Providing Good Customer Service Could be the Difference Between Success…or Not.
I was recently chatting with an acquaintance about one of the courses we teach here – Gracious Hospitality the Biltmore Way. As I was pontificating on the merits of the training, she stopped me mid-sentence:
“So you teach hospitality? As in, how to be nice to customers?”
“Wow, that’s a lost art, isn’t it?”
Her comment was not surprising. The sentiment about hospitality and customer service sadly lacking in today’s world seems widely agreed-upon. And customer service standards are not all that have lowered. So, too, have our expectations as consumers. We barely blink when treated rudely by a customer service rep. In fact, we almost want to apologize for taking up their time. Being on the receiving end of a smile and sincere “thank you” has become so rare that we are often stunned into silence when we do receive sincere gratitude for our patronage.
What’s surprising about this is that good customer service and gracious hospitality are needed today more than ever. As businesses compete to stay viable in today’s economic climate, good customer service could be the determining line between a business succeeding – or not.
So how do you create a customer-centric climate? How can you ensure that you and your employees are doing everything possible to ensure loyalty from your patrons?
The foundation of any customer service plan is to define your service standards. Your service standards – those actions and attitudes you hold everyone in the organization accountable to - are determined by what you know to be important to your customers.
Is timeliness important? Then do everything you can to ensure your customers’ needs are met in a timely manner. Is personal service important? Then limit the voice mail system to a backup system, and put a live voice on the phone at the first ring. Is knowledge of product and resourcefulness important? Then educate your employees, and arm them with all the resources they need to meet your customers’ needs.
Knowing what is important to your customers and working on a plan to meet and exceed their needs is the first step in setting standards that will create a customer-centric culture that impacts customer loyalty.
Biltmore’s first service standard is to Greet our guests by name with warmth, sincerity, and a smile. This customer service standard comes from knowing what is most important to our guests. Our guests are treated as our extended family. The gracious and warm welcome they receive when they arrive and throughout their stay sets us apart, and is impactful, bringing guests back time and time again.
Our second service standard is to Understand and anticipate guests’ needs. So how do you do that? Unless you are a mind-reader, how can you have a clue as to what another person needs in advance of them even asking? This is a true skill and one that could undoubtedly make life easier on many fronts, including personal relationships.
The key to anticipating your customers’ needs is to slip into their shoes - put yourself in their place. If you are a restaurant owner, for example, consider your own expectations when you visit another restaurant. What do you expect? Prompt and courteous service? Good food? Reasonable prices? Cleanliness? What would exceed your expectations – really make an impression with you, and motivate you to return again? Your expectations are probably very similar to your customers’ expectations. Congratulations – you have just anticipated your customers’ needs. Now all you have to do is put a set of standards in place to meet them.
Delivering a positive customer experience doesn’t have to be a “lost art,” as my friend said. By making this area of business a priority, and setting standards for your staff to follow, you are providing direction and taking a giant leap toward success. And that’s a great place to start.
For more information on the Biltmore Center For Professional Development’s Beyond Customer Service: Gracious Hospitality Best Practices course, contact Joyce Pemberton at 828.225.6158, or visit www.biltmore.com/training. Programs are currently scheduled for September 23, 2014, May 18, 2015, and October 26, 2015.