Industry Update
Opinion Article 3 April 2017

Customer Service – Or Just Lip Service?

By Gary Hernbroth, Founder of Training for Winners

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If you are a road warrior, things like this have happened to you.


I placed a $20 bill on top of the front desk at a major brand hotel, and asked the front desk agent if she would please break it up for me, for tips and such. She immediately extended her arm and… pointed me in the direction of the other side of the lobby.

"Sorry," she said, not too apologetically, but more like she was explaining directions to a tourist. "They don't give me a bank out here." I must have looked quite perplexed to her, as she added, "You see that Starbucks over there, across the lobby? They'll make change for you."

It was the morning. We all know what the line at a Starbucks in the morning looks like. Forget it.

Well, well, well. The front desk customer service approach sure has changed since I spent my time as a management training candidate out of college at the Westin St. Francis many years ago.

Back then, we were given banks, with plenty of money in different denominations. And all crisp new bills and washed coins, too. We were not only customer-service driven, but we did it with some style and class, too.

Another hotel, another city, and another moment for the customer service Hall of Shame. It was a major brand "limited service" hotel. The pantry located next to the front desk had 5 shelves, which are typically stocked with candies, snacks, toiletries, and other such items that guests may need and want to purchase.

Old Mother Hubbard would be sad to find that this cupboard was virtually bare. I counted 4 small single-serve bags of potato chips, 12 mini-boxes of detergent, and 3 Slim Jim snack sticks in a box that was lying on its side. A sadder scene I'd never seen in a hotel.

I asked the front desk agent about getting some cookies or a snack other than potato chips. He shrugged and said to me quite matter-of-factly, "Oh yeah. They usually just stock us once a month (this was a busy corporate travel hotel in a business section of town, mind you), and nobody has been able to go to Target in a while."

"Oh? Where is Target?" I inquired.

"Right across the street," was the answer. Thud.

Scenes like this, and many more, are being played out in hotels everywhere, every day. Sure, many wonderful, shining moments of customer care are also happening. But shouldn't we as an industry pay better attention to what helps drive customers away?

I recently used stories like these in a luncheon keynote address I made at the recent CH &LA and AAHOA conference held in May in South San Francisco, titled "All Hands On Deck." There, I exposed my audience to my concept of the "Get 'ems" and the "Keep ems."

The concept is simple. The external sales team is really the "Get 'em" team – they are out in the marketplace pursuing customers and booking group contracts. They get 'em in. The internal service team I call the "Keep ems," whose job it is to do what they can to keep the guests coming back and not running off to the competition. Their JOB ONE is to keep 'em in.

It's cliché to say "everyone in our organization is member of the sales team." Sure they are, or at least should be. I hear this all the time. It is rarely the case.

So I say "prove it."

I asked my audience at CH&LA (mostly hotel operators, general managers, and owners) to think about what was REALLY happening to the guest back at their hotel in room 425 or 620. I pointed out that while hotel management and ownership groups are adept at understanding the STR Reports and RevPAR indexes, how in touch are they with the day-to-day happenings in the "foxholes" back at the hotel?

While we espouse to brag about our customer service on our websites and marketing materials, is that REALLY what is being delivered at the front desk, in housekeeping, in the restaurant, on the phone?

Often times, many guests can be put off by simply what comes out of the mouths of hotel staffers, as in my examples above. Oh, it isn't that they intend to say dumb, illogical, or insulting things. They just do. I call those things "Bozo-isms" in deference to Bozo the Clown from my childhood years on Detroit area TV. Bozo-isms are rampant. They run the gamut from "That's not my job" to "I don't know why they sent you here," "Everybody complains about that," "It's our hotel policy," and so on.

Immediately after my luncheon address, one enthusiastic vendor attendee shared a Bozo-ism she herself encountered at a hotel recently. "I had asked a hotel staffer whether they could do something for me, and their response knocked me over," she said. "'That's above my pay grade, ma'am' was all they could say to me. What kind of service answer is that?"

Space limitations preclude me from laying out all of the actions hotels and hospitality organizations should be doing to insure that their internal service team REALLY IS a fully-functioning extension of their external sales team. So let's just start with some fundamental X's and O's that can have a positive impact on your guests' satisfaction, their loyalty to your hotel, and thus – ultimately – your bottom line:

  1. Let's try to stay out of our own way – The service industry can be a grinder. Let's not make it tougher on ourselves by saying the wrong things to guests. You might as well serve soup in a dirty cup or leave spots on the bathroom mirror as respond to the guest such as the ways illustrated here;
  2. Think like an owner – Everyone on the service team must understand their part of the bigger picture as a stakeholder, and be empowered to think and act as if they owned the place. It is the role of management to make this clear and set the rules of engagement;
  3. Accountability – Everyone owns a piece of this. No departments or individuals on the team are left out of being held accountable for their deliverables to the guests or each other;
  4. Communication – The red-headed step-child of all things that go wrong. But why? Communication means a lot of things – Verbal, written, person-to-person. It must be clear and understandable both internally and externally. Some of my hotel clients are going to "no email Fridays" as a place to start, to get people talking to each other again. Easier said than done, but this fight is worth it.
  5. Collaboration – Everybody pitches in; If one of us is in trouble, we all are in trouble – All hands on deck to help fix an issue or make it happen for the guest. Working in silos is NOT welcomed here!
  6. Comaraderie – Your people have to want to care about each other, to give a darn enough to pitch in together. Problem-solving together and coming up with a home run for the guests or the team is in itself a terrific team-building moment;
  7. Having a sales/service mentality vs. a transactional mentality – When you are selling, you are providing a service, and when you are providing a service, you are in essence selling, too – selling the guest on the fact that through your excellent service you are reinforcing the fact that they made the right decision in coming there. They are being "re-sold' for a return visit.

All hands on deck, sure. All hands on deck doing the right things, consistently, and together? That's where the real gold lies. Don't just claim to do it. That's lip service. Really delivering it at a high level of excellence? Now THAT's customer service.

Gary Hernbroth

Gary Hernbroth is a nationally recognized and acclaimed professional trainer and speaker, specializing in the hospitality & meetings business. He founded Training for Winners after 18 years of hotel sales/marketing/operations management experience. Graduate of The School of Hospitality Business, Michigan State University.

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    Gary R. Hernbroth
    Chief Motivating Officer - Training for Winners
    Phone: +1 925 736 9392
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