Carol Verret Consulting 
and Training
Consulting
Training Seminars
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Creating a Culture of 
Customer Service

 Carol Verret / September 2000
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Since so much has been written and discussed about customer service over the last decade, how is it that so few of us are getting good customer service?  As the economy continues to boom and unemployment remains low, customer service is the challenge of the day.  We are victims of our own success.  One need not look much further than the United Airlines customer service disaster of this summer to see an example of that point.  Granted, the airline is blaming the ‘weather’ and a pilot work slowdown.  However, it took an outcry from the government to bring them to the point where they started to publicly apologize to their customers.  It is not that difficult situations occur but how we handle them that count.

Books have been written on subject of customer service.  Every one brings up their favorite stories of poor customer service and how much they paid to receive it.  I could tell you my own United Airlines stories, so could thousands of us – each trying to ‘one up’ the other in terms of horror and inconvenience. 

The airlines, however, are not alone in trying to manage increased load factors and still get the planes off the ground with fewer employees per customer.  It is significant that now United’s flight attendants are complaining of receiving poor ‘customer service’ from their employers.

The hospitality industry is also struggling with ‘increased’ loads from more guests and a shortage of employees, as is every other industry that has customers.  The retail industry is seeing that people prefer to shop on line in many cases than go to a ‘bricks and mortar’ store to spend money and be served poorly.  Is it any wonder that our guests now feel more confidence in making a reservation through the Internet than they do in calling central reservations or the hotel itself?  In our circumstance, the guest still needs employees to check them in and service them throughout their stay.  We don’t have a way to clean rooms, serve food and beverage and check them in and out on the Internet.

In my last article, I alluded to the fact that we as an industry have done a relatively poor job of motivating and training the few employees that we do have.  It is a ‘chicken and egg’ question of investing in training when records show high levels of turnover or can training make a difference in employee motivation and retention. 

Generations X and Y can leave us for an extra fifty cents an hour if they are not motivated and stimulated by what they are doing.  Many of them have never made a reservation, never been a guest in a hotel and their F&B experience is limited to fast food.  They don’t know what we expect in terms of customer service unless we not only make the expectations clear but also treat them as though they are our ‘internal’ customers and give them the level of service that we expect them to give. 

Every organization has a ‘culture’ of values or ‘how things are done’.  This includes who gets rewarded in terms of recognition and promotions as well as how we treat each other, both vertically and laterally.  Our employees are our customers and they will treat the guest as well as they perceive they are treated.  They also want to do a good job.  No one gets up in the morning and goes to work wanting to do their job poorly. 

So we have two issues here:

Making the expectations clear

I find that demand for my customer service seminars has increased and is often prompted by a glaring guest problem that draws management’s attention that maybe the expectations were not made clear.  One example was the response of a night auditor to a guest complaint. (The hotel shall remain anonymous).  This hotel management is one the best at creating a culture of guest service, from ownership through management ranks.  One day, however, the auditor passed a card to the Director of Sales saying that this individual had had a problem with housekeeping and could she call the guest.  Upon calling upon the guest, it seems that his problems went deeper and included the auditor’s response to his complaints.  After expressing his problems to the auditor, the auditor responded with “Better luck next time.”  The disturbing thing is that the auditor honestly thought that this was an appropriate response.  Do you know how your night auditor would respond in that situation?

Another situation arose when a maintenance engineer was summoned to a room at a mountain resort.  The guest indicated that the room was too warm.  The engineer responded that it would cool off when the sun went down. (Strike one).  The guest then said that of the two air conditioning units in the suite, only one appeared to work.  The engineer then responded that it was because the second unit was simply used for spare parts.  (Strike two)  The guest checked out. (Strike three – you’re out).  The point is that both were honest responses.  The engineer was confused at the guest’s irritation at his responses.  I could go on and on. 

Rather than providing our employees with the tools to respond appropriately to the guest, we wait until there is a problem then reprimand them at worst or counsel them at best, which feels like a reprimand unless you understand what was expected in the first place.   In addition, failing to make these expectations clear and getting the employee’s agreement that they understand them, leaves us open for potential liability if and when an employee is disciplined or terminated.  This can be avoided through several means including a skills checklist, policy outline or a seminar outline that the employee signs as an indication of receipt and understanding which is then placed in the employee’s file. 

Creating a culture of customer service

If I am understanding the flight attendants correctly, their complaint is that they were not treated like ‘customers’ and given the support that they needed to service and satisfy the customer.  Our employees treat our guests in the manner in which they are supported and treated.  Our behavior toward them and each other models the behavior that our employees feel is acceptable.

If we expect them to treat a ‘grumpy’ business traveler with deference and courtesy do we afford the same treatment to them when they arrive to work ‘having a bad day?’ 

I am reminded of the general manager who, in the course of a discussion in a seminar on handling guest complaints, asked what is a complaint worth in terms of compensating a customer?  How much is a dead battery in the remote control worth in terms of making a guest feel better versus not having hot water?  The value that we place on these is in direct proportion to the guest’s level of irritation and circumstances.  A broken remote control on Super Bowl Sunday ranks right up there with a corporate guest who can’t get a hot shower before an important meeting.  What is the dollar value that we place on customer service?  Do guests paying a lower rate get a lower level of customer service?  Have your employees heard you say of a guest “What do they expect for a group rate?”

If our employees hear their managers complaining about each other and sniping about demanding guests, what message does it send to them?  How do they see you dealing with other employees and managers?  How do they see you handle a guest complaint?   Do we reward good service or simply admonish poor customer service?

Recommendations

If the problem is a double-edged sword then the solutions require a two pronged approach to be effective.

1.  Provide your employees with basic training and systematic follow-up in terms of giving them the tools to serve the guest through seminars and consistent media enforcement.  One on one training works only in so far as the trainer is consistent, has been trained in training and is exemplary.  So often we assign a new employee to an old employee who simply passes on bad habits.  Systematic follow-up is the repetition of the same message with new ideas for improvement either through newsletters or ‘refresher’ discussion groups. Again, both seminars, follow-up and ‘refreshers’ need to be targeted and engage Gen X and Y.

2.  Create a culture of customer service in your own organization.  There are definite techniques to erasing the old ways of relating to fellow managers and employees and instilling a culture where everyone has both internal and external customers.  This revolves around treating each other with the same amount of respect that you accord the guest and trusting each other to do the job.  Did I neglect to mention not backstabbing or speaking badly of each other in front of the employees?  This is also an issue of systematic training and support where each manger can bring their employee service problems and be ‘refreshed’. 

Organizational cultures exist either consciously or unconsciously, we can choose the culture that we want to work within and transmit to our employees and customers.  A guest can feel a ‘culture’ within a hotel just as a passenger can tell if the airline is serious about customer service.  Ask me how. 

The only question that remains is what value do you place on your guests’ experience?

Carol Verret and Associates Consulting and Training offers training and consulting services to the hospitality industry in the areas of sales and customer service.  She offers a management seminar that bears the same title as this article, “Creating a Culture of Customer Service” as well as “Meeting and Exceeding Our Guest’s Expectations”, an employee focused customer service seminar.  Both of them include reinforcement and ongoing support mechanisms. For a complete description of their services, log onto the web site at http://www.carolverret.com/.

© 2000 all rights reserved 


 
Contact:
Carol Verret
  3140 S. Peoria St, PMB 436
  Aurora, CO 80014
Web Site: http://www.carolverret.com/
Email: carol.verret@worldnet.att.net
Also See: FAT, DUMB AND HAPPY – The Seasonal Boom and  Bust Cycle / Carol Verret / August 2000
Surf's Up - Ride the Wave or Miss the Boat -The Effective Use of Technology in Hotel Sales / Carol Verret / July 2000 
Measuring Effectiveness of  Hotel Sales Departments / Carol Verret / June 2000
Hotel Sales Training - The Need for Immediate Results / Carol Verret/ May 2000



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