This section was written by Thomas Padron.
The Essential Element
Customer service is incorporated into many aspects of everyday life. Throughout your personal and professional life, you will serve others in many different ways. While some do not see themselves as being in customer service we all are, in some way. Timm (2014) states that “The broad definition of ‘customer’ is anyone with whom we exchange value”. When applying this definition, you can more clearly understand how we are all in the business of customer service.
A definition of customer service is not easily conveyed in just one sentence. There are so many different factors that contribute to exactly what customer service is. The main point is that the countless definitions center around one central concern, the customer. The customer was previously defined as “anyone with whom we exchange value.” While service can be defined as work that is completed for others. So to put it simply, customer service is essentially “work completed for others in an exchange of value.”
Customer Service in the Hospitality Industry
The hospitality industry is at the center of the service industry. Businesses within the industry focus on customer service as the aspect that differentiates them from other similar businesses. They continuously strive to meet and exceed the ever-changing demands of the customer, knowing that there is no endgame. Many hospitality businesses and organizations serve as examples that other non-hospitality businesses often follow. While customer service is an ongoing and evolving aspect of an organization, it is a culture of customer service that guides every employee from the top down. When you think about the word “hospitality” it can draw many different thoughts, feelings, emotions as well as mental pictures of positive or negative experiences you may have had. Customers, or guests, have these same experiences and connections. It is the responsibility of the employees of each hospitality organization to create positive experiences when meeting customers’ needs and expectations. A central concept to also understand is that there are both internal and external customers in each hospitality business that require different types of customer service.
Levels of Customer Service
Defining the levels of customer service is difficult. While there is excellent, good, and bad customer service, the definitions vary, as there are many variables that can impact each customer service encounter. For example, the type of business, condition of the business, its location, the time of day, the amount of staff, and the size of the business are just some of the variables that may affect the level of customer service provided/received. At times, customer service can be seen as a moving target.
When considering levels of customer service, the key aspect is perception. For example, if you believe that you were delivering excellent customer service and the customer did not feel that the service was excellent, it is the customer’s perception and feeling that matters, not yours. As they are the customer, paying for the service and/or products, we are most interested in their experiences and how those impacted the value of their purchases as well as their intent to return.
For instance, if you advertise that you provide excellent customer service, that is a standard that you have set and will also be measured against. It is also a promise. This promise is something that customers take seriously. Consistently delivering excellent customer service is challenging and takes dedication and resources to ensure that the desired level of service is consistently attained.
With this in mind, there are definitions of basic customer service levels. Good customer service is meeting customers’ needs in the way they want and expect to be met. Superior customer service is exceeding customer expectations. Disney defines quality service as exceeding guest expectations during every guest encounter (moments of truth).
Customer Service Experience
Moments of truth can be broadly defined as any instance where a customer has an interaction with a business or organization. While the definition has been adjusted over the years, the concept came to be commonly utilized and originated by Jan Carlzon, CEO of Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS). He connected this concept to his organization and the interaction between his staff and airline passengers. Through moments of truth, customer service staff must anticipate guests’ needs. While this is not always easy to do, and guests are not always predictable, there is an art in reading guests and providing those expected and unexpected positive experiences.
Providing positive customer experiences begins with initial interaction. Consider the 10-5-3 System for Acknowledging Customers also known as the “Hospitality Zone”:
At 10 feet: Look up from what you are doing, and acknowledge the customer with direct eye contact and a nod.
At 5 feet: Smile, with your lips and eyes.
At 3 feet: Verbally greet the customer and offer a time-of-day greeting (“Good Morning”). Use a tone of voice appropriate to your work area or where you encounter the customer.
Another useful tool for creating positive customer experiences is the Three Service Rules according to Williams (2007):
The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.
The Platinum Rule: Treat others the way they want to be treated.
The Double Platinum Rule: Treat others the way they do not even know they want to be treated.
These tools key in on an integral aspect of customer service, paying attention to the smallest details. Customers enjoy being treated as if they are the most important person. While these tools do not exhaust the list of resources, they do provide an excellent example of what can be done with very little cost. Businesses, large and small, live, and die? based on their customer service, it is the central part of their reputation. Focusing on the “small things” of customer service is essential to business survival and success.
We have all had good and bad experiences. Take a moment to reflect on how you felt during those experiences. Your feelings and what you experienced are central to your level of satisfaction. When customers have good experiences, they are typically satisfied and there is a high propensity to return to the business. The inverse is true with a bad experience. The goal is to satisfy customers with a level of service that is so good that they return regularly and ultimately become loyal “regulars” to the business. Loyalty is the pinnacle of customer service achievement, as at this point, they have selected you as their business of choice for your particular service(s) and/or product(s).
Examples of Customer Service Success
When it comes to the success of an organization through their customer service strategies, many hospitality companies have set the bar high, causing others to emulate their tactics. Creating a strategy centered around the organization’s internal customers (employees) first, and the customers second. While this does sound counterintuitive to what has previously been mentioned, the following organizations demonstrate a more in-depth perspective. Glance, if you will, into their customer service strategies. and you will see that each has a common denominator, the internal customer comes first. Though the customer does take priority, it is the care and attention for the customer that is provided by the employee that creates the service experience. Through these positive experiences, employee satisfaction and loyalty are built. The following are just a snapshot of companies that have found success through successful customer service programs.
Ritz-Carlton hotels, one of 30 hotel brands in the Marriott International portfolio, have proven that their customer service strategy is among the best in the world with countless awards to numerous properties from several organizations that focus on the guests’ customer service experiences. The “ladies and gentlemen” of the Ritz Carlton hotels worldwide have set a standard by which all others are measured. They are led by a motto that while short and easy to remember is succinct and to the point, “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” This motto leads their lady and gentleman employees to serve their lady and gentleman guests with care and respect, providing a level of service that has many companies seeking to learn the Ritz-Carlton way. The company has benchmarked many service aspects through their “Gold Standards” which others have copied or emulated. Ritz-Carlton continues to set the standard for hotel guest service.
Hear from one satisfied Ritz-Carlton Guest: The Story of Joshie
Food and Beverage: Chick-fil-A
From a friendly “my pleasure” to remembering a guest’s name and even their favorite menu items, Chick-fil-A has developed a cult following for the genuineness and authenticity of its employees. While these two examples may not sound like revolutionary customer service tactics, guests and loyal followers are pleasantly surprised by the true nature of their experiences at the fast-casual chain. Chick-fil-A’s employees are trained to be courteous and authentic keeping customers, both old and new, returning time after time. The most talked-about aspect of the Chick-fil-A customer service experience is the customary reply of “my pleasure” from its employees. This small gesture of hospitality is what Chick-fil-A is known for, along with their chicken.
Take a look at a Chick-fil-A training video: Every Life Has a Story
Attractions: Walt Disney Theme Parks
Take a walk through any one of the many Walt Disney Theme Parks and you will notice incomparable attention to detail. Throughout each of the Disney parks, guests are treated to an original experience that provides four basic service priorities: safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency. These “Four Keys” can be seen at every turn, within every ride and attraction. These four priorities were the foundation that Walt Disney set for his first two parks and have ultimately been applied to Disney parks all over the world. Visitors return year-after-year to a place they know that truly is the “Happiest Place on Earth”. This perception is because the “Four Keys” have been thoughtfully woven throughout the entire guest experience. Every employee, referred to as cast members, is trained in these priorities. Each guest knows that they will have a safe experience, being assisted by courteous cast members, as they are fully immersed in the show, in a park designed with the guest in mind to provide efficiencies that will maximize their experiences.
Learn more about the Four Keys: Why Courtesy Is Not Always Our First Priority
Cruise Lines: Viking
Viking River Cruises, Viking Ocean Cruises, and Viking Expeditions have been ranked as the best cruise line in both river cruises and ocean cruises, an exemplary achievement given the size of both the river and ocean cruise markets. Their attention to detail provides ample crew members who attend to every guest’s needs throughout their journey and experience while aboard. Given the level of proximity with everyone being on a cruise ship, customer service interactions or moments of truth are constant and continuous, which provides the opportunity for the crew members and staff to serve their guests with personalized service every moment of the journey. Throughout the cruise including each port and destination on the itinerary, guests come to experience Viking’s level of service. These service aspects are the main reason why cruise lines, in general, have one of the highest guest satisfaction ratings in the hospitality industry. However, Viking takes the customer experience a step further by providing unique, exclusive opportunities to its guests.
See Viking Service in action: The Viking Way
Customer Service Careers
Customer service careers abound in all industries from front-line positions to corporate presidents. One thing to note, many of those in high leadership positions began their careers as frontline customer service associates. Customer service skills can be applied in many industries and these transferable skills are pertinent throughout the world of work, no matter your position or organization. While some people may not view themselves, their jobs, or even their companies as being in the service industry, we are all a part of it. Whether we are serving our internal customers or our external customers, service is at the heart of everything that we do personally and professionally. Some people are “born to serve” and are naturally service-minded and others may find their way into a career where their greatest pleasure is in serving others.
When you look at the list of best companies to work for, you will see that each has the distinction of being a customer service focused (centric) company. These companies range from construction, manufacturing, and retail, to software, technology, and finance, just to name a few. The traditional names of service-related positions abound, for example, Guest Service Agent, Representative, Supervisor, and Relationship Manager. Among these are new titles for those providing service to customers/guests.
A list of the newer titles includes, but is not limited to:
- Client Success Manager
- Client Support Officer
- Customer Advocate
- Customer Experience Specialist
- Customer Success Advisor
- Customer Trainer
- Customer Happiness
- Customer Delight
- Partner Support
- Customer Support Representative, Associate, or Coordinator
- Support SpecialistTechnical Support Engineer
- Technical Customer Support Expert
- Support Hero
- Support Ninja
- Happiness Engineer
- Customer Guru
Career Paths in Customer Service
Career paths provide a “way” in which to proceed towards your career goals. Whichever segment of the hospitality industry interests you, understand that there are a growing number of new opportunities every year. For example, a fry cook at a fast-food restaurant may have a goal of being the general manager of the restaurant and find that his path led him to be the CEO of the company (Note: This is a true story.) Know that there are countless connections between paths as you move through your journey. You may be focused on one career path and find out that you have a great opportunity in another path that may get you to your goal sooner. Stay flexible. You must be aware of these opportunities as they may provide more satisfaction for you than you originally thought.
Career paths typically referred to as a “career ladder,” are not always linear. Every person’s path is different, as we are all different and have unique life experiences along the way. Yes, many depictions of career ladders insinuate that your career will progress step-by-step from the beginning point to the endpoint, but this is unrealistic, especially in today’s world. Many times, life happens and plans get delayed or off course. The critical thing to note is that you have a career goal. Defining that goal is essential in your first step, no matter how big your career goals or aspirations. If you know where you are going, you know what you need to do to get there. That may or may not include some type of education whether that be workforce training, certificates, or degrees in higher education, for example. Whatever it takes, know that you have to put in the time and work to get there. Asking questions of those who are in positions that you aspire to is advantageous. Typically they are more than willing to share their insights as well as stories of their career path. Again, while no two people’s journeys are alike, their advice will be valuable for you to consider as you progress on your unique path to your personal career goals.
Soloman, M. (2017). These two customer service formulas can improve employee performance by 100%. https://www.forbes.com/sites/micahsolomon/2017/11/15/two-customer-service-expert-formulas-that-can-improve-service-performance-100/?sh=ba576196e09c
Timm, P. R. (2014). Customer Service: Career success through customer loyalty. 6th Edition. Pearson.
Williams, B. K. (2007). Three service rules: The golden rule, platinum rule, and double platinum rule. Hotel Online. https://www.hotel-online.com/News/PR2007_2nd/Jun07_GoldenRule.html