Ms. Love

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

The Four Levels of Service Awareness

The Impact They Have on Employees and Customers

By Jana Love, President, ProSolutions

"Optimal service awareness" begins with the team you have assembled to represent your organization. Great service organizations start the path to wowing their customers by training their employees on service awareness, which is actively paying attention to and understanding your customers and their needs. This training includes how to notice customer body language, to observe their surroundings for all customer touch points, and to react and respond with informed knowledge. This training is best conducted right at the job site, so that you are helping each employee physically see the opportunities to connect with the customer in their real-world setting. The value is once they see these moments in action, they are much more likely to be able to "catch" them themselves.

The training itself, though, isn't the biggest part. Holding employees accountable for this level of service is what makes the difference in shaping these behaviors. To do this successfully, everyone in the organization must first be on the same page in regards to performance. You can only hold someone accountable for what they understand. Make certain you have outlined exactly what your expectations are for the types of experiences you want your customers to have. Also, confirm what empowerment (monetary and otherwise) your employees need in order to make those experiences happen. Once everyone is on the same page, you must enforce the right performance. While "enforcing the right performance" sounds negative, the most important and successful way to do this is to catch your employees doing it right so you can acknowledge and reward their positive behavior. Not only do these actions motivate employees and promote loyalty, but their successful examples also inspire other employees and are an excellent training tool.

Before you ever get to the training phase, however, it is important that you choose your employees wisely. Some people come "pre-packaged" with service awareness, others can be trained, and then there is the large group of people working in the industry that are service deprived. We all experience each of these levels of service daily as we interact with various businesses. In fact, these are so common, that I have broken them into categories to create, The 4 Levels of Service Awareness. Understanding which category an employee falls into should definitely aid in the hiring and training process that you implement.

The Four Levels of Service Awareness

  1. Awareness Deprived - We have all experienced this level of service and asked ourselves, "Why were they hired for a service position?" This level has little regard for the customer's needs and no appreciation for their patronage. For example, this is an employee on the phone that clearly doesn't listen and asks the customer to repeat information several times, or one that shows no interest or is insensitive to a situation that has caused the guest problems. These employees don't belong in a service position and can do more harm to your business than good.

  2. Trainable Awareness - This level can be good, as well as challenging, in regards to how clearly they understand the level of service that is expected. It is positive because they are trainable, and they care about the material they are learning. However, it is important to be careful because what constitutes a memorable service exchange can look very different to each employee. Some employees will take the details of their job very literally, while others are more figurative. Both can cause issues. For example, consider the case of an agent taking reservations at a hotel that has been told to talk about the hotel services. This agent may understand that to mean on each call they should simply list all the features the hotel offers, instead of connecting with the guest by asking discovery questions on what interests them most and then responding with the most important features.

  3. Awareness of Convenience - This is the dangerous level, unless managed properly. This is an employee who is only half in. They may perform exceptionally well at times and be able to "wow" customers, but if providing friendly, attentive, and timely service is at all inconvenient, this employee will most likely not do it. These employees are often self-absorbed and don't mind showing off their frustration when circumstances are not optimal. To give you an example, this is the employee that receives another unexpected table in their dining section, but instead of rolling with the situation, tends to make it worse by fighting against it, resulting in none of their tables receiving good service.

  4. Optimal Service Awareness - This is the level that drives customer loyalty. This employee pays close attention to the customer, really observing how they use your business. What truly matters to the customer is what they act on to deliver memorable and personalized service. As an example, this is a server that greets the table and has the insight to assess the personality of the customer just by the unobtrusive questions they ask and listening for the verbal ques given. They are able to take advantage of the minimal information that is received through conversations and use it to further connect with the guest. They also tend to excel not just at reading customers, but also show more interest in developing their skills, as they understand the value this improvement has for themselves, the company, and the customer.

When hiring, especially in the service industry, don't just hire people who have the technical skills for the job, you need to make sure they can deliver the customer experience you need. Employees are investments, so insuring that you secure the right person with the best skill sets for the job is your responsibility, on a fiscal level, as well as, an HR level. I am a big believer in saving your investment. So, how can you continue to train those who don't naturally have the service level needed for the job they are in? You can try and shift their role to a better fit for their current skill set, and you can try to partner Level 4 people with others from Level 2 and Level 3 to see if they can function well enough to learn from the others. You will quickly learn if these employees are able to be saved or not. "A lot of times it can be easy to forget that, at the heart of it all, the travel industry - especially the hospitality industry - is really about people. We don't mean to, but sometimes, in the pursuit of efficiency and profit, we as an industry have forsaken our biggest and most important resource: humanity." Reported by Skift.

So how do we find service representatives with optimal service awareness when we are hiring? And what about the employees we already have? Try asking yourself questions to determine which of the 4 Levels of Service Awareness each employee is currently at. Does this person show that they are caring? Are they naturally friendly and sociable? During business situations and conversations, are they able to anticipate next steps? When you present them with a challenge, do they take initiative or seem tentative? The answers to these questions will allow you to hire smarter and give you better opportunities to retain current employees.

Once you have evaluated and organized your team as best as possible, you then must set them up for success in delivering memorable personalized service by understanding just how your customers collectively use your business. World class personalized service can only be delivered by companies who invest time, effort, and money in getting to know what their customers truly want and in many cases, need. This means you all must become customers yourself and use every aspect of the business. From the parking lot, into the building, and through every department, you must assess the ease of working with all features of the business. What does it look like, feel like, sound like, and does the operation of the business easily meet the user's need?

Disney is a perfect example of a company who has an intense attention for detail. At their resorts, each guest room door has two peepholes, one at the usual height and one for a child's height. That clearly shows their understanding of how much guests value the experience of their children when visiting Disney. Also, their park designer figured out that 27 feet is exactly how far an average person would carry trash before pitching it. You will notice in all their parks each trash can is 27 feet away from the next. That's putting customer understanding to good use to make the experience convenient for the parents, too. Without good intel on the things our guests value, we can't even begin to create "wows" for our customers.

Beyond thinking about our customers as a whole, or even as large user groups, what about getting to know each individual customer? Knowing your customer is when personalized service can be at its most effective use. The level of service that exemplifies "WOW" as a response, hits at an emotional level in the customer and is achieved only by capitalizing on personalized information. Remembering their name, their favorite drink, preferred table, and other likes or dislikes is what so many service "wows" are based on. You must clearly understand the customer's needs and expectations in order to deliver more than they asked for. Service providers have such an open opportunity to deliver the unexpected if they first truly understand the individual needs through the customer's eyes and not their own.

For employees to even think about providing a service that goes above and beyond expected, they themselves must feel their own sense of "wow." They must see and feel this from the company they work for, their individual department, their superiors and coworkers, and the examples that the company shows them as an employee. The employee that gets and delivers "optimal service awareness" feels the sense of excitement and passion that they know these acts of "wow" will bring to the customer.

Creating successful personalized service in your own organization is about these two fundamentals: finding the "optimal service awareness" employee by careful and purposeful hiring, and supporting those employees you already have with training and a clear understanding of the level of service expected. Also, these employees should truly understand the needs and wants of your customers, collectively and individually. We have such an opportunity to make a great impression just by the attention we provide to "our people," which are our customers and employees. They both want to be noticed and heard. Chances are your customers are doing business with some of the world's finest service organizations, and because of that, your company's service experience will be compared. So, you need to ask yourself, how do you measure up in comparison?

The secret to world class service is knowing the true customer and aligning all participating resources and people with the value stream that leads to that customer. - John Murphy

Jana Love founded ProShop Evaluation Services, Inc., after a successful career with Marriott International in sales and marketing. ProShop offered mystery shopping, evaluation, and training services to hospitality companies. Ms. Love then formed Shop2000 with two other principals. It was developed exclusively for Marriott Group Sales and Catering. In 2002, Ms. Love expanded the company's business resources and services and rebranded as ProSolutions, LLC. Offering customer service consulting, pricing research, mystery shopping and evaluations, performance improvement strategies, training, and program and certification development to such clients as Marriott International, Inc., The Ritz-Carlton Destination Club, Wyndham Worldwide, Loews Hotels, Urgo Hotels & Resorts, Davidson Hotels & Resorts, and Florida Hospital. Ms. Love can be contacted at 407-758-0263 or jana@prosolutions.net Please visit http://www.prosolutions.net for more information. Extended Bio...

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