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Simple tips for providing exceptional customer service

Updated on March 6, 2013
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Customer service in today's business environment

Have you ever been to a mediocre restaurant or retail store, and while you were not impressed with what the establishment offered, you were so taken aback (in a positive way) with the service you received, that you found yourself visiting again just because you knew you could expect to be treated with dignity? Or how about the restaurant that is proclaimed to be four star, but the server is rude and condescending, leaving you running for the front door without ever turning back?

Customer service is one of the absolute most important aspects in running a successful business. Without customers, you wouldn't have a business to run, and without providing exceptional customer service, you can almost guarantee you will not retain those customers.

The old adage that a satisfied customer might tell one person about their experience, while an unsatisfied patron will tell 10 or more, is by far absolutely true. Due to this, it is imperative that companies not only seek out employees who are willing to go above and beyond for guests, but also spend an adequate amount of time and resources in training their employees in providing the highest quality of customer service.

Providing quality customer service entails multiple facets. Anticipating your customers needs, providing quick and efficient service and treating every question or issue as if it is the first time you have heard or encountered it, are all important aspects.

In anticipating your customers needs, the service provider not only is happy to assist in whatever is asked of them, but they are able to determine what a guest may need before the guest even needs to ask. A simple example is the server who refills drinks or refreshes dinner rolls when the glasses are a quarter of the way filled, or the bread is down to the last piece. More complex and meaningful examples are knowing your repeat customers and remembering important details about them and their preferences. If Ms. Smith always orders a rum and coke when she arrives for her Thursday night dinner reservation, the server may greet her and her party with the said drink upon arrival to the table. If Mr. Brand prefers a room on the first floor, the hotel agent may pre-block the room earlier in the day, when they notice his name on the expected arrival list.

Providing quick and efficient service seems like a no-brainer. The guest arrives, you quickly greet them and inquire as to how you may be of assistance. But what happens when you are working the front desk of a hotel on a busy Friday afternoon and a bus load of baseball players arrives at the same time as a charter tour of elderly guests here for a seminar? While the agent(s) can only discernibly assist one person at a time, the simple act of acknowledging the line of growing guests, and stating "Good afternoon, I will be right with you", at the very least gives the customer the sense that you do know they are there and you will do your best to assist the current guest as quickly as possible. Also, if multiple employees are working, one may assist in breaking the guests up into groups depending on what it is they are in need of. Assuring everyone on the check-in line, does indeed need to be checked in, and any guests looking for directions or assistance with luggage are pointed in the right direction or provided with that information on the spot, while the other agents work on the check-ins can help significantly shorten a line and please not only the guests, but also the agents themselves.

Working in customer service, especially in a hotel environment, there will be times when you will encounter the same issue, multiple times in a row. Of course, the repetitiveness can wear down on a person, but it is important to remember that, for the guest, this is the first time encountering this issue. When the elevator goes down for a significant period of time, many guests may call to inquire, or ultimately complain to the agent about the issue. Maintenance more than likely posted an out of order sign, however, the time frame to expect it to be out of order, or the actual reason why there is no power are more than likely not posted on the notice. As such, call after call comes into the hotel operator, asking how long they will be inconvenienced. It is important the agent not lose their cool, and continue to answer the phone, and the question, with a smile on their face and concern in their voice. The guest does not need to know, or even truly care, that you have just had five other guests call and ask you the exact same thing. They want, and need, to be treated as if their concerns are of the utmost importance.

What happens when an agent or hostess is the only person working at the front desk, and has to not only greet and assist patrons walking in the door, but also answer the telephones? This can be a slippery slope, depending on how busy the establishment is. The agent should always strive to assist each customer in the order they arrived or the call came in. For instance, the business is empty and the agent is handling a telephone call. Suddenly two separate guests walk in the front door. Common courtesy is to politely let the incoming customers know that you will be right with them, and promptly finish the call. If you are first assisting in house guests, and a call comes through, the agent should answer the phone with the standard greeting, then add a statement such as "may I please place you on a brief hold, while I assist the guest in front of me"? This not only lets the caller know that you are willing to assist them when they can have your full attention, but it lets the guest in front of you know that you care about fulfilling their needs as well, in a prompt manner.

Practicing good customer service begins with management, and trickles down the chain to the bottom of the totem pole. Sometimes employees in back of house jobs feel that it is not important if they are always smiling or greeting guests. This is simply not true. Every employee has the opportunity and obligation to make a difference. The practice of having a smile on their face, anytime the employee steps foot in a public area, should be encouraged. Also, the ten-five rule should be implemented. At ten feet, employees should pause any ongoing conversation to acknowledge approaching guests with eye contact and a warm smile, and at five feet they should greet them- whether it be a simple good afternoon, or an inquiry into whether or not they need assistance.

The list of ways to encourage and provide exceptional customer service goes on and on. These were just the tip of the iceberg, but extremely important points to take into consideration. There are a plethora of manuals and self-help books to assist with the topic. Just keep in mind, at each staff meeting, engaged managers make time to speak specifically on the topic of customer service and its importance to the business. This not only encourages the practice with employees, but can give them opportunities to provide and share their own examples and experiences with the team.

Finally, make it procedure to acknowledge and reward employees when they are seen consistently going above and beyond and providing exceptional customer service.

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