The 7 Secrets to Great Customer Service

Area experts pass on their advice to keep everyone happy 24/7



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Redefine Job Expectations //

Most in business today will tell you that making customers happy is the No. 1 expectation on either side of the dollar bill. 

Tania Koehler, general manager of the Courtyard Grand Boulevard and Residence Inn at Sandestin, incorporates this on a very basic level. 

No matter the job title, “The job isn’t the task,” she explains. “The job is to make our guests happy.”

Key to accomplishing this goal is empowering employees to do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer. Whether it’s branching out of a specific role — a housekeeper offering a free breakfast, for instance — Koehler enables her employees to do what they can as soon as possible to fix a situation.

Great Service Starts With Great People //

Hiring talent versus hiring hands is a key philosophical difference in the service-centered approach to hired help. 

Marc Bauer, who with wife Pamela owns the consulting firm Halcyon Hospitality, has a longstanding reputation for transforming businesses into customer service powerhouses. Together, they worked on several projects including Hotel Duval in Tallahassee, where Marc was general manager, and the Tallahassee Memorial Emergency Center – Northeast.

“I don’t necessarily go with someone for their experience,” Bauer says. “I am looking for a real spirit to serve and a hospitality heart.” He believes that a solid work ethic and engaging personality is key for any business, not just restaurants or hotels.

It’s the same for Richard Ross, the vice president of sales and marketing for Hilton Sandestin Beach.

“Team members can be taught skills,” Ross believes. “But personalities and attitudes are unique to each individual and difficult to instill in someone if that drive to serve is not already there.”

Koehler agrees. She considers the employment screening process to be key in finding great people. At her Howard Group properties they implement a multi-level application screening and interview process for all employees. She watches for cues such as smiling, sociable personality and team-oriented drive in every interview.

Focus on The Team at All Times //

A common denominator for superstar customer-service companies is a focus on the employees as a team or family concept.

Managers in any situation must be, first of all, great leaders. To Ross, that means “walking the talk” and exhibiting the very behaviors that he wants employees to emulate.

“Culture is key to keeping the team spirit,” Owen agrees. “Our staff are treated as part of a family.”

Like any family, Owen understands that what “parents” show, everyone follows. If management is passionate about giving customers an incredible experience, then it’s that much easier to get employees to follow suit.

Some businesses, such as Howard Group, enrich supervisors and employees by asking them to read management books. Koehler augments this with regular (and frequent) team meetings that focus on customer feedback.

“The hardest part of customer service is probably maintaining team spirit,” concedes Halcyon Hospitality’s Bauer.

He says that people have their own notions of what their job responsibility should look like, so you have to build and mold your talent to grow into your expectations. Involving staff in decisions helps make them stakeholders and not just employees. Welcoming different ideas and cultural expectations from staff experience is also a very valuable tool, Bauer points out.

Feed Your Employees //

A good diet of reward, motivation and encouragement is essential to building great customer service.

“Our employees are our best resource,” Koehler says. “And they must be treated well.”

She gives back to her employees by listening to what they need and giving it to them. Through her regular meetings and annual employee survey, she stays tuned in to what her team needs and wants to continue building the service ever better.

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