Ms. Nedry

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Nervous Service

By Roberta Nedry, President and Founder, Hospitality Excellence, Inc.

"Well, shake it up, baby, now, (shake it up, baby)

Twist and shout. (twist and shout)

Cmon, cmon, cmon, cmon, baby, now, (come on baby)

Come on and work it on out. (work it on out)..."

These wonderful lyrics from The Beatles remind me of summer but lately they've been reminding me of something else... Nervous Service! Call it shaky, call it uneasy, call it anxious, high-strung, sensitive or walking on pins and needles. These kinds of service experiences make the guest want to TWIST and SHOUT!!! What happens when employees are so focused on their duties, so concerned about management's expectations, so worried about letting co-workers down? Nervous service can bumble the job! Walking the line between expectations and service delivery can be challenging. How can employees better understand the seamless delivery of service and how they can have fun doing it without the jitters? Can hotels and hospitality organizations "work it on out"?

There are all kinds of nervousness as noted above. One type is excitability or rather "undue "excitability. When we dined in a new beach area restaurant, open only two weeks, we were quickly unexcited about our service experience. Our waitress was quite pleasant and seemed enthusiastic about her new role and environment. When we asked questions, she seemed quite eager to respond and assured us we would get the particulars of our order. We allowed our expectations to rise to match hers in serving us. When another server brought our order, it was all the wrong stuff. She was not there to oversee the delivery and we had a tough time flagging her down. She seemed a bit concerned but whisked the dishes away with nary an apology. Seems like the kitchen was too excited to pay attention to the orders and just sent out the food. She was too excited to pay attention to our order quality, delivery and satisfaction. And, then, to top it off, we reached for salt and pepper and the containers were empty. Seems the staff was too excited about setting the new tables and forgot to check if the shakers were filled. Lots of attention and excitement to opening a new restaurant. Little attention to the service and details that make a difference.

At a major national retail store, selling lotions, spa products and fragrances, a friend and I encountered the tense, flustered and confused kind of nervousness. The lady who served us was determined to show us all the specials but could not articulate the details of any of them. In the middle of our transaction, once we helped her sort out the product confusion, she stopped everything she was doing for us to turn to new customers who had just entered the store and asked if she could help them. She explained to us that she had to interrupt our sale because it was 'store policy' to greet everyone as they walked in the door. She was agitated and anxious and so were we. She just could not figure out how to communicate product knowledge, complete our transaction and address all new/incoming customers at the same time! She became more flustered and confused as more activity took place. As we were now late to a lunch appointment, she finally completed our sale. She then asked us if we wanted some free samples. When we said yes, she said we would have to wait for them because she had to help the other customers! That's what you call nerve-racking nervous service!

What was so interesting about that experience is that she had been trained to handle things in a specific order and used zero judgment in delivering service. I don't think she even knew how. She had been equipped with knowing how to do the process. She had not been equipped with the skills and confidence to serve. She had been trained in product specials. She had not been trained in product knowledge about those specials. When actions like this take place and circumstances do not flow together, everybody gets nervous and nobody gets satisfied.

On another date, I had just completed a relaxing facial at a well-known international spa. I floated out of my therapy room and drifted up to the front desk to settle my bill. Up to this point, the staff had gone out of their way to create a peaceful, easy environment. Their treatments and service had calmed me down and I was ready to quietly embrace the rest of my day. It was not to be. The front desk was abrupt and confused as they looked for my bill. They fumbled and fussed as they tried to assemble my services and products. They were irritable, on edge , apprehensive and defensive. Their bill processing bumbles instantly frazzled my nerves and made the rest of my experience null, void and unpleasantly memorable. They seemed to be completely disconnected from the serenity of the spa and were under a strain to make my parting moments peaceful. They did not view their jobs as part of the guest experience and were most concerned about front desk procedures and accuracy and they were nervous about it!

Another kind of nervous service is the fearful kind. This is when an employee is so nervous about doing the right thing, especially if their manager is watching them, that they make the guests and customers nervous. This happened in a bar of a major hotel in the Hawaiian Islands. We had just ordered Mai Tai's and then decided to change our order to something else. We asked the waiter for a more unusual drink which he did not recognize. We then asked him to ask the bartender, who was also apparently his manager. He seemed nervous to do so, especially since the manager appeared busy. When he did finally approach him, he was given a flat no and scurried back to tell us. There was no attempt at teamwork in serving us what we wanted and no role model or service leadership from this employee's manager. Instead, our very nice waiter seemed afraid of making a mistake and moved nervously from table to table. He had been unnerved in developing his own service confidence and did not appear to have any guidance or support in making guests feel comfortable.

The flip side of nervousness is confidence and sureness. We walked into an Italian restaurant in London and were warmly welcomed and seated. It was a cold night so our waiter asked us if we needed more heat and if the table position was to our liking. Our six year old son was with us and this waiter invited him to check out some of the interesting parts of the restaurant while we waited for our order. He used wonderful adjectives to describe menu items and recommended menu selections we would not have considered on our own. He engaged us in a sincere way and was cool, calm and collected with each interaction. Before we knew it, we had spent a lot more than we had planned because he was so effective and confident in creating our experience. He made the meal and evening entertaining and meaningful for grown-ups as well as a child. He was fun and obviously had the instincts, attitude and training that make ordinary moments extraordinary. Service confidence is a real factor in effective delivery at each touchpoint. His decisive delivery made a direct impact on the bottom line.

Whether it's the jitters, the willies, the heebie-jeebies, the jimjams, the jumps, the shakes, the quivers, the trembles, the dithers, the all-overs, the butterflies, the shivers, stage fright, fidgetiness, panic, trepidation, tension, or pressure, nervous service of any kind does not work in service delivery.

Keep the following in mind to ease the tension when nervous service shows up or before it does:

  • Pay attention to the excitement of effective and seamless service delivery. Don't let excitement overshadow effectiveness and quality. Make sure the front, middle and end of any service experience flow together and that attention to detail is constant.
  • Make sure employees have enough product knowledge so they can be confident with menus, products, services, amenities and all aspects of a hotel or hospitality environment. They must internalize the information, not simply memorize it. Design training or use professional trainers to include role plays and real examples to do just that.
  • Introduce service skills to go with each step of procedures and operations. Make sure efficiency does not overrule effectiveness. Show employees how they impact each moment of a guest experience, no matter how brief the interaction. Give them perspective from the guest's point of view and show them how their intentions may differ from guest perceptions.
  • Give employees confidence to do their jobs and support them in making good decisions. Be a service leader and understand management's responsibility in being a service role model. Encourage them to focus on doing things right rather than what they might do wrong. Scolding demotivates. Recognition motivates.
  • Look for symptoms of nervous employees: robotic employees who seem disconnected from reality, staff outcasts who seem to have trouble functioning with the rest of the team. Find out why and do something positive about it.
  • Meet with staff and discuss confidence and comfort levels with meeting service standards. Create an environment where managers are encouraged to coach nervous players and notice the signs of nervous service.
  • Consider a service delivery buddy system so each player can spot another's service nervousness. They can report to each other and their supervisors if need be. Get everyone's awareness up....shake it up!
  • Empower employees to go above and beyond to create memorable experiences. Map out potential guest experiences where they can impact the flow of events, even with something as simple as a 'welcome', a smile or eye contact. Give them training and tools to build their confidence so they can be cool, calm and collected. Don't be unnerved, unmanned, unstrung, undone, reduced to jelly, unglued, shaken, upset or dashed. Don't let employees get a case of nerves, a spell of nerves, an attack of nerves or be in a state of nerves. Have the nerve to do something about it. You'll be less nervous about the bottom line when you do. Don't be a fool... be cool.

Better yet...

"Well, work it on out, honey. (work it on out)

You know you look so good. (look so good)

You know you got me goin, now, (got me goin)

Just like I knew you would. (like I knew you would)!"

Roberta Nedry is President and Founder of Hospitality Excellence, Inc. and has spent over 32 years exploring, delivering and managing guest and customer experiences and service training. She helps organizations to reach levels of exceptional service and regularly consults with executives and managers on transforming customer experiences. Her Hospitality Excellence Team is internationally recognized for its expertise in creating customer experience strategies that zero in on and inspire the DNA of each client yielding enhanced internal employee experiences and external customer and brand value. Ms. Nedry’s diverse background with both public and private companies allows clients to draw on her extensive career experience for business solutions. Ms. Nedry can be contacted at 877-436-3307 or roberta@hospitalityexcellence.com Extended Bio...

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