Is Hospitality The Missing Element In Your Customer Service Culture? Eight Ways To Fill That Gap
If you’re on a mission to improve your company’s customer service culture, adding a hospitality framework and mindset can be powerful in moving your initiative forward. If this distinction—between customer service and hospitality–sounds semantic, that’s not my intention; merely changing your terminology to “guest” instead of “customer” is emphatically not what I’m going for here. Instead, here’s what I mean: If the customer service you provide is languishing in realm of the transactional and the mundane, the lessons of hospitality–the timeless discipline of housing or feeding a guest under one’s own roof–has much to bring to the way you’re doing things now.
Some businesses already know this on a gut level; as a customer service consultant, I get more requests from CEOs who want their organization transformed into, say, “the Ritz-Carlton of banking” or “the Four Seasons of heavy construction” than I get requests that run the other direction: hotels looking to become “the CitiBank of beachside resorts” or “the Walmart of boutique hotels.” This isn’t a slight of CitiBank or of Walmart. But it does point to the truth that I want to talk about today: the understanding many of us instinctively have that a sense of hospitality equates with and leads to the highest level of customer service.
(One of my favorite stories: Before opening a single Apple Store, Steve Jobs asked employees around the Apple campus in Cupertino for the names of companies that had provided them with the best customer service experiences in the past. They got zero responses along the lines of Circuit City, CompUSA, and the other soon-to-be direct competitors of the Apple Store. Instead, he kept hearing the names of great resorts, boutique inns, and elegant hotels. Because of these responses, Jobs sent all of his soon-to-be Apple Store managers to customer service/hospitality training with a five star hotel company. The most visible thing to come out of this was the Genius Bar, which is a direct reworking of a traditional hotel concierge counter; less visibly, it also informs how Apple employees greet customers as they arrive at an Apple Store as well as how they interact with them from that point forward within the store.)
If I’ve convinced you that it’s time to bring some hospitality to your customer service equation, here are seven ways to get moving in that direction.
1. Think cinematically. Great hotels, resorts and restaurants attend to the cinematic potential of every guest’s time with them, and I encourage you to do the same: Pay attention to everything from design elements to lighting to pacing to tone of voice and word choice to ensure that the guest has a memorable, “scene by scene” experience. Thinking of a customer’s time with you in terms of setting the scene, providing a backdrop and getting the overall atmosphere just right is a key discipline that will encourage employees at all levels to enhance the customer experience for customers far beyond what a transaction-driven mindset would allow.
2. Become fanatical about effective hiring. If there’s one thing that the hospitality industry takes seriously, it’s hiring: taking the most scientific, effective approach to getting the right people into their organization. While learning to hire right isn’t a 100% guarantee of success (that raw material–new employees–now needs to be onboarded, trained, supported, and inspired), shining up your approach to hiring will go a long way toward winning the game.
3. No “not my department.” You’ll never hear a well-trained hospitality employee fob a customer and their request off on someone else. Rather than “you’ve called the wrong department; you’ll need to call loss prevention,” they’ll say, “I’m so sorry you misplaced your purse; absolutely, I can help you with that” (even if that assistance ultimately consists of nothing more than connecting the guest with the experts in the Loss Prevention department).
4. Aim to be anticipatory. Anticipatory service is the highest level of service, and it’s here that hospitality organizations shine. Hospitality isn’t just about providing what a customer (guest) asks for. It’s more elevated than that. It includes anticipating what a customer might have wanted to ask for but “didn’t want to be a bother”; what they didn’t know enough to ask for; and what they haven’t gotten around yet to asking for: their unexpressed needs and wishes, in other words.
5. Invest time, training, and emphasis on how you greet your customers. Part of being a host—of providing hospitality–is providing a “warm welcome” from the very start. The importance of this is related to how the human memory works (your brain, having limited memory storage space, strives to guess what the important moments to retain in memory are, and one of these is the beginning of an encounter) and it’s a key feature of hospitality.
6. Don’t just try to make your customers feel good; strive to make them feel good about themselves. I’ve written about how Old Edwards Lodge, a lovely Relais & Chateaux inn in North Carolina, uses lighting so good in its bathrooms that I felt years younger, fit, and tanned, and this isn’t an isolated incident. This may seem like a trivial example, but the principle is important: The comfort of the guest–including psychological comfort in terms of self-esteem–reigns supreme as a goal and value in hospitality.
7. Watch your language: Hospitality has its own language which, while having grown more informal recently, remains focused on making guests feel comfortable. How you use language should aim for this same goal.
8. Learn to apologize like a champ. Giving great apologies is an essential part of providing hospitality and it’s a key skill in any customer service context.
Main Source: FORBES