should be treated with the respect due for providing this important feedback. This makes follow-up service almost as important as the initial actions taken to serve the guest. For example, if the guest is having trouble with the air conditioning, and requests the front desk send someone to help, a nice follow-up call after the unit is functioning to check on the guest helps them feel that we truly appreciate them.
Policy Informs Good Service
This final tip is, in my opinion, both incredibly important, as well as incredibly subjective. I’ve worked at hotels that are a part of global chains, with expansive rewards programs and customer service departments. I’ve also worked at boutique, independent hotels with only one front desk agent on duty at a time. Whether it’s a huge brand or a small property, one of the most important foundations for good customer service is a clear and concise understanding of hotel policy in regards to what can and cannot be done for guests. I’ve worked at properties that forbid use of the word “no”, which can be a useful trick for maintaining a positive atmosphere, but also obscures the reality that denying requests is itself an integral part of providing retail service, and needs to be engaged with directly, rather than avoided on a shallow level.
An unfortunate side effect of the industry’s current focus on rewards programs is the creation of a lot of confusion for guests when they get different answers from the front desk then they get from the rewards hotline, and confusion for staff who are seeing their policies overridden by people in call centers. While rewards programs are undoubtedly a lucrative business practice that is likely not going anywhere anytime soon, I believe it is of the utmost importance to make sure staff have a firm foundation of the policy that is stable enough to make hard judgments. Like I said above, this is a subjective area (one that can sometimes come into conflict with tip number 2), there is no single rule for every situation, and policies inevitably give rise to exceptions, but as long as there is a real respect, both for the staff and the guest, consistently great customer service will be the result.
Contributor: Jonathan Sandoval