How to improve your customer service skills on the job
Customer service skills are essential for almost any hospitality job, whether you work in a hotel or resort, restaurant or bar, on a cruise ship or for an airline. While many successful professionals in the industry are naturally gifted in this area, even those who are not can become proficient experts over time. Consider the following suggestions to help you improve your customer services skills – including essentials such as empathy, adaptability, communication, problem-solving and patience – both on and off the job.
1. Learn to find common ground with the people around you
Defined as a “basis of mutual interest or agreement,” finding common ground with others helps you form a connection with them, even if only internally. When dealing with a hotel or restaurant customer, that common ground can humanize the relationship for you, easing communication and aiding in conflict resolution.
It’s easiest to practice this skill when interacting with people who are different than you. Whether you’re talking to an employee in another department or a total stranger at your favorite coffee shop, consider the common interests, beliefs or views you may share. This should make you feel connected to the experience of others and enable you to better empathize with them.
2. Practice actively listening in every conversation
When you actively listen to your customers, they feel like they are being heard. This is an important component of customer service whether you’re dealing with an irate hotel guest or a satisfied restaurant patron, and it is quite easy to practice.
Start by mentally screening out any distractions, such as background noise or worrying about the line of customers forming behind this one. Keep an open mind as you face the customer or guest, maintain eye contact, and focus on what he or she is saying. While you should never interrupt, you can take advantage of pauses to ask questions to clarify your customer’s feelings and expectations.
Once you feel you understand the situation fully, paraphrase your customer’s concerns to confirm this and empathize with his or her experience. You can finish the conversation by summarizing the issues and solutions to ensure you’re both on the same page.
3. Become more comfortable with thinking ‘outside the box’
Whether you’re dealing with a common customer problem or brand new situation, consider alternatives to standard actions. Policies and procedures exist for a reason, of course, but they can often be improved upon as organizations – and the teams within them – grow. Identifying these opportunities for improvement will become easier as you break away from your ‘normal’ patterns of thinking.
If you want to quickly boost your skills in this arena, consider taking an improvisation class. Improv, as it’s also known, is a form of acting in which the plot, characters and dialogue of a scene or story are made up in the moment. As you improve your improv skills, you also learn to make quick connections with others, stay positive and in the present, actively listen and make rapid decisions. Additionally, you’ll become adept at staying calm under pressure and when reacting to surprises.
4. Learn to be more positive and persuasive
Positive language plays a big role in how your customers perceive your message. When you avoid negative phrases, even ‘bad’ news can come across as positive and constructive. For example, if you’re dealing with a demanding customer, don’t make your conversation about what you can’t do but instead what you can do to satisfy them.
Speaking persuasively can also enhance your customer service skills. You can practice persuading your customers to your way of thinking by always using their name, leading with active words (or verbs), and avoiding statements that start with your own personal thoughts or beliefs. Keeping the conversational focus on your customer will persuade them that they are is respected and appreciated.
5. Become an expert at what you do
Learn everything you can about the hospitality industry and your place of business. This applies whether you’re working at the front desk or in an executive suite. From the history of the hotel to the background of the restaurant’s chef, the management team’s hierarchy to the typical incentives offered to the organization’s best customers, the more you know, the better you can perform in your position and the more positively your skills and service will be perceived by your customers.
How can you become an expert? You can start by asking your employer if additional training is available for your position. You might consider cross training in other positions within your department as well. Outside your job, spend some time reading industry blogs and other publications as well as participating in webinars and attending industry conferences and gatherings.