Your Customer Service Style

The innkeeper’s motto could very well could be “As you wish”. The heart of hospitality is found in the customer service you provide your guests. Your success is found in your customer service. Learn the language of service, and teach it to your staff, and enjoy your profits and success.

In 1987, when the movie “The Princess Bride” came out, I fell in love with the phrase “as you wish”. Cleverly, and to my delight, that phrase was used throughout the movie. I thought it would be wonderful to have people say “as you wish” to my every request. I eventually realized that this was also the perfect phrase for the hospitality industry, if not for every service business — or maybe every business and human.

Service Or Hospitality?
In the article on the “language of service”, there’s a discussion about words and phrases that support and detract from service. “The Princess Bride” phrase comes to mind again because the article echoes my attitude about what hospitality and service are.

I don’t think we can talk about hospitality or customer service are without first having a discussion of the other aspects that are entailed in those ideals. Customer service is more than a few key phrases, or the language used. It is action. Your actions, based on your decisions of what service is, create the atmosphere and sense of place for your inn. They also define and impact your every day treatment of your guests, staff, and vendors. Without those actions taking place every day, no well-turned phrase of service or hospitality will matter.

Do you remember Leona Helmsley? She prided herself in creating the perfect guestroom in her hotels. An ad she ran for awhile showed a hotel room with a caption like “What’s wrong with this room?” The room was clean, well appointed, loaded with amenities, and had a large closet. The answer to her question was “There are no extra pillows or blankets in the closet.” Her attitude was that a guest shouldn’t have to ask for anything because the staff had anticipated and taken care of it all before you checked in. That’s one example of the service in action.

Today there are hotels that track your preferences on a daily newspaper, hypo-allergenic rooms, pillow types, etc. Some hotels place a variety of pillow types on your bed so you can choose what you want — all without having to ask for anything. That’s listening to your guests and acting. That’s service.

Action Items
The service I’ve seen innkeepers take action on that speaks volumes about service and hospitality ranges from guestroom to common area appointments, as well as rules and policies. Here are twelve actions an innkeeper could take to extend their service — things that would make guests more comfortable:
– flexible check-in and check-out times
– complementary high speed internet connections throughout the inn
– good lighting throughout the room — on each side of the bed, at reading chairs, and the desk
– wastebaskets and recycling bins in all the places waste is created (sink, toilet, desk, coffee/beverage station)
– a tissue box placed on each side of the bed and at the sink
– complementary snacks and beverages always available
– umbrellas beside the front door or in the guestroom closet
– uncluttered surfaces at the sink, desk, coffee/tea station, and bedside
– complementary coffee, tea, etc. in the guestroom
– abundant hangars in the closet
– two luggage racks/guestroom
– extra blankets and pillows in the room

The Experience
Once you have your hospitality and service foundation established, will your guests experience your great service during their stay? Are guests greeted with an offer of a snack or beverage? Is that offer repeated during their stay? Do you offer to make dinner reservations for your guests, or discuss interesting dining options with them? How about transportation needs handled; can you call Uber/Lyft or a cab, or tell them the best bus or subway route to use? Can you provide a map of at least the inn’s neighborhood, if not the entire city, for guest use? Are maps of running paths or routes available for those athletic and health-conscious guests? Those are some of the details comprising service and hospitality.

Have you trained your staff to be on the lookout for service opportunities? When a guest is looking around, say on the floor, do you check to see what they need or lost? When they are fidgeting have you checked to see what they need, be it more coffee or another cookie, or a lap throw because it’s gotten chilly? That’s well-tuned service in action.

Here’s a story that vividly demonstrates service in action. I was shopping in Target one day when an exposed shelf bracket hooked the epaulet of my blouse and ripped the button off. I searched the floor for the button so I could make the required repairs. A clerk or manager saw me looking around, stopped to help, and then offered to have Target tend to the repairs for me. That’s service in action!

The Words
And finally, the language of service. When a guest makes a request, is the response “as you wish” or “you betcha”? Both imply that the guest’s request will be satisfied; one is more formal while the other is more casual.
It seems society is more casual these days, but I propose that the language of service shouldn’t be allowed to slip into a casual tone because a more formal response is more gracious. Allowing your staff to respond to guest requests with phrases like, “sure”, “all righty”, or “you betcha” may undercut the hospitality you have worked so hard to create and develop. I believe that variations of “gladly”, “right away”, “of course”, and “most certainly” — or even “as you wish” — are phrases to use at your inn.

In contrast, if the answer to a guest request is along the lines of “we don’t do that” or “I can’t help you”? Those are responses that will harm your reputation. It won’t matter how formal or informal the answer is, the result will be reputation damage. If the guest has requested something that’s out of the norm, maybe something you haven’t considered doing or offering before, the gracious and service-oriented answer is “let me find out how we can accommodate your request”.

In our busy world I’ve seen the language of service not only get more casual but to also become nonexistent. I strongly believe that’s part of what has taken the heart out of much hospitality — the absence of the language of service. I hear excuses for why the guest’s request can’t be granted. I’ve heard flat refusals for denying a guest what seems like a simple request. What kind of hospitality is that? What kind of service is that?

There may be requests that can’t be accomplished because they are illegal, against your moral or ethical beliefs, or are physically impossible. A gracious response is still due the guest, using the language of service.

Your Edge
The edge smaller inns have over most hotels is personal service. That service is seen in language and action. It’s seen in flexible rules, heartfelt interaction, and an environment designed to give a sense of comfort and belonging. If an innkeeper loses that edge then their inn is no different than a large hotel. If it’s no different than a large hotel, then why would guests go to that inn instead of to a hotel? And the inn’s guests certainly won’t return — or refer their friends, family, or associates — if that service edge is lost; return guests (and referrals) are the bread and butter of every inn, and the cheapest marketing you have.

The service in action and the language of service will give you the edge to thrive through slow times because of competition, recession, or terrorist attack. Learn the language of service to succeed, “as you wish”.