Service has to go the extra mile

Customers expect higher standards than ever before from hospitality visits

WITH competition in the on-trade arguably tougher than ever, there has never been more pressure on venues to be good at what they do.

And from community pub to fine dining restaurant, top quality customer service is now expected as standard.

Paul Chase, director of CPL Training, said people now have higher expectations when it comes to customer service.

“Quite simply, we’re looking at the death of mediocrity,” he said.

“Customers expect a visit to exemplify high standards and won’t return if it doesn’t.”

Mark Phillips, communications manager at Highfield Group, the qualifications and e-learning firm, agreed.

He said: “It’s always been vital in the hospitality sector, but the public have higher expectations these days and are much less willing to tolerate poor customer service and make their thoughts known on websites such as TripAdvisor.”

With the number of international visitors to Scotland rising every year, venues are increasingly being judged on a global standard, and so there is an argument that quality customer service is even more important in parts of Scotland than elsewhere in the UK.

Nicola Reid of Diageo Learning for Life said Scottish hospitality operators now need to be ready to “deliver world-class service to visitors from around the world”.

“Giving customers the best possible service will encourage repeat custom and maximise sales, in turn giving the company a good reputation and improving their success,” said Reid.

She added that there are a number of important areas staff can be trained in, including “more practical skills such as efficient service, professional attitude, slick performance, or more personal skills such as awareness of your surroundings, understanding the requirements of your customers and conflict resolution”.

Louise Ramsay of DG Training said she has had requests for “more specific customer service training courses such as food service, bar service and successful selling”.

“These courses are usually delivered in-house at the client’s premises and tailored to that establishment’s needs and service standards,” said Ramsay.

The ability to look after customers goes beyond the technical skills of making and serving food and drink, however.

Chase, at CPL, said: “The basics of product knowledge and the ability to advise customers on choices must, of course, be there.

“But staff need to know how to engage with customers, make them feel special and valued because a ‘night out’ is an emotional experience – it’s got to feel good.”

He was supported by Andrea MacAulay, a lecturer at City of Glasgow College, who said the most important skills for a member of staff to possess are “listening to their customer, knowing their customer and exceeding their expectations”.

Ramsay at DG Training reckoned that the message seems to be getting through to operators.

“I think the trade is realising the importance of skilled staff to ensure repeat business and to stand out from the crowd in this competitive industry,” she said.

Phillips, of Highfield Group, agreed, saying good customer service skills have become increasingly important to employers in the sector.

He said: “Employers value staff who understand good customer service principles, such as meeting customers’ needs and expectations, communicating effectively with customers and updating them (particularly when there may be delays to orders and so on), and responding genuinely to any issues or complaints.

“And of course all employers want staff with good interpersonal skills.”