AS the economy stagnates and consumers carefully manage their discretionary spend, the challenge of attracting customers to bars, restaurants and hotels is great.
But excelling in customer service is one way bar and restaurant owners can give their outlet the edge.
Speaking at the annual Scottish Tourism Week conference earlier this month, Crieff Hydro boss (and chairman of the Scottish Tourism Alliance) Stephen Leckie said achieving a consistent quality of service is a challenge businesses in Scotland can’t afford to ignore (see story page 6).
People are making decisions where to go based on quality.
“Investment in buildings is important but it’s also important we invest in our people,” he said.
“We mustn’t lose sight of the people who deliver our product.”
Leckie’s views are shared not only by tourism businesses but others connected to the trade, including drinks firms.
Ian McLaren, product training and mixology manager at Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands, said offering quality service and drinks is “imperative” in the current economic climate.
“People are making decisions where to go based on quality,” he told SLTN.
“Operators who really focus on quality and consistency across the board will reap the rewards.
“We’re busier than ever at the moment. I think people are realising they need to up their game.”
For Colin Lamb, operations and training manager at Tennent’s Training Academy in Glasgow, operators still view customer service training as a priority, even though significant investment must be made in training staff in the letter of licensing law.
“This is reflected in our most popular courses at Tennent’s Training Academy, which are SCPLH (Scottish Certificate for Personal Licence Holders), first aid and food hygiene courses, which does show that there is a big focus in Scotland for ensuring individuals are complying with current legislation,” he said.
“However, over the last six months we have seen significant demand for customer service training from both large and small operators and individuals, and we are now running courses weekly to keep up with the demand.
“I think in Scotland sometimes customer service can be a bit hit or miss and this is something that all businesses need to keep focused on in order to maintain current and attract new customers.
“Staff need to understand what kind of service they are expected to carry out and why it is so important to the success of the business.
“Similarly, those staff who have received training previously who are longer term staff also need to be reinvigorated and re-inspired regularly to help maintain the focus and avoid any slips in service standards.”
McLaren also emphasised the need for ongoing training.
“The nature of the trade means there’s often a fairly regular turnover of people, particularly for larger operators,” he added.
Staff need to understand what kind of service they are expected to deliver.
“With this constant churn of people, for the good of your business you need to keep it [training] going.
“It’s particularly important to focus on quality training for spirits – spirits can make a huge difference between you and the bar next door. You can grow your business, and profits, with spirits.”
While some might baulk at the prospect of shelling out for training at difficult times like these, Lamb takes a diametrically opposite view.
“With so many operators and offerings currently available to customers, having a reputation for delivering consistent, excellent customer service could be the deciding factor over others for customers to visit,” he added.
“Not only can investing in customer service training benefit a business in terms of increased revenue and profits, it can increase staff morale through engagement and motivation.
“In the current climate many operators may feel they cannot afford the time, resources or expenditure associated with training their staff on customer service over and above the required legislative training.
“In my opinion, especially with the economic climate, I would ask the question: how can you afford not to invest in training?”