In an age when individualism reigns and technology enables us to do an ever-increasing number of things remotely, interaction between people inevitably decreases. But that does not mean it has to disappear – and there are times when it still really matters. Even if homeworking, the increased focus on what is on our mobile phones rather than talking to our neighbours, and online shopping have become features of a much-changed society, customer service is still vital.
It remains a key element of interaction between human beings when one is buying and the other supplying goods or providing a service. People may like the convenience of contactless payments, but they do not want to be treated as bedroom fodder in a hotel. Feelings and attitudes still matter. Far from being de-personalised, customer service is therefore the most personable and welcome of things when done well. It makes the consumer feel welcome, adds value and, ultimately, is as important as the very best marketing. After all, selling something well may be a way of getting a customer to buy once, but the difference between good and bad customer service can be decisive in whether they come back a second time or more.
In the hotel sector, most customer service is interpersonal on a face-to-face basis. It is all about good manners, a helpful attitude and a welcoming smile at reception, swift and efficient service at mealtimes, plus a positive and efficient reaction when something goes wrong. The attitude that “the customer is always right” is well worth employing, not just because nothing less will satisfy some people, but because failing to meet expectations is a great way of ensuring they do not come back. Indeed, if you are swift to say yes – and then work out how to fulfil that pledge – it will immediately build up goodwill. So too will exceeding expectations. However, there will be times when service is not about face-to-face contact, with telephone, email and – albeit rare nowadays – contact by letter providing important feedback. In both cases it is attitude that matters. If that means responding to a phone call or email that is critical, the key is to be diplomatic, willing to make amends and also being happy to take on suggestions. A good example of how to provide a great customer service may be the approach taken by Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson, who received what some suggested was one of the greatest complaint letters in history, slating Virgin Air for its in-flight meals, what the complainant called the “culinary journey from Hell”. In it, he described being served one dish as like being a 12-year-old expecting a great Christmas present, only to unwrap it and find a dead hamster. Blogging about the incident, Mr Branson observed: “I phoned the customer who wrote the above note to apologise and thank him for his letter after he experienced a less than perfect culinary experience on board one of our planes.”It is important to take customer feedback on board in order to improve and also to be able to laugh at yourself.”Indeed, Mr Branson offered the disgruntled flyer the opportunity to take part in taste trials for the airline’s new menu.
A positive reaction of this kind can be good PR and that certainly matters if a situation escalates to the extent of getting press coverage. But PR is about reassuring the wider public. Good customer service focuses on the person who may have a gripe. Of course, the best customer service ensures there is no gripe to start with. Indeed, the effort is well worth it because if a guest at a hotel feels the staff have done their very best for them, they will be more likely to overlook any minor problems. Moreover, the rewards are obvious; first and foremost, they will be far more likely to stay at your hotel again. In addition, they will provide feedback to friends and family by word of mouth, but also provide positive online reviews. The importance of reputation is vital and it has oft been said it takes a long time to build up, but can very swiftly be ruined. It does not even need a bad review on TripAdvisor to give potential guests second thoughts about booking.
Poor customer service may lead to an unhappy guest creating a scene on the spot, one that will be noticed by others staying at the hotel and thus potentially influence their view.Just like Richard Branson, the key is to be humble and willing to learn. Making an effort to provide good customer service in the first place is important, but so too is feedback, otherwise there is no objective way of knowing how well you are really doing. By taking on constructive feedback, you can make your customer service outstanding.