No matter in what area of tourism you may be, the simple fact is that tourism is a customer-oriented business. Without customer service, not only your marketing will eventually fail, but also the business’ viability will be in question. Good service is to tourism what oxygen is to the body. It is the lifeblood of how the industry works.
Providing good customer service is often a challenge. In tourism, many of the front-line positions tend to receive only entry-level pay. The hours are long, and neither the financial nor social-psychological awards are great. Often customers take out their frustration on these very people, even when the front-line person can do nothing or has no decision-making authority. Thus, the people who often have the least amount of authority are often the most abused and at times most frustrated.
One of the results of these problems is that often front-line positions have a high rate of turnover. The lack of training then results in poorer customer service that produces a downward spiral.
Often employers present customer service skills as a necessary part of the job or something that employees simply have to do. Additionally, and all too often, front-line personnel in tourism are not treated as professionals, and this lack of professionalism is then reflected in their attitude toward customers.
The French have a saying: “Tout c’est dans la presentation – Everything depends on how you market it.” That statement also holds true for customer service. If we present the training as merely customer service, that often produces a “so what” attitude. If, on the other hand, we present the same training as “life skill enhancement,” then the value of what we teach goes far beyond that of a front-line tourism professional.
Change for-the-job training to life skills, and we may succeed in changing the attitude of some of our more problematic employees. When we present this training as a professionalization process used to empower our front-line personnel to make decisions that impacts the way a guest is treated, we are on the road not only to better customer service but also to happier employees. To help you implement these attitudinal changes, Tourism Tidbits suggests considering some of the following principles:
– Remind our frontline personnel that in life just as in tourism the key to winning over difficult people is to exhibit: Empathy, coupled with patience. Most people in life can accept that things do go wrong, but what they cannot accept is an attitude that states: “I could care less.” Hospitality is based on caring. Work with your personnel to exhibit a healthy questioning attitude. When we involve ourselves in the other person’s problems, we turn anger into an experience, and we become our customer’s host rather than a mere employee. Be careful not to confuse empathy with sympathy. Good customer service is always empathetic but never sympathetic. In a like manner, remember that visitors are in a new environment and often feel lost. Patience and the ability to state the same fact two or three times is a life skill that goes a long way toward personal success.
– “Teach Crises” come about when we have a tourism breakdown and we refuse to adapt to a new situation. Things do happen, planes arrive late, hotel rooms may not be ready, food may be served too cold or too hot. Learning how to adapt to new situations is essential not only in tourism but also in life. This need for adaptability means that we have to allow our front-line people to make rapid decisions. Chains of command rarely work in life and almost never in tourism.
– Just as in life, remind your front-line personnel that every customer is different and almost every situation is unique. Often in life we become jaded and take the position that we have heard it all before. In tourism, as is the case in most things in life, people want to be taken seriously, want to be heard, and want to believe that their case is being handled in a unique and special format. That means that we must learn to listen attentively and be sure that the other person understands that we are hearing their issue. Remember that hearing an issue does not mean agreeing with it, but it does mean that we recognize the emotions of the other person.
– Communicate in a clear and calm manner. Often problems arise when we do not say what we mean. Avoid pronouns. Make sure that you use clear and precise language. Try to stay on topic and do not allow telephone calls to interfere with your problem solving. It is essential to remind front-line people that most customers want a problem solved quickly and efficiently. They are not seeking friendships but rather solutions. In today’s world of hypersensitivity, use words carefully; a joke can easily be perceived as an insult.
– Be knowledgeable. One of the worst things that a front-line employee can do is provide false information. A good rule of life is if you do not have an answer; do not create an answer just so that you can look smart or efficient. On the other side of the equation, it is essential for management to provide front-line personnel with as much up-to-date and accurate information as possible.
All of us need to have a thicker skin and remember that a job is only a job. In tourism, as in life, all of us will need to confront situations outside of our control (remember with the exception of natural complainers, that our guests are speaking to us because they have had a terrible day). This is where empathy comes into play and we remember that we have the power to turn someone’s awful day into a wonderful day.