When it comes to customer service, sometimes we need to remind ourselves of what not to do. It is not easy to give good customer service, and often people are not easy to deal with. If customer service is hard to do in business, it is especially hard to provide good customer service in the travel and hospitality worlds. Travel and hospitality providers are given an almost impossible task. Most visitors expect perfection, have little patience and often are rude. From the customer service perspective, time is not only of the essence, but forms the basis for a great deal of customer frustration and anger. Perhaps nothing produces a greater loss of good will then being put on hold while calling or having to navigate through a maze of telephone numbers (phone trees)
Learning to smile when being berated, holding one’s tongue when being insulted and acting professional, and when everything from the weather to high anxiety seems to be against you is no easy task. When we consider that most front line personnel work long hours, are often on their feet for extended periods of time and all too often underpaid, it is easy to understand why interpersonal explosions occur. Here then are some common mistakes that all too often many of us have committed and all of us need to try to avoid:
-When things go wrong do make the customer feel as if s/he is to blame. Airlines are especially good at making customers feel guilty. Remember that the customer is the person paying, and it is not his/her fault that the flight is cancelled, that the hotel computer system failed, or that someone lost his or her reservation at the restaurant. Making the customer feel that s/he shares the blame or ought to feel guilty only makes a bad situation worse. Whatever you do, do not make the customer feel as if he has become a burden to you or should feel guilty for asking for help. Remember, you are home while your customers are away from home and feeling vulnerable.
-Do apologize with a hint of sarcasm or anger. Things do go wrong and people are not stupid. Remember that only about 45% of communication comes from our words, the rest comes from body language and tonality. If your words say your sorry, but your body language says otherwise, you have now turned a negative situation into one in which you (and by extension your company) have now lost all credibility.
-No matter how frustrated the tourism professional may be there is nothing worse than giving wrong information just to get rid of a customer. All of us at times have wanted simply to end a conversation. Telling a customer anything just as a means to end a conversation is not only immoral and bad business practices, but also will hurt both the employee and the employee’s business. Giving wrong information simply makes a situation worse. It is better simply to state: I do not know” or get someone else to help than to give misinformation. In the same fashion do not promise what you cannot deliver. Do not promise that the company executive is going to contact the angry client, when the odds are that the customer will never hear from the CEO. A perfect example of poor promises is when during a flight delay, flight attendants promise that there will be a company representative at the gate to handle missed flights and when the passengers arrive there is no one at the gate to help them.
-Almost nothing upsets travelers and people on vacation or on business trips more than issues of time. Most visitors and travelers can accept most travel mishaps with grace. The one, almost unforgiveable “sin” in travel is the misuse of time. Be sensitive to issues of time, do not keep people waiting without informing them of what is happening, do not answer phone calls, with: “please wait” and remember that a great service or product that you did not deliver on time, is no longer a great product. When we waste a customer’s time the results may be the missing a flight, being overtired, hungry and/or in need of a rest room, having upset children, and feeling vulnerable. To add to this level of frustration, time delays may occur in places where travelers may not know the language or the customs of the place where the travel “problem: is occurring. A good rule-of-thumb is to remember that in the world of hospitality and travel all problems, no matter how small they may seem to the travel professional, are “near -crises.”
-Remember that it is not only how you do something but also the way you do it that impacts your image. There is a great deal of differences in the way your customers will accept an error if the person’s tone of voice is caring, there is a smile on one’s face and the frontline person’s body language shows that s/he cares. When speaking with a customer try to use gentle and kind, words. Be understanding, and make sure that the customer knows that the person who is attending his/her needs is on the customer’s side and really wants to help.
-Never embarrass another employee or make that person lose face. No matter what one thinks about other employees, keep those thoughts in private and if you have to criticize then do so in private. In front of a customer, it is important that there be a unified front. Customers are good at picking up clues and noting that there is discord among employees. When customers hear employees bickering they assume that management did not hire the correct people, or that management does not really care. It is ok to disagree but never in public.
Part II of a two part series. Click to read part one here