Go Hard on Soft Service Skills

By Roberta Nedry President and Founder, Hospitality Excellence, Inc. | November 17, 2013

In today’s world, a lot of times we think HARD is better. Work hard! Play hard! Drive a hard bargain! Hard may mean strength such as “hard as a rock” versus soft which may seam weak as in “Don’t be a softy.” Apples taste better hard and to many peoples’ tastes, so does cheese. There may be lots of things that work or seem better when they are hard but when it comes to service, it’s the soft skills that will enable the most memorable results, not the hard ones. Don’t get me wrong…hard skills are essential and important and will get the job done. But, it’s the soft skills that will make the emotional connection and inspire the lasting impact most hospitality leaders desire.

In service and even in hospitality curricula, hard skills are often the focus for training and education to deliver effective job performance. Hard service skills include efficiency, responsiveness and accuracy as examples. They include the technical and operational actions needed for any one job role or task. They include the procedures and responsibilities in job duties and descriptions. They consist of the established systems and processes to deliver services and amenities to guests. This includes things like the system used to take reservations, the procedures followed to check-in a guest, the processes followed to maintain the property, the workflow of preparing for a banquet, and the like. Hard skills focus on the systems, tools and methods used to deliver your products and services to guests.

For instance, front desk agents may have outstanding hard skills; they can manage check-ins and outs, obtain customer payment data and assign rooms. They may be able to multi-task phone calls and guest inquiries so there is not much wait time. They may have good job knowledge and be able to handle several job duties leading to smoother operations. But…if they seem rushed while doing those check-ins, if they seem more focused on getting the service done versus making a service connection while doing it, and if they seem indifferent or insincere, their excellent hard skills are diminished and may result in a less than excellent guest experience and/or a poor review.

Soft skills are the behaviors which directly impact guest impressions and feelings. These behaviors have the opportunity to cause positive, negative or indifferent reactions. These behaviors include communication styles, both verbal and non-verbal, attitudes, teamwork, awareness, authenticity, empathy and even leadership amongst others. Soft skills showcase the personal side of service and how team members use their attitudes, behaviors and verbal skills to interact with guests. The personal dimensions of service are the way employees greet guests, the manner in which they listen to their needs and requests, and the care they take in each Touchpoint. It’s the emotional experience that they create for guests! It’s how they make them feel!

Soft skills in service go directly to the right side of the brain and trigger the neurotransmitters, which produce reactive emotions to any one service touchpoint or service experience. Hard skills will get there too but they will take the indirect “logical “route via the “left brain” and not be as powerful for making the emotional connection. The right brain features abilities such as reading emotions, expressing emotions, intuition and creativity. Understanding how to tap into this side of guest and even employee brains presents strong opportunities for stronger experience connections.

Consider soft skills, the behaviors and personal side of service, as a train, headed for an emotional destination—the brain. The Heathrow Express in London can get you to London in 15 minutes, with no stops. Other forms of transportation such as buses, the tube, limousines and taxis will also get you there, but they will take longer with many stops and traffic. Soft skills take guests right to the brain’s emotional reflex. They are the express train for service, especially exceptional service! Hard skills will get them there eventually but may be with less impact and possibly more aggravation. They will also not yield the rewards that the triggering of positive emotions will do via this direct route.

Coming up in January 2018...

Mobile Technology: Relentless Innovation

Technology has become a crucial component in attracting and retaining hotel guests, and the need to enhance a guest’s technology experience is driving a relentless pace of innovation. To meet and exceed guest expectations, 54% of hotels will spend more on technology in 2018, and mobile solutions in particular will top the list of capital investments. Many hotels are integrating mobile booking, mobile keys, mobile payments and mobile check-in into their operations. Other hotels are emphasizing the in-room experience, boosting bandwidth and upgrading flat screen TVs to more easily interface with guest mobile devices. And though not yet mainstream, there are many exciting technology developments on the near horizon. The Internet of Things (loT) is taking form in some places, and can be found in guest room control systems, voice activation systems, and in wearable sensors that can be used for access and payment options. Virtual reality headsets are available at some hotels so guests can enjoy virtual trips to exotic locations or if off-property, preview conference facilities and guest rooms. How long will it be before a hotel employs a fleet of robots for room service, or utilizes a hologram as a concierge, or installs gesture-controlled walls that feature interactive digital displays? Some hotels are already using augmented reality for translation services, or interactive wall maps, or even virtual décor. This pace of innovation is challenging property owners and brands to stay on top of the latest technology trends while still addressing current projects. The January Hotel Business Review will explore what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in the mobile technology space.