“Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.” - Walt Disney
“Every great business is built on friendship.” - JC Penney
“Good service is good business.” - Siebel ad
Service is one of the most important commodities that is offered in the tourism industry. People want to be treated well and want to feel comfortable in a friendly setting on their vacation. It is up to you to create the atmosphere where your customer can make long lasting memories in the Northern Ontario wilderness. Remember, you want them to come back and bring their friends!
What is Customer Service?
Customer service is all about how your business serves the customer. That is how your customers will perceive your operation; by the treatment that they receive. The focus of your entire operation must be the guest. Everything that you do will be reflected in the quality of your customers’ experience.
Customer service involves:
treating your guests in a friendly, professional manner
positive interactions with your colleagues and staff
quality care and maintenance of your facilities
The advantages of good customer service are repeat business and free, word of mouth advertising.
DELIVERING THE BEST POSSIBLE CUSTOMER SERVICE
Customer service must be a planned, essential component of your business strategy. There are three areas of importance in the delivery quality customer service:
A customer service policy
Leadership in customer service
Staff training in customer service
1. A Customer Service Policy
As part of your business strategy, you need to develop a customer service policy. This policy will be the “big picture” view of your operation. Remember, the view must be from your customer’s perspective, not yours. Your customer must feel that they are getting the best possible service from you and your staff.
In order for your policy to be effective, all of your employees must be familiar with it and deliver it at all times. Your vision of customer service has to be evident at all levels of your operation at all times. Everyone, from you, to the teenager cutting the lawn, must be able to deliver the same, quality customer service. When it comes to customer service, your business is only as strong as the weakest link.
Your policy may include commitments to:
always please the guest
never to offend or argue with a guest
address all concerns to the guest’s satisfaction
maintaining a friendly and open attitude
service with a smile!
2. Leadership in Customer Service
In order for your vision to be successful, you must be an active part of customer service. The commitment to top quality service must come from the top - you. By interacting with guests and being involved with delivering customer service, you can get a better understanding of their perceptions of your establishment. Think of customer service as developing a friendship with your guests. Every great business is built on friendship. (JC Penney)
The way you deal with your colleagues, sales people, and most importantly, the way you treat your employees, will be evident to your customers. Your employees can not treat guests well if they are not treated well themselves. Your day to day interactions set the tone for your operation. Make your positive interactions part of your customer service policy.
3. Staff Training in Customer Service
It is good policy to hire people that enjoy working with, and serving people. This type of person usually has the following qualities: a good sense of self esteem, maturity in making decisions, a positive attitude, good interpersonal skills, and a genuine interest in people. Employees with a pleasant personal appearance and good hygiene always make a good impression on guests.
Training your staff in customer service skills can also go a long way. Many colleges and even high schools are offering customer service certification. You may want to check out some training certificates offered by OTEC’s (Ontario Tourism Education Corporation) such as:
Your staff should, at the very least, have some practical training in your particular type of customer service and understand the importance of your customer service policy to your business.
SPECIFIC CUSTOMER SERVICE CONCERNS
For most Outfitters there are several areas where good customer service must be evident:
Reservations - either by phone or on line
The front desk - create first impressions
Dealing with complaints
Reservations are usually done over the phone or by email. Reservations are usually preceded by an inquiry about your operation, especially by new, potential customers that are shopping around. All inquiries and reservations should have the personal touch and each request must have a custom made response. This is your first impression on a guest or potential guest and it can make or break the sale. It also sets the tone for future interactions with this person as a guest at your resort. Nothing turns off a potential guest as much as a “canned” response! People get automated responses for most things in life; they want the personal touch on their vacation!
Reservations should suit the customer’s needs. It is best to ask some questions of your guest so that you can accommodate them and their party, to the best of your ability, with the resources on hand at your operation. Ask them for the dates that they would like to book and offer them alternate dates if your facilities are fully booked on the dates that they requested. Ask for their arrival time, number in party, and any special requests (e.g. cot, crib, pets, etc.). Once they are booked, advise them of your cancellation policy. From there you can ask for a deposit (usually on a credit card). Spell the guests name properly and send them a confirmation of their registration. It is a nice touch, when the guests do arrive, to address them by name. For an even higher level of customer service, your staff should be advised as to who is arriving and address and greet each guest by name.
Cancellations do happen on occasion, usually for reasons beyond the guest’s control . If a guest decides to cancel their vacation, you should try to book them at another time. If that is not possible, remind them of your cancellation policy. In most cases, their deposit will not be refunded but, it is a nice touch if you can offer them some sort of discount if they re-book at another time.
When booking repeat customers, you should make every effort to be personal and have some idea of their history. These people are part of your extended community and consider you as “friends”. It is up to you to thank them for their continued “friendship” by treating them with personalized service. If you operation is large, and you can’t remember all of your repeat customers, then it is a good idea to have a customer history card or file on hand to refresh your memory!
2. The Front Desk
Your front desk, or place where you do business transactions, is another area that will create a first impression. This area should be neat and clean and allow some privacy for the transaction to occur. Customer service is all important here and you should be courteous and professional but, personal whenever possible.
If the guests are checking in, review their reservation and ask to determine if they require additional services. Review all of the features that are part of their vacation package. Let them know that they can always check back with either you or the staff if they need assistance. If they are checking out, ask them if they enjoyed their stay and if you could do anything to improve their stay. This is a great time to get customer feed-back if you are running a small operation. Always address the customer by name and smile! Small talk is fine, but don’t let it get in the way of the transaction.
After they have departed you can update their customer history card or file.
Phone calls should be taken promptly. You and your staff should have and use a standard greeting for your operation. If you have to put someone on hold make sure that you ask their permission to do so. Phoning them back at their convenience is always an option.
Take messages down in writing and include: date and time, name of the person calling, reason for calling, and name of the person that took the message. Let the caller know when they can expect the return call.
3. General Assistance
Guests will have many questions about the amenities and services of your operation. In order to make your life easier, it is a good practice to have your employees trained in all aspects of your operation. Employees should have a basic understanding of your business and must be aware of all services that are offered to the guests. Guests will and do seek advice from your employees especially if you are not available.
Having a good background of the local area is also important. Most guests are not from the area and are interested in the history, culture, and resources of Northern Ontario. Guests may also need to do some local shopping and want to do additional sight-seeing. Employees that are knowledgeable of the area and who can offer directions are invaluable to your customers!
Information cards or pamphlets can be placed in cabins or guest rooms but many customers feel that this is too impersonal or too institutional. For a small operation the personal touch is an important part of the vacation experience.
4. Dealing with Complaints
At some point in your Outfitter career, a customer will complain about some fault of your operation. Consider all complaints as feedback from your customers; an opportunity to fix something that is broken. Most customers (anywhere from 70 to 90%) that have had a problem with a business do not complain. They just don’t return. Or, they bad mouth the business to their friends.
When you deal with a complaint you are righting a wrong. It is your duty to please a guest and encourage them to return. Do not take complaints personally. The way that you deal with a complaint will reflect on your business and the quality of customer service of your operation.
The basic guidelines for handling a complaint are:
Be calm and professional, focus on the complaint not the guest
Acknowledge the problem, ask questions and ask for details
Apologize and show your concern for the customer
Offer a solution if the customer was inconvenienced
Implement the solution
Follow up to ensure that the customer was satisfied
Learn from the complaint
When it comes to complaints, remember that the customer is always right. Your business depends on how the customer perceives your operation. A complaining customer does not want to be belittled, or educated as to how you run your business; your customer just wants satisfaction. They want the quality of accommodation and service that they paid for.
Sometimes complaints can be used as suggestions to improve your business and solve problems in your operation. Many larger businesses have survey forms in their cabins, guest rooms or restaurants. This may be too impersonal with a smaller operation but you can still receive feedback from your guests. Journals can be placed in the guest rooms or cabins. Guests may feel more comfortable just jotting down a few words at their own convenience. Sometimes the best way to receive feedback is by having a friendly, open conversation with your guests, at their convenience or at check out time.
A Customer Service Culture, from The Outfitter, by Doug Reynolds, Summer/Fall 2005
Super Host Program: Mark of Service Excellence, from The Outfitter, by Sandi Coppinger, Nov/Dec 1995
Ten Golden Rules for Great Service, from The Outfitter, by Dr. Francis Buttle, December 1993
Service Quality, from The Outfitter, by Tracy Mullins, March 1993
The Customer is Always Right, from The Outfitter, October 1992
Quality in the Service Sector, from The Outfitter, by Lynelle Wisneski, April 1992
Service, service, service, from The Outfitter, by Bruce Gravel, Nov 1989
OTEC. Outdoor Guide Training Manual. Franklin Field Services. 2000.
Lodging Operator’s Manual. BC Motels Campgrounds Resort Association. 1997.