I think you would agree on the basic notion that the better a business is at offering great customer service, the better they will do financially. Through customer service, we make our guest feel comfortable while spending time at our business. This feeling of physical and psychological comfort leads a one-time guest to become a regular. Whether consciously or subconsciously, it is why we build new habits and have our favourite brunch place for Saturday mornings.
Through increased competition and more sophisticated, tech-savvy buyers, most businesses have invested heavily in customer service and also sales has adopted a customer-centric versus product-centric approach.
While putting your customers needs at the centre of all business efforts sounds logic, the recent United Airlines debacle shows how hard it is for organizations to practice excellent customer service consistently (Tweet It!). Only in February United Airlines announced their “Shared Purpose” initiative to create a more customer-centric culture, in which “We Fly Friendly” is a shared value. This incident also reminds us again how quickly a negative customer service experience can be shared and what repercussions the inconsistency of service can have for our business. This is ever so true for smaller businesses, where less resources in the form of smaller teams force employees to prioritize their customer service efforts - after all, our resources are not endless.
So let’s remind ourselves of two customer service basics that apply to operational teams, as well as sales:
1) Apply a customer-centric approach in sales to create business value!
When working with restaurant hostesses, we practice observing customer needs and acting upon them immediately: from offering an umbrella when they leave, to having black napkins available for guests wearing dark clothing. Apply this attentiveness to every sales inquiry and you will learn more about your customer, giving you an advantage over your competition.
- Make the conversation about your client. Research shows that talking about oneself makes people feel good. When we talk about ourselves, there is an increased neural activity in the area of the brain that is also responsible for the pleasurable feeling of reward (stimuli such as good food and sex cause a reaction in the same area of the brain). Keep that in mind when you converse with your client! The more your customer gets to talk about themselves, the likelier they will be to associate positive feelings with an interaction with you (and like you!). Of course you can share your input too, after all, it helps the conversation flow naturally.
- Ask your customer probing questions to pickup on the signals that are important to your client and uncover your clients needs. This will help you gain more meaningful information about your client and the piece of business. Here are some examples:
- Listen actively (fully concentrate, show your understanding and remember what has been said) and wait until you learned as much as possible about your clients’ needs. Then, focus in on one differentiating product or service that your property can offer and make sure to mention what it means to the guest! Here’s an example:
2) Customize everything!
As a member of the housekeeping team at a hotel, you have numerous ways to personalize the service you are offering. If you notice that your guest is sleeping on the left side of the bed, make sure you move the remote control and water glass to this side as well. Should you see that your guest has worked on the bed, rather than the desk, put together a small set of office supplies for the night stand or even place it on a tray on the bed to let him know you have noticed.
Personalizing the sales process will show your client that you pay attention to detail, which is especially important as we are using many softwares with generic templates that help us complete each step of the sales process more efficiently. You already know what your customer is really looking for through having asked good questions, so now use consultative selling techniques to address your customers needs. In consultative selling, you offer customized solutions to your guest instead of generic ones.
- Personalize your proposal text each and every time. Nothing is worse than spending thirty minutes on the phone with a sales manager, explaining what it is that you are looking for, only to receive a proposal filled with general terms that don’t apply to your group or a welcome message that doesn’t summarize the little nuances you have discussed over the phone. As a sales manager, take the time to customize your proposal and let your client know you covered everything you spoke about. Here’s an example:
- Get creative in what you offer: when negotiating a sales agreement for a conference put on for the first time by a sole proprietor, I was the only sales manager of three luxury hotels that offered a customized deposit and cancellation schedule, which ultimately made it easier for the client to do business with us and won us the contract.
- Write handwritten cards, even though it is time consuming. A simple postcard to a customer in Chicago, mentioning how you appreciated her time during your last visit, is remembered a lot more than a follow-up email. As a way to stay in touch with my clients in Washington, I once had our well known Executive chef create a picnic recipe for the cherry blossom festival and printed it on the back of handwritten cards. This made my message relevant to their environment (cherry blossom festival) and useful (recipe).
While working with The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto, I took pride in our credo. I vividly remember a morning meeting where our General Manager broke down the credo line by line and focused in on a small word that gets easily ignored: “We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience.” Always! This is the challenge we all face: we know the concepts, most of us are trained to deliver them. Now let’s uphold them and put them front and centre - always.