Written by contributing writer Micah Solomon, Customer Service Consultant, Trainer, and Bestselling Author
When my ConsultantPhone rings (it’s like the Batphone but notably less exciting), and I slide down the pole to assist a new client, the call is often from a hotel or other high-touch business that was once thriving but is starting to lose its way with its guests.
My line of work is what I refer to as customer service transformation consulting. In other words, I work hand in hand with companies to solidify and improve their customer service and their relationship with their guests.
While sometimes my work involves moving an organization from strength to greater strength, just as often, I’m brought in when things are going inexplicably south at a previously thriving company in hospitality or another service-intensive field, and it’s looking like customer service is where the problem lies.
Unfortunately, the focus and attentiveness that are necessary for exceptional guest service tend to slide over time. Employees lapse into inappropriate language that guests find off-putting. Managers busy themselves with paperwork in their office hideaways rather than coming out into the open to greet even longtime or VIP customers—and they’re certainly nowhere to be found if a customer conflict ever erupts and needs smoothing over. Jackie and Joanne, the quirky, charismatic telephone operators who knew the name and backstory of every customer who called in, are edged into retirement and replaced (although, in reality, they’re irreplaceable) with low-paid rookies or a voice jail system.
Is such lowering of standards inevitable? Decidedly not—if you stubbornly stick to your guns. The mantra that’s needed is this: If you would’ve done something for your first guest, you’ll find a way to keep doing it for your ten thousandth, without rushing, without cutting corners, and without doing anything that would
The secret, in other words, is to never stop believing in the importance of the individual customer and the importance of every individual interaction, no matter how many customers your organization has grown to serve. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking there’s an infinite supply of new customers out there for the taking if only your marketing and sales departments would do their jobs, seeking out and converting more leads.
Tell yourself instead that not only are guests a limited commodity, there’s no such thing as “guests” in the plural. Rather, there’s just one guest: the one who’s being served right now. Advocating and sustaining this attitude of treating each guest like the only one in the world is one of the most important leadership responsibilities in any organization, and it’s one of the key weapons in the battle to avoid losing guests through perceived (and, perhaps, actual) indifference.
(It’s also the most cost-effective way to grow. For comparison: How much did you spend on marketing last year? Advertising? Sales? I bet your investments there were sizeable. Developing a true customer focus is far and away the most effective, affordable way to keep the revenue flowing, especially in our era, where guest choices are influenced more than anything by “word of thumb.”)
One hotelier I often hold up as an exemplar of my one-guest-at-a-time customer service approach is Daniel Hostettler, the President and CEO of The Boca Raton, the renovated and rebranded 950-key South Florida resort owned by Michael Dell. Hostettler, a Swiss-trained, Florida-based hotelier who may be his generation’s most prominent entrée into the iconography of hospitality leadership, has brought home at least eight Forbes Travel Guide Five Star ratings in his career, including now, right out of the gate two for the just-opened The Boca Raton, one for The Beach Club (one of the five hotels within The Boca Raton’s compound) and another five stars for the resort’s 50,000-square-foot Spa Palmera. And, as far as the future, Hostettler has set a truly ambitious goal. “Our mantra here, admittedly ambitious, is ‘Five [Five-Star ratings] by 2025’!”
As Hostettler often says, no detail is too small when you’re aiming to be rated as Five Star. And “the details that matter most are all related to our interactions with guests, one at a time: do we answer the phone before the fourth ring? Do we make eye contact? Do we smile? When a request comes in, does the employee who receives it own it, rather than giving the guest a runaround?” Luxury hospitality, he continues, needs to be achingly personal and personable. With no guest ever feeling like an interruption or like the employee assisting them has other priorities, other things on their mind.” In addition to proper hiring, customer service training, and supervision, Hostettler uses well-thought-out technology, ideally concealed from the guest’s view, to aid this personalization,” he said. This includes facial recognition and opt-in technology on guests’ phones. And, coming soon, The Boca Raton will be deploying location-based beacons. “As a guest approaches one of our restaurants’ host or hostess station, they’ll be prompted with the approaching guest’s name and other information that’s unique to that guest, including whether they’re a first-time or a returning guest,” Hostettler added. Based on that last item, the host/ess can offer a greeting of either, “Welcome, Mr. Solomon,” or “Welcome back, Mr. Solomon.”
“Perhaps this seems like a small thing,” he continued, “but extraordinary, personalized service is truly our unique selling proposition.”
And this is the crux of the matter—the opportunity and challenge. Treating a guest as your only guest, focusing on what your guest needs beyond a secure lock on the door, an appropriate room rate, a decent meal or meal recommendation, and so forth, is where you’ll find the opportunity to distinguish yourself in hospitality—to build an advantage that competitors will find harder to knock off than the momentary advantages of perks like two-for-one desserts.
About the Author
Micah Solomon is a hands-on customer service consultant, trainer and training designer, keynote speaker, and one of the world’s leading experts on customer service, company culture, and the customer experience. Termed “the world’s #1 customer service turnaround expert” by Inc. Magazine, he’s been named by The Financial Post as “The New Guru of Customer Service Excellence.” A bestselling author, Micah’s five books have been translated in more than a half-dozen languages and are the recipients of multiple awards.
Randhir Narayan is an accomplished entrepreneur and hospitality expert with nearly three decades of experience in the industry. He has worked for top-tier companies like Holiday Inn (Crowne Plaza), Oberoi...