Category Archives: Hospitality

Your voice mail greeting is costing you business.

Angry Business Man Hears Something Annoying on His Phone

Of course, the best customer service is to have any person answer any phone ringing. But if you’ve decided that voice mail is acceptable, does your voice mail greeting sound something like this: “This is (My Name). I am either away from my desk or on the phone. . . ”  or “You have reached the office of . . .” or “You have reached the desk of . . .”  If yours sounds like any of those, then your voice mail greeting is costing you business.

Be your customer:

  1. In a phone conversation, there are two people on the line – your customer and you. With your greeting, of the two of you on the phone, who are you saying is more important – you or your customer? If you have one of those “I am either away from the desk or on the phone” you’re saying to your customer, “I’m so important that I have to tell you where I am even when I’m not here.” Now really, do you think your customer cares what you’re doing when you can’t take his call? Really?
  2. Do you really want your customer to think that you believe your office or your desk are animate objects that actually answer the phone on your behalf? Your customers don’t want a relationship with your office or your desk. They want one with you.
  3. When your customer calls you, do you think he really wants to get your voice mail?

Remember, the customer is paying for his experience, not yours. Whatever you think is your reason you give on voice mail for not answering the phone, whether you really are away from your desk or on the phone – your experience – is still perceived as an excuse by your customer for not being there – his experience.

So what should it sound like? How about something like this:

“At Your Service, this is Your Name, Your Position for Your Company. I apologize that I’m unable to take your call personally at this time. Press the one key at any time to begin recording. My email address is SPELL OUT YOUR NAME @Your Company. If you wish, please leave your name and number and the best time to contact you, and I will return your call. Thank you for calling.”

“At Your Service” . . . It’s a reminder to your customer that you understand what your role is in the business relationship. And it will certainly differentiate you from your competition.

“I apologize . . .” What the customer is hearing is: “Since I’m not here to speak to you as you expected, I want to apologize. . .”

“ . . to take your call personally . . .”. Customer service is all about relationships. Given a choice, people would always prefer to buy from people they know, like, and trust.  And people like and trust more those people who personalize the experience for each individual customer.

“Press the one key. . . ” so that they know what to do on future calls.

“My email address . . . “ Rather than play telephone tag, many callers who can’t connect with you on the phone will send an email immediately after hanging up.

“Thank you for calling.” People also buy from people who want their business. How do you show someone you want their business? Just say “Thank you.”

There is one group who will read this and say to themselves, “Boy, that’s over the top. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s only voice mail. I’ll just stay with my greeting.” There is another group who will read this and will say to themselves and others who work in their organization that they will adopt my VM greeting example because it removes a potential customer dissatisfier. They understand that they cannot begin to truly satisfy a customer until they remove all the potential dissatisfiers. That second group makes every effort to remove any potential dissatisfiers, even what they believe may be a small one because they “think like their customer.” And if it’s a big deal to the customer,  it’s a big deal to them. And that second group, well, they’re competing with the first group for the same customer and differentiating themselves from their competitors. Which group are you in?

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To be the World’s Best, Be Your Customer.

How do you get your customers to feel that their experience with your business is so over the top that they want to tell the world? In order for them to be that delighted, you have to answer this question for your customer “What would World’s Best look like?” or “WWWBLL”.  And it is not “World’s Best” as you or others see it, but it is “World’s Best” as they perceive it. Once you understand the expectation of WWWBLL for your customer, then you need to deliver that experience consistently. There are Three Principles to answering the WWWBLL question: Be Your Customer. Create Their Experience. Make a Difference.

Principle One of the WWWBLL Experience: Be Your Customer

To your customers, their perception is their reality. Jan Carlzon, then president of SAS Airlines, coined the phrase “Moment of Truth,” which defined any time a customer comes into contact with any aspect of a business, and based upon the collective sum of those “Moments of Truth” forms an unshakeable perception of that company.

Why is the male grooming standard at Disney theme parks so strict? If children are not brought to Walt Disney World by their parents, they are brought there by their grandparents. Ask Grandma if she would leave her grandchild in the care of the teen attendant with the body tattoos, long hair, beard and multiple body piercings – a Moment of Truth. Grandma may not say it, but she’s certainly thinking, “Of course not! If he’s not doing drugs, he’s probably selling drugs.” That attendant could be Disney’s Cast Member of the Month. It doesn’t matter. Grandma’s perception is her reality.

If you dine in a restaurant for the first time, have a decent meal, but, at the end, step into the restroom – a Moment of Truth – and you find it filthy, you may not return. You are thinking to yourself, “If the owner doesn’t feel restroom cleanliness is important, he probably doesn’t think it’s important in the kitchen either.” Your perception is that if the restroom looks and smells this bad, then how clean could the kitchen be. And your perception is your reality.

Customers buy with emotion and justify that decision with their own logic. Customers are willing to pay a premium, above what others might define as reasonable, because emotionally it makes them feel better. Think about a Four Star resort spa experience. The reality is that you will go into a private room and take off all your clothes. A complete stranger is going to come into that room and for fifty minutes touch you all over your body. And for that experience you are going to pay the spa about a hundred dollars. Realistically why would you do that? Because emotionally you believe you feel so much more relaxed, it was worth it. Your perception is your reality.

If you want to relax at home, envision yourself in a “Calgon, Take Me Away” moment, soaking in a bubble bath, surrounded by candles and listening to Kenny G. You can go to any dollar store and buy a pack of ten emergency candles for a dollar. That makes each candle just ten cents – very reasonable. But for some of you, that is laughable. If you are going to relax, dollar store candles just won’t do. You’ll go back to that spa and get one of their scented candles. The spa sells their candles for ten dollars each. You could get one hundred dollar store candles for the price of just one spa candle. One hundred candles! You could have a bonfire in the bathroom with those candles! But which candle would make you feel better? You’d say it’s because the spa candle smells like mango-papaya. I could tell you that you could go back to the dollar store to buy air fresheners, pop them open and put them all over the bathroom. But you’d respond that it just wouldn’t feel the same as how the spa candle would make you feel. And as hard as I might argue, your perception is your reality. You, thinking like a customer, are willing to pay a premium because it makes you feel better. Now you are being your customer.

QUI TAKEAWAY: Your customers’ perceptions are their reality and they buy with emotion. Their expectation of customer service is no different. Maya Angelou said it best, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” If your customers’ Moments of Truth interactions with your business are “wow’s” and, in the end, they feel great, they will be sure to tell their world of family and friends. So how do you create an experience that will emotionally bond your customer to your company?

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Filed under Customer Experience, Customer Loyalty, Customer Satisfaction, Customer Service, Hospitality

Thank you, Mr. Marriott.

You know you are getting older when, instead of attending birthday parties and weddings, you are attending funerals. I’ve come to realize that some of the greatest stories about individuals and their impact on others only seem to come out in the eulogies. Before I get any older, I wanted to express my admiration and appreciation for the example Mr. Marriott gave me as a leader and how it has formed by management style.

While still in college, I joined Marriott in 1976 as a charter member of Marriott’s Great America in Santa Clara. And just 5 years later, I was fortunate to serve as the opening director of services for Marriott’s 100th property, the Maui Marriott Resort, the first in the state of Hawaii. What I remember to this day was how Mr. Marriott would walk the backstage areas and greet everyone with a smile and a handshake. He didn’t wait for someone to approach him. He initiated the interaction. As managers, we all went through orientation where we learned the mantra of J.W. Marriott, Sr., “Take good care of your employees and they’ll take good care of the customers.” And in the gesture of Mr. Marriott, Jr. walking around to introduce himself to all of us, it was obvious the mantra wasn’t simply a slogan, but really something that drove the leadership philosophy of the company. While I left Marriott shortly thereafter I always remembered that example.

Eight years ago, while I was general manager, The Inn at Bay Harbor became the first Renaissance franchise in Michigan. While Mr. Marriott was not able to attend the conversion ceremonies, the regional team, all of the same generation as Mr. Marriott, exhibited the same genuine warmth in greeting all our associates and welcoming them to the extended Marriott family. And every Marriott regional VP has done that with every subsequent visit. That gesture was very apparent to me because I had not seen that kind of management culture since leaving Marriott.

Thirty-five years after my first day at Great America, I was the charter general manager of The Henry – Autograph Collection which for 21 years stood as the Ritz Carlton Dearborn. Mr. Marriott came through on a tour of the property. Since The Henry is a franchise, he did not have to do that during his two-day tour as there are many Marriott managed properties in Detroit. But he did. Serving many years as a Board member of General Motors, he had visited often when it was a Ritz-Carlton. Many of the same associates were there to greet him on his first visit to The Henry. We had the line of associates upon his arrival and he took the time to shake everyone’s hand. But what I remember was that on our tour of the property, he made it a point to acknowledge every associate as he had done in Maui.

Between my days in Maui and my time at The Henry, I have worked for other corporate hotel companies and had the chance to meet very senior staff and had them visit my properties. I can tell you that the genuine appreciation that Mr. Marriott shows on every visit to every associate just doesn’t happen in other hotel companies. And there just doesn’t seem the sense of collaboration, that “we are in this together” feeling that Marriott leaders create. The lesson here: It all starts at the top. A handshake and a smile from the Chairman may seem like a very small thing, but it certainly made an impact on my leadership style. From day one, I understood you simply can’t lead from the corner office.

I am sure many Marriott current staff and alumni have stories on how Mr. Marriott and Marriott International have affected their lives. What’s yours?

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Remove all the dissatisfiers: Forbidden Phrases

Your Number One work responsibility is to attract and retain customers. So how do you do that? Be the customer. When your customer interacts with you, you are not an individual. To the customer, you are your company. And as the company, you cannot begin to satisfy customers until you remove all the dissatisfiers. That means removing forbidden phrases. Forbidden phrases are those which could potentially give a customer a poor impression of you and your company. Here are just a few:

“I’m new here.” “I’m in training.” “It’s my first day.” Think like the customer. If he is going to pay you his hard-earned money, does he want to be served by a rookie?  If you were the customer, you would want to be served by the most knowledgeable person within the company. Your customer is no different.

“To be honest with you . . .” What is the customer hearing? “. . . because I lie to you the rest of the time.”

PROPER: Simply do not use any of these phrases.

“That’s not my job.” “I don’t know.” Think like the customer. “Well, it looks like you work here. Why isn’t it your job and why don’t you know?”  When you say “I don’t know.” you are saying to your customer, “I don’t know. They didn’t train me well and this company always keeps me in the dark.”

“I think . . .” or “I believe. . .” “What time does the mall across the street open on Sunday?” “I think 11 a.m.” Here is what the customer is hearing you say, “I have no clue, but here is my best guess. . . “

PROPER PHRASE: “That’s a very good question. Let me find out for you.”

“Okay.” Your customers may be parents. When they asked their six-year-old, “Are you going to clean your room before dinner?” and the child said, “Okay,” what were the parents thinking? When the parents asked their sixteen-year-old, “You’re going to be home by midnight, right?” and the teen said “Okay,” what do you think the parents were thinking? “Okay” to them means “Maybe. Maybe not.” So when you say “Okay” the customer is hearing “Maybe. Maybe not.”

“No problem.” Your customer has an expectation that his experience will be problem-free. No customer ever walks into your establishment and says, “Here I am. Here’s my money. Now dissatisfy me.”  When you say, “No problem.” your customer is thinking, “Why? Was there a possibility that it would be a problem? At the same time, “No problem” means “no problem to you.” What you are saying to your customer is, “Of the two of us, I am more important than you.” Not exactly being customer-centric are you?

“Okay” and “No problem” are saying to the customer, “We will meet your minimal expectation”. And since you are intent on delivering outstanding service, should anything simply be “okay” or “No problem”? Of course not.

PROPER PHRASE: Certainly. My Pleasure.

“That happens all the time.” For example, “The hotel key you just gave me doesn’t work in my door.” “Oh, that happens all the time.” Here is what the customer is hearing, “Well, if it happens all the time here, why don’t you fix it?”

PROPER PHRASE: I apologize. (More on this below.)

“Our policy is  . . .” What is the customer hearing? Here is what he is hearing you say, “What I am about to tell you will cover us. You’re simply not going to like it. But that’s your problem.”

PROPER PHRASE: Explain what the policy is but don’t use the word “policy.”

“I’m sorry.  We’re a little understaffed.” or “Someone called in sick today.” or “I’m sorry” plus any reason why you were unable to deliver.

The customer did not expect to be dissatisfied when he walked into your establishment. Any reason you give about why you did not meet his expectation is not being heard as a reason. It’s being heard as an excuse. He doesn’t want an excuse. The customer is paying for his experience, not yours. “I’m sorry” is your experience. Bluntly he doesn’t care how you feel. What’s in it for him? At the very least, it should be that you are giving him an apology.

PROPER PHRASE: Simply say “I apologize.” with no excuses and work towards a resolution.

QUI TAKEAWAY: Are there any forbidden phrases that are specific to your industry? “Checking in? or “Checking out?” for hotels. “Just one?” or “Are you done with that?” for restaurants. Identify and eliminate them from conversations with your customers and you will be on your way to delivering a better experience for them.

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Step One on “How to Wow”: Remove all the dissatisfiers.

The goal of any business is to attract and retain customers. In order to retain customers, you must provide service that will exceed the expectations of the customer. If you only meet the needs of the customer, there is a possibility that the customer will defect if there is a future choice of something new, different or less expensive. So how do you wow the customer? The very first step is to “Be the Customer”. Identify all the touchpoints within the interaction your customer would have with your business and remove all the potential dissatisfiers.

Imagine your business’s customer experience as a flipbook. Remember flipbooks, a booklet of a series of pictures that changed slightly from one page to the next so that when you thumbed the pages, the pictures appeared to animate. If one of those pages were upside down or blank, you’d actually go back to each page and find out if, in fact, one of the pages was defective. Of all the pages in the flipbook that were right, you focused on the one that was poor. It is no different for a customer interacting with your business. While most of the interactions with you and your staff were good, it only takes one associate to taint the entire experience.

So define each touchpoint and remove any potential dissatisfiers. As I conducted customer service seminars, I’d ask the audience to “Be the Customer” and write down what dissatisfies them. Over the course of the seminars, I collected a long list of customer dissatisfiers. They are found on my website at Download the list and if they could pertain to your company, then find a way to eliminate it. If you want to start creating your own list of potential dissatisfiers, then start asking your customers, “Is there any ONE thing we could have done to make your experience more enjoyable?” Each one of those answers is a dissatisfier. If you ask 100 people you certainly will get a list of potential dissatisfiers for any returning or future customer.

Eliminate even the smallest potential dissatisfier. For example, one of the key touchpoints is the arrival experience. The potential dissatisfier is that the person who has first contact does not consistently smile, maintain eye contact or greet each customer. Even if that associate does it 97% of the time, there are 3 out of 100 who will be dissatisfied with the arrival experience. So fix it and make sure it is done every single time. Now that you have made sure that the frontline associate knows to smile and make eye contact with every guest, then scrutinize the greeting. Is the first contact associate greeting the customer with “May I help you?” Believe it or not, that is a potential dissatisfier. Why should it be considered a forbidden phrase? If they are in your establishment, they obviously need help. Be the customer. Do you walk into a bank with absolutely no intention? Of course not. You are there for a reason. So the first contact person should greet each customer with “How may I help you?”

QUI TAKEAWAY: The first step in “how to wow” is to define each customer touchpoint. Then scrutinize each one to define if there is a potential dissatisfier and remove it.


Filed under Customer Experience, Customer Satisfaction, Customer Service, Hospitality, Training

Word of mouth advertising is NOT the best form of advertising.

I ask my audience, “What is the best form of advertising to build market share?” Invariably, almost everyone responds “word-of-mouth.” Yet I tell them they are wrong.

In fact, the reach of word-of-mouth has gone beyond just family and friends. People are turning to the internet to use sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Yelp and even Facebook to make buying decisions. While the reviews and advice are virtual, it is still word-of-mouth advertising. We do it now and most likely with technological advances, will do it even more. For some reason, while we don’t know these people, we trust their reviews. Michael Angelo Caruso, communication consultant, says it like this: “If I tell you how great I am, it’s advertising. If someone else tells you how great I am, it’s the truth.”  We will trust the reviews and the ratings of complete strangers over advertising. But here’s the catch. We not only are looking at the good reviews. We’re making a buy or no buy decision on the poor reviews, too. For example, if you’re looking for a hotel you may veer away from one that has posted reviews of paper-thin walls or poor housekeeping. A bad review will hurt you more than a good one will help.

So simple word-of-mouth, be it in person or on the internet, is not the best form of advertising. The best form of advertising is “positive word-of-mouth.”

There are three things that happen after someone does business with you.

  1. You do not meet the customers’ expectation, and he is dissatisfied.
  2. You meet his expectation but, in his mind, did nothing to set you apart.
  3. You exceed his expectation where he wants to continue to do business with you.

QUI TAKEAWAY: So exceeding a customer’s expectation is the only outcome that actually builds your business. But it takes more than exceeding a customer’s expectation to drive positive word-of-mouth advertising. In order for someone to become a raving fan, that customer must experience an interaction that is simply over the top. They must walk out your doors and say “Wow, that’s the best thing that has happened to me today.” Without the “wow” there is no rave review. And if you are not generating consistently positive rave reviews, you simply are not generating enough positive word-of-mouth advertising to build your business.


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Filed under Customer Experience, Customer Satisfaction, Customer Service, Hospitality, Training