Successful customer service is not one size fits all

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Delivering stellar customer service is no easy task. I’d submit it’s because not every customer is the same, so customer service cannot be either. There are no better incubators to observe the customer-service relationship than hotels. Unlike e-commerce, where customer service is a chat or, maybe, a phone call, hotels spark tête–à–tête encounters, face-to-face dialogue between staff and guest that can either result in a wonderful experience or, worse, awkward exchanges that can leave a bad taste in a guest’s mouth. And in this day and age, with the ubiquity of social media, your hotel or brand is one disparaging click away from reputation ruin.

Just how important, then, is customer service? According to the 2015 Global State of Multichannel Customer Service Report, which surveyed a total of 4,000 global consumers, 97 percent said that customer service was somewhat or very important in their choice of or loyalty to a brand. That means it needs to be at the forefront of your strategy: How do you engender optimal and authentic customer service?

For example...

I recently escaped the East Coast cold for a Caribbean vacation. Now, I’m not a beach person, but my girlfriend is, which makes me a beach person—protestations be damned. 

Caribbean hotels, not unlike most hotels, are predominantly staffed with those native to the country. That is a benefit that hotels and resorts should leverage. Consider dinner I had on my first night. It wasn’t just a transaction—a waiter taking my order. Instead, the server bounded up to the table with such an excitable grin on his face that even I, someone less prone to fits of exuberance, shared in his mirth. He was proud of his job, gave us a quick backgrounder on himself, proceeded to tell us to be ready for a fantastic dining experience, then followed it up by serving me the best-tasting Dark 'N' Stormy that has ever crossed these lips. The evening was punctuated with a birthday cake for my girlfriend, complete with her name spelled out in frosting.

Now, for every memorable encounter, there are those that are regrettable—and those are the ones guests remember the most. These typically happen when F&B is involved. At one point during my vacation, I arrived with my brother at a restaurant/bar, and was greeted by an employee so frosty that her face would have been better served as a beer mug. We were immediately turned off; it was as if our presence there was detrimental. Beyond her cold visage, there was absolutely no engagement from her, no care. This was at a resort; it wasn’t McDonalds. As a resort or hotel operator, the one thing you cannot tolerate is insouciance. Staff must always be engaged, anticipatory and, above all, nice and pleasant. These are not traits that are hard to teach; either you have them or you don’t.

The Upshot

There is no doubt that great customer service creates loyal customers, and loyal customers become the best advocate of your brand and are likely to recommend you to their friends and family. That is why focusing on creating outstanding customer service is as important as focusing on RevPAR and NOI. Empowering your staff is key to this. They should never be order takers, but there to create memorable experiences for the guests they are serving—no matter if it’s a five-star luxury resort or a budget, independent hotel off an interstate. Great customer service should know no class.

And it shouldn’t be rigid, mechanical or, as Richard Branson has called it, “Stepford customer service.” Empowering staff gives them the confidence to be more authentic and unscripted, which is what guests, from millennials up, crave for today: a true, honest and genuine exchange.

A masterfully crafted Dark 'N' Stormy doesn’t hurt, either.