Monday, May 28, 2007

Whose Side Are You On, Anyway?

Call me late to the party. I didn’t pick up Danny Meyer’s wonderful “Setting the Table” until last month, whereupon I devoured it with the sort of unbridled pleasure that I normally reserve for dessert. Don’t be deceived; this richly detailed book is a substantial main course. To flog that food metaphor one more time, it’s a banquet of great customer service wisdom, distilled over the twenty-plus years that Meyer has been operating his restaurants in New York. I’m abashed to confess that I have been a customer of none of the diverse restaurants that make up the Union Square Hospitality Group, which include The Union Square Café and the Gramercy Tavern.

There are several wonderful themes running through this book. One is Meyer’s refreshingly frank description of the challenges of delivering great hospitality and the tactics he’s used to ensure guest satisfaction. For those of us who experience each lapse in our spa’s performance as a personal failure, it’s heartening to remember that failure is an inevitable part of the learning process. An accomplished Michelin-two-star chef I know explained to me very matter of factly, “On any given night, I know that 3% of my guests will not be completely satisfied.”

It’s only a failure when we don’t learn from these experiences and use them as an opportunity to make our companies stronger and our guests happier. The concept of continuous improvement, the Total Quality Management concept of “kaizen,” acknowledges that perfection is a never-ending journey, not a destination. Meyers offers himself as a companion on this journey for any willing “hospitalitarian.”

Another theme of “Setting the Table” is his description of his deeply committed path of service to others through food and hospitality. Many of us will recognize ourselves in his desire to maintain that visceral customer contact, even as his company grows past 1,000 employees and six unique restaurants.

Meyers’ gift here is expressing his philosophy in ways that are easy to understand and still resonant and fresh. I particularly enjoyed the concept of making sure that guests feel that we’re “on their side,” when they encounter disappointments or obstacles such as a fully committed schedule. This concept is one that you can instantly share with your spa team. Indeed, most of our employees are emotionally on the guest’s “side”, yet when they can’t grant a customer’s wish, find themselves feeling defensive. I’m not even talking about rudeness here, just the uncomfortable necessity of pushing back, resisting, or turning someone down.
Many spa operators will find employees acting as what Meyer calls “gatekeepers”, pushing back firmly against un-grantable customer requests, without conveying to that guest how much you’d like to grant their wish—even when you can’t.

Here’s how that conversation typically would go with a guest calling your spa for an appointment for herself and her two daughters this Saturday:
GUEST: I’d like to make an appointment for three facials this Saturday morning around 10 a.m.
SPA RESERVATIONIST: Oh, I’m sorry. We’re completely full on Saturday. Can I check another date for you?

While technically this is a correct response, and doesn’t violate any obvious laws of customer service, think about what’s happening for the guest. She’s made a request and been—nicely—rebuffed. She may be feeling disappointed. She may even be feeling foolish. The reservationist, while polite, has not conveyed empathy beyond the expected “I’m sorry.” And by offering another date, the reservationist hasn’t really acknowledged that the guest is probably disappointed or frustrated by this turn of events. One moment, she’s eagerly calling us, ready to give us her business. The next minute, she’s shot down.

How can we let this guest know we’re on their side?

Here’s how I’d “rewrite” the response:
SPA RESERVATIONIST: I’m so sorry, I would really love to get the three of you in for treatments this Saturday, but it looks like we’re currently full. Can I put you on my waiting list for a cancellation? We’d be delighted to give you a call if anything changes.”

Regardless of the guest’s response, we should also offer, “Would you like me to check an alternate date for you?” or even suggest a possible Plan B if there’s an obvious alternative (for this guest, we could offer a Sunday instead of a Saturday if it were open.) Too often customer service agents play a game of “guess what I’ve got in my hand?” forcing customers to recite a litany of their own alternatives rather than proactively offering suggestions.

This type of response honors the customer’s desire to do business with us and lets them know we would really like to welcome them to the spa and that we are going to make an extra effort on their behalf. It also relieves some stress for your customer service front line. It sounds elementary, but next time you listen to your team, ask yourself, “Are they making our guests feel like we’re on their side?” It may surprise you. It’s a subtle adjustment, but the emotional impact is tremendous.

1 comment:

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