Know your Customers

19th August 2013
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Know your Customers

Speaking at the Tourism Society Annual Conferencelast month, the theme for our session was compete and the title for my section “The 5 secrets of success for SMEs”.

There were 101 ideas I could have shared, so honing this down to my just 5 was a challenge. I’ve picked just one of these for today’s blog post, “Know Your Customers”

Unless you have a clear picture in your mind of your customer it’s nigh on impossible to meet expectations, let alone exceed them.

Love your customers

I’m sure we all have customers who we dread doing business with. You know the one’s – they’re hard work and earn you little profit, and at times can suck you of all your energy and enthusiasm. And when we don’t enjoy working with certain people it’s not only dispiriting for us, it’s generally evident in some way for the customer too.

So focus on the customers you do what!

The idea for some business owners of effectively turning away any customer can be a daunting one. But think about it; if you expel all your energies on the ‘wrong’ customers if we’re not careful we don’t have enough time, energy or resources to serve those who are our ideal.

And the more you ‘love’ your customers, the more interest you’ll show in them, the more you can be yourself and the better you’ll serve them.


Define who they are

So once you’ve determined the customers you like to attract, the more detail you have to define them the easier it will be for you to attract them. How does this work? Well for a start you’ll start to spot your perfect customers (a bit like when you hear your name mentioned in a room full of people your ears prick up, or you’re so aware if someone is wearing the same tie or dress as you, or has the same car).

Your reticular activating system is the part of your brain that filters information coming through your senses and highlights things that are relevant to you; in this case your ideal customers. The clearer you are on whom they are the more effective this filter will work!

Once you have your perfect customers in mind it will be a whole to easier for them to find you too. It’ll be easier to communicate with them using their language and you’ll know where you need to be for them to find you. (Any business who tries to appeal to everyone will have a hard time doing this.)


Build a relationship

Once you’re talking their language it will be so much easier to engage with your customers, get their attention and start to build a relationship. We all know people like to do business with those they know, like and trust. Engaging with your customers before they actually start to do business with you means they’ll be far more receptive to buy when the time comes.

There are plenty of ways to do this; the language you use on your website, the tone and messages in your blog, responding to discussions or mentions on social media, the way you deal with enquiries, confirmation of bookings or orders, sharing useful information, tips and before they buy, being accessible to answer queries, asking questions to identify what they want (more on this in a moment…).

And the more you build the relationship beforehand the easier it will be to ascertain their needs so you can meet these and exceed them.


What’s important

Never assume you know what your ideal customer wants! You might know what they need, but if they don’t recognise this too you’ll have a hard time trying to convince them until you’ve met their wants. And the only way to do this is to ask!

Now, I do recognise that if we always wait for our customers to tell us what they want we’d have little opportunity to innovate or develop new offers. So the other way to approach this is to find out what needs they are trying to satisfy and then innovate to find a way to satisfy this need. And if it’s impossible to satisfy all their needs, then ask them to prioritise. For example, is price more important than quality? Is time/speed/convenience more important than price? Is quality more important than choice? Break the mould if you have to meet these priorities.

Bear in mind the same customers may place a higher priority on different things at different times. Time of day/year, who they are with, what stage they are at in the buying cycle, and so on.

The clearer your picture of what your customer is trying to achieve or what need they want to meet the easier to will be to meet this. And the more we’re able to tailor or personalise to meet specific customer situation the more they’ll appreciate it and the better their experience.


So here we have four considerations to getting to know your customers better so you can not only meet their expectations, but exceed them too.

If you’d like to see the rest of the presentation from the Tourism Society Conference you can view it here

How to achieve great customer service – Part 4

10th September 2012
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Recognise and reward staff who go the extra mile and give exceptional customer service. Listen to your guests and acknowledge the feedback they give you and pass that on to your team. This helps both you and your team or to understand what your guests appreciate and value, and help identify where you may be falling short.

Encourage your team to come forward with their own ideas of how customer service can be improved and make every effort to take their ideas on board where appropriate. This gives the team a sense of ownership and pride which will inevitably have a positive knock-on effect on your guests.


Lead by example

Your personality is part of the business. Making yourself visible in your hotel and engaging with your guests not only builds rapport and trust with them, but sets the tone and example for your team to follow. If you hide yourself away in the office, or seldom even visit the hotel, this sends the message that it’s okay to hide away from guests.

Talking to your guests is far the best way to get feedback, and they may tell you things that they wouldn’t feedback to your team. Get to know your guests personally; their likes and dislikes, their routine, their suggestions, their network. All this not only builds rapport but makes it a lot easier for you to tailor your offer and service to meet your guests’ needs and expectations.


A team effort

Service should be seamless, and to achieve this, the whole team must support one another. Encourage staff to take ownership when necessary, rather than passing the buck. Allocate responsibilities to specific team members to conduct briefings, training, collate feedback and suggestions.  This spreads the responsibility, gets everyone involved, ensuring these happen even when you’re not there.

All this adds up ultimately to making your customer service memorable, and a potential point of differentiation – for the right reasons.

How to achieve great customer service – Part 3

3rd September 2012
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Upskilling your team by giving them the appropriate training, coaching and support enables you to delegate authority and gives your  staff a sense of responsibility, so they take the initiative and make decisions. You’ll be surprised how often they end up improving the process.  It means you don’t have to keep an eye on things 24/7, in the confident knowledge that your guests will always get great service.

Encourage staff to think ahead and anticipate guests’ needs, rather than waiting to be asked. Demonstrate your trust in the team by giving them responsibility and authority to respond to guests’ expectations and requests in the way that they see fit. Develop champions for areas of responsibility that need a specialist knowledge or particular attention. This promotes a sense of pride and responsibility and will encourage continuous improvement. This in turn can have an impact on your guests’ experience, when
specific knowledge is required to gain the guest’s confidence, for example dealing with function bookings, or food allergies, when from the customer’s perspective someone with specific expertise in that area may be needed.

Giving your staff authority to deal with unplanned situations (including complaints) enables them to resolve issues quickly and with minimum fuss. This is not only far better for the guest, but less effort in the long run for you and your team if they don’t need to find you or a manager. Telling a guest you don’t have the authority to deal with an issue is both frustrating for the guest and degrading for the team member.

There will naturally be situations where a manager’s input may be required, but aim to keep those to a minimum by ensuring that any one of the team can deal with the most common issues, questions or complaints.

Motivate and encourage your staff in making guest service a priority. Create a culture of continuous improvement by encouraging your team to ask for guest feedback. When they receive favourable feedback ask them to suggest ways to build or capitalise on this, and when less favourable to come forward with their own suggestions of where and how things can be improved.

In the final part next week,  it is about reward and recognigtion for the staff that go that extra mile for the customers.

How to achieve great customer service – Part 2

27th August 2012
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We’ve already talked about defining what we mean by great service, now this needs communicating. Discuss with your team what your guests expect and how to meet those expectations. Focus on telling people what you want to achieve, i.e. the end result, rather than dictating how to do it.  This gives people flexibility to adopt their own style.

However, be prepared to explain in behavioural terms when necessary, so rather than just saying ‘welcome guests’, give some examples of the types of things you’d expect to see them doing or hear them say if there’s any doubt about what this means. The more specific you are and more examples you give the easier it is for people to understand. Then lead by example so there are no mixed messages.

Encourage your team to take the guest journey, and see everything from a guest’s point of view as often as possible; they’ll invariably spot things that can be improved to enhance the guest experience, and this helps them put the whole customer experience into perspective.

Establish systems and guidelines where necessary and adequate tools and resources to meet these expectations. Too much red tape, staff shortages, unreliable equipment or a poor product will only lead to frustration and is bound to have a knock-on effect on staff’s ability to deliver great customer service.


Regular communication

Keep staff up-to-date at all times. Conduct daily briefings to cover such information as: VIP guests, special needs, regular guests and any known preferences so staff can anticipate their requirements, today’s menu and details of all ingredients, special offers and events or deals, other activity in or around the hotel that could impact the guest in any way, staff shortages and cover of responsibilities. These actions ensure your staff are fully briefed and competent to deal with any guest’s queries or concerns.

The daily briefing also provides an opportunity to get feedback on any guests’ comments. You can discuss any questions or suggestions that arise about operational issues that could have a bearing on the level of service your guests receive.

So, even on your busiest mornings make sure these briefings still happen; it’s generally on the busiest days that things go wrong.

In part 3 of the blog,  I will looking into empowerment of the staff and by giving them the training and skills that are needed, to gain the customer’s confidence.


How to achieve great customer service

20th August 2012
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The service your guests receive will often be the most memorable part of their stay. Few people will return by choice, where they’ve experienced poor service, nor recommend a hotel even when they’ve received average or good service. Service is invariably your opportunity to create a key differentiator to your hotel. So as a manager what can you be doing to contribute to your service levels?


Last year I attended the inaugural Boutique Hotel Summit in London. Although I don’t think anyone could quite agree on a precise definition of boutique, one theme that came up consistently was that of delivering consistently great service.

So how do we ensure that our staff deliver great customer service?


Define great service

Well, the first thing to do is define great service. I’m not proposing here to define what I think it is; I’m sure you already have your own ideas. But if you needed to explain this to any of your team, would you be able to define it? I believe the starting point is to reflect on what it is that your guests expect and how they define great service. Understand your guest and who you’re targeting.

What is the style of your hotel, and how is this reflected in the way you serve your guests? There’s often a fine line between uninterested or unreceptive and being over attentive and bordering on being intrusive. There’s then striking a balance between formality and overfamiliarity. These are things that we often know when we see it, but it’s sometimes difficult to describe this to staff.


Recruit on attitude

Once you know what level of service you’re looking for you’re in a much better position to get your staff on board. Start by getting the recruitment right. In my book attitude will always be a higher priority than skills. You can develop skills by training, but it’s much more difficult to change people’s attitudes; an eagerness to please people, a willingness to go the extra mile, and an enthusiasm to learn are the key attributes to look for at the recruitment stage.

Develop a reputation as a good employer. This way you’ll be in a much better position to attract the type of people you really want when the need arises, rather than your hotel being a last resort for those desperate for any job they can get.


In the next blog we look at direction and how to focus on what you want to achive.

Do you ever fall down at the final hurdle?

9th July 2012
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What a waste.

You’ve had a fantastic time. You’ve been well cared for, attended to with fantastic hospitality. Your meal was wonderful, the evening was relaxed and all your friends, family, clients or colleagues have had a good time.

But then it all turns sour. It’s time to go home and you want to pay. But nobody wants to take your money!

Has this ever happened to you?

More importantly has it ever happened to any of your guests?

Where can it all go wrong?

In the restaurant you have a busy night. The table of 6 seem happy enough, and your team are now rushed off your feet with the party of 10 who arrived late and clash with another 2 groups who arrived at the same time.

So what’s the problem?

The final course
Do we give as much attention to the final course as we do with the first two?
How much effort that goes into describing the desert
Is the timing right, allowing sufficient time for people to appreciate their main course and wine, before thrusting the desert menu under their noses?
If people want to take a break, are they then ignored for half an hour and then go off the idea of a desert altogether?
Are people offered extras such as a desert wine, an extra glass of wine, digestifs?

How easy is it for guests to catch your eye when they want the bill? Or do they feel invisible?
How quickly does it then arrive, and what conversation takes place as it’s placed on the table – or is it just dumped and the staff member disappears again
How do you get the balance between responding quickly but not letting the guest feel rushed?
How are queries dealt with?
How much conversation takes place while their card is being processed – it’s an ideal time to get some feedback and continue to build rapport with the guest.
How well does your credit card machine work in all parts of the restaurant?

Hotel guest checkout
At the hotel checkout you have a conference on and everyone wants to check out at the same time and are twitchy about getting to the conference on time
If it’s a busy period do other team members help out to lessen the load and avoid queuing?
Is the bill ready when the guest is ready to check out?
Dies red tape or your system prevent you from postponing checkout until later in the day?
Do you have other staff on hand to deal with answering the phone,
Is the someone to deal with complicated invoices who knows the detail?
Is the printer well stocked with paper?
Are staff trained to deal with things when they go wrong e.g. when the printer jams, when there is a query over the bill, when their credit card won’t go through?

Conference organisers
Is there anyone to be found in the conference suite at the end of the day?
Does anyone ask for feedback on their day or how you can improve for next time?
Does anyone offer to help pack up so the organiser or host can get away?

What conversation takes place as your guests leave?
If guests are returning to the hotel after a day out or from a conference just to collect bags, do they get the same level of courtesy as they would have earlier, or are they now just ignored?
Does anyone offer to call a taxi, or give directions for their onward journey?
Are they helped with their coats?
Are they thanked for their custom?
Do they get asked for feedback?
Is there an invitation to see them back again?
Do they get told of other events they might be interested in?
Are they given anything to take away with them as a memento of their visit?
Does anyone hold the door for them, help them with bags or offer them an umbrella if it’s raining

Birthday Offer! As it’s my birthday this week I have a SPECIAL OFFER on the Customer Journey Self Audit Checklist. Click here to find out more….

Keep your customer informed

4th July 2012
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I’m still waiting.

I’m still waiting for something I ordered two months ago.

Now I accept that things go wrong. Sometimes an order gets misplaced. Sometimes you run out of stock. Sometimes there are delivery or staff issues in getting the product to the customer. But two months without so much as an apology? I don’t think so.

This is a company I’ve used without issue for over two years, and up till now always good service and at a reasonable price. So you could say I was a loyal customer.

Notice the use of the past tense here. I was a loyal customer, but alas no more.

Having chased the article in question over a month ago I was told it was out of stock but I’d have it by the end of June. No explanation, no apology, and no offer of a refund instead.  Said item didn’t arrive in June and still has not. I have since had an apology of sorts from their customer service department, but did it come uninitiated? No, only after I’d chased again.

So what can we learn from this for hospitality businesses?

Well things do go wrong. The better your team and your systems the less likely, but even with the best will in the world sometimes there are things that get missed or things that are totally out of your control.

Guest mostly understand this….. providing you keep them informed.

  • Let them know when there will be a delay, so they can make a decision on whether to wait or change or cancel their order.
  • Let them know when what you’ve promised can’t be delivered so they can plan accordingly
  • Offer an alternative or give the guest a number of options
  • Offer something by way of a reasonable compensation to show you appreciate their patience or inconvenience
  • And most of all, admit to any mistakes on your part. Don’t be too proud to apologise.

Your hotel or restaurant guest will appreciate your honesty and this all helps to keep the trust and relationship sweet, so unlike me your guests remain loyal.

How to Get the Best from your Seasonal Staff

3rd July 2012
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This month many of you will, I’m sure, be taking on additional staff for the summer season. But are they an asset or a liability? If all you do is give them an order pad or a uniform and tell them to get on with it, they could be doing more harm than good to your summer holiday profits.

Your selection of staff needs the same care and attention you’d give to any member of staff. Don’t be fooled into accepting someone just because they are available. Now more than ever you need to recruit people who can hit the ground running. With the best will I the world someone with the wrong attitude is never going to leave customers with a great experience and clambering to come back. Bear in mind that for many of your customers at this time this will be their first visit, so ensure that first impression is a good one, so it’s not their last.

Everyone needs to know what’s expected of them from day one. Ensure you give them a thorough induction, which is planned out in advance. You won’t have time to revisit things that are missed, so schedule this into their first week, so they have an opportunity to absorb the information. This should include:

  • Define your values, who your customers are, and what their expectations are.
  • A clear job description outlining their responsibilities, time scales, priorities, measurements or KPIs, and how their role fits in with the bigger picture.
  • Clarify basic standards of dress, staff behaviour, time keeping, break allowance, staff meals, security, food safety, health and safety.
  • First impressions count. Specify your establishment’s standards for welcoming and greeting customers, including the booking procedures if this is part of their role. Even back of house staff need to know the protocol for greeting customers or dealing with their questions.
  • People can’t sell something they don’t know exists. Ensure a thorough product knowledge – what does your establishment offer – times of service, complementary products, etc.  Let your staff taste the dishes, explain what accompanies each dish and what it should look like, what prices include and what’s extra (especially with fixed menus or party packages).
  • Establish protocol in dealing with difficult situations, customer complaints, and awkward customers.  Define the line between handling themselves and when to seek intervention from a manager or more experienced staff member.
  • What is their role in up-selling, and what are the products you want them to promote, including any future events?  What are the benefits of these offers or products from a customers’ perspective?
  • Run through the payment procedures, including any security procedures or checks needed, and how to deal with any concerns or potential breaches.

Support and teamwork

  • Don’t leave them floundering or too scared to ask for help. Establish a clear line of reporting, and who to go to for help and guidance when needed.
  • Teamwork is key. Introduce new staff to the whole team, defining everyone’s areas of responsibility to ensure no gaps and no duplication of effort. Avoid the frictions that occur when someone hasn’t pulled their weight or others are seen to ‘interfere’ with your way of doing things.
  • Consider assigning each temporary staff member with a buddy, someone to look over their shoulder, guide them and support them as necessary ensuring, of course, that this person will be patient and supportive when asked.
  • Avoid being let down at the last minute – Provide out of hours contact numbers and establish procedures for sickness reporting.

Recognition and reward

  • If your core team are incentivised, make sure you include seasonal staff in the scheme.
  • Give them something to look forward to and keep them interested for the whole season.  Involve them in any after work social activities and maybe some incentive awarded at the end of the season.
  • Recognise potential and consider opportunities to turn part time or temporary into permanent or regular work.
  • Maintain your reputation as a good employer. Treat seasonal staff well, and they will be willing to come back next time you need an extra hand, and spread the word that you are a good employer.

Remember summer is a time when you have a excellent opportunity to wow first time visitors with a great experience, and hopefully make them into regulars or referrers. Don’t blow that one off chance.

Find your passion

27th June 2012
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Working in a business you don’t enjoy, especially when it’s your own can be soul destroying enough in its own right, but it’s bound to impact on your customers too. If you’ve no passion for your hospitality or leisure business and share no common interests with your customers isn’t it time to do something about it?

Whenever anything went wrong or when confronted with something that was unpleasant my mother always used to say “life’s too short”. Unfortunately in her case it was, and she died at the age of 65. My dad outlived her by nearly 17 years, but sadly died at last year aged 81.

But both of them thankfully spent their latter years doing things that they had a real passion for. Whilst I was at university Mum also went back to school, to train as a psychiatric nurse. She later went on to work in young people’s psychiatric unit and used to come home with stories of playing football with teenage boys, dealing with anorexic girls and other troubled youngsters in the hope of giving them a better chance in adult life. My dad, having initially trained as an architect and then working as an interior designer had always had a passion for vintage cars and for the last 30 years pursued his hobby of restoring his own and others’ cars and frequently worked long into the night in his workshop. And at his funeral people came from far and wide with their cars that he’d worked on over years.

So what have I learnt from my parents about running a business?

Nearly every book on marketing, whether for hotel, hospitality, or restaurant businesses, or any other type of business, will remind you that you need to identify your target market and offer something that meets their needs. But what if when you analyse this you identify a group of people or a product or service which leaves you cold? Would you want these people at your funeral? I know my dad would have been delighted to see so many of his happy customers turn out in his honour.

Working with your perfect guest or customer and the services and products you offer should really excite you. If it doesn’t, it’s bound to have a knock-on effect on the perception of customer service and certainly impact your bottom line. But if it doesn’t excite you why would you want to be doing it anyway?

So in an ideal world you want to be dealing with people with whom you share interests, values or enthusiasm. So how do we find the ideal customers?

Start by listing what you enjoy, what you’re passionate about, what’s important to you. Can these be incorporated into your hotel or hospitality business? If your business reflects your interests the likelihood is you’ll attract other people who share them. You’re more likely to be able to build rapport with them, and you can be more targeted (and successful) with your marketing, both externally and on-site.

Create your values around what is important to you. If it’s important to you to sustainable resources, or care for the environment, or to use fresh, local ingredients when available, create your values around these principles.

If like my dad you have a passion or particular hobby, is this something that you can incorporate into the business in some way. In Dad’s case it was vintage cars, but it could be anything that you’re interested in – be that golf or gardening, shopping or skydiving, woodwork or walking. Your passion should really influence what you offer; whether you focus on just one of your passions or a number passions, it’s a combination of these that add up to make your hotel or hospitality business different. You’ll find it easier to share detail of your real passions, which will not only make your hotel or hospitality business stand out, but attract like-minded guests.

One way of really capitalising on your interests and capture the interest of your guests or customers is to become an expert in something that they and you are interested in. In addition to attracting the type of guests or customers with whom you can build a good rapport and a better prospect of repeat business, it also gives you a great opportunity to get noticed. By writing articles, blog posts, guidebooks or maybe even organising clubs or seminars around your interests or topic, you’ll be on the radar of people who share your interests, which in turn enables you to build your prospect list. It also provides a great opportunity for PR.

Focusing on a specific interest could also involve promoting or writing about events, or organising your own events, and opens up opportunities for joint ventures or partnerships with other businesses, clubs or organisations who share your target audience. What better way to get yourself noticed?

Any of these ways of tying in your interests into your business not only enables you to enjoy what you do and who you work with, but is a great way of being unique and really standing out from your competition. If you have a very niche interest it will translate into a very niche target market.

It’s never too late to start focusing on what you love and where your passions lie. Life’s too short not to.

Building Hotel Customer Relationships

8th May 2012
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Last year I took a trip to Canada – part holiday, part business for my husband.  The trip reminded me of the importance of building the customer relationship. We were being entertained by a supplier, but the main purpose of the trip was to build trust; we got to see the production process, meet the team and get an insight into their operation. And in turn they got to hear more about what is important to their customer and what more they can do to develop the sales potential. Although this supplier has no direct competition (they have developed a new product) they do have to compete for my husband’s time and effort involved in selling the product.

What has this to do with the hospitality management? Two things:

Firstly we must never forget that the competition may not be the hotel or restaurant down the road, but may be the option to stay at home, get married on a beach, go camping, hold that meeting as a webinar.

Secondly the importance of building a relationship with your customers. This does not mean flying them half way round the world, but demonstrating that you value their custom, and sharing with them some of your story, your values, getting to know your team, spending some time talking to them and getting to know what is important to them. This builds trust and loyalty, and is a key step in building a lasting long term relationship with your customer and the prospect of repeat business.

Building the guest relationship is covered in more detail in the Hotel Success Handbook

Caroline Cooper