Service First Aid

By Roberta Nedry President & Founder, Hospitality Excellence, Inc. | January 08, 2012

Good doctors get sued. Nice doctors don't. This poignant statement, made by a malpractice attorney, reveals how legally dramatic the difference can be when professionals of any kind take the time to be nice.

In the hospitality industry, problems will happen - it's inevitable. Guests will be unhappy or discontent - that's unavoidable. What doesn't have to be inevitable and what can be avoidable is the wrong staff reaction and the resulting damage or loss. Angry guests get angrier when the flames of their emotions are fanned. Just like the good doctor/nice doctor analogy, untrained employees may unknowingly intensify a situation by simply not understanding how to calm a guest down.

Learning how to diffuse potential upsets before they get out of control is not only smart, it is a very effective risk management strategy - reducing the risks of added costs and losses of escalation*.* It is wise relative to avoiding litigation that could take place. When people feel they have been treated poorly or unfairly, they may choose to seek resolution elsewhere. In our highly litigious society, hospitality leaders and their employees should do everything in their power to avoid that scenario. Good and responsive service is not only an important business strategy to generate revenue and add dollars; it's also a prudent strategy to keep revenue in house and make sure dollars are not subtracted from the bottom line.

Steve Grover, a Harvard educated, south Florida maritime attorney who represents clients in personal injury lawsuits against cruise lines and other businesses, believes that hospitality providers are much more likely to be sued when their staff becomes less hospitable following an on-site accident. "When people are injured on cruise ships or in hotels, they expect to be treated compassionately. When that does not happen, I believe it prompts many guests to bring negligence lawsuits who would not do so otherwise. The guest who thinks the accident was the fault of the ship or hotel simply becomes more resolved to seek justice in a court of law." From his interviews with many potential clients soon after their accidents aboard ships and in hotels, Mr. Grover believes that the hospitality often diminishes once guests voice their opinion that ship or hotel personnel were to blame. "At that point, it is human nature for hotel management and staff to take offense. But from a risk management perspective, that is precisely the moment at which hospitality should be specifically directed towards this now-special guest. It is a very small price to pay compared to a lawsuit. And it's good business in general."

One example of an accident gone awry further than it needed to included a woman who seriously injured an ankle on a cruise. She could not get around because of the injury and complained to the ship's staff. After her message, she felt she purposely got little to no assistance from the ship's crew the rest of the voyage. She felt trapped in her room because she was not ambulatory. This "added insult to injury" and forged her resolve of suing for negligence. Had the crew reached out to her a bit more, even if she was not in the best of spirits and empathized with her frustration of being on a cruise and not being able to go anywhere, she might have been less disgruntled. They could have made extra phone calls to check on her, had nice amenities sent to her room, figured out how to comfortably get her out of her room and arrange ways for her to still participate in the events and meals on Board. Instead, she was left alone feeling neglected which increased her animosity toward the cruise personnel.

When guests are upset and problems or accidents take place, employees must immediately jump into action and proactively address the situation. Upset guests can also be difficult guests which might motivate employees to avoid challenging encounters. Yet, when they avoid the tough moments they actually make it tougher for everyone, especially their organization. Employees who are empathetic and who genuinely show concern have a much greater opportunity to diffuse or manage problems and accidents than those who don't care or appear indifferent. Active and responsive caring is critical. Robotic, procedural behavior is not. Keeping good service alive and well is essential in the positive as well as the negative moments.

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Guest Service: Empowering People

Excellent customer service is vitally important in all businesses but it is especially important for hotels where customer service is the lifeblood of the business. Outstanding customer service is essential in creating new customers, retaining existing customers, and cultivating referrals for future customers. Employees who meet and exceed guest expectations are critical to a hotel's success, and it begins with the hiring process. It is imperative for HR personnel to screen for and hire people who inherently possess customer-friendly traits - empathy, warmth and conscientiousness - which allow them to serve guests naturally and authentically. Trait-based hiring means considering more than just a candidate's technical skills and background; it means looking for and selecting employees who naturally desire to take care of people, who derive satisfaction and pleasure from fulfilling guests' needs, and who don't consider customer service to be a chore. Without the presence of these specific traits and attributes, it is difficult for an employee to provide genuine hospitality. Once that kind of employee has been hired, it is necessary to empower them. Some forward-thinking hotels empower their employees to proactively fix customer problems without having to wait for management approval. This employee empowerment—the permission to be creative, and even having the authority to spend money on a customer's behalf - is a resourceful way to resolve guest problems quickly and efficiently. When management places their faith in an employee's good judgment, it inspires a sense of trust and provides a sense of higher purpose beyond a simple paycheck. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.