January 18, 2011

Quality Customer Service – still not universal despite the risks

Illustration: Paul Slater/The Cutter Gallery

hospitality(hos¦pi|tal¦ity) Pronunciation:/hɒspɪˈtalɪti/ noun
the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. (Oxford Dictionary)

Five years ago, I had a spray at some Australian hoteliers whose staff still held to the long obsolete greeting of “You right there?” – a festering indicator of inadequate front-of-house training and persistent, complacent practices.

Just back from an “undercover” road trip from Canberra to Coober Pedy, it was revealing to sample the great disparity of service levels still evident in our hospitality network. A wide range of country pubs, caravan parks, rural hotels and CBD properties all reminded me that despite our rapidly rising international tourism profile, many establishments were sorely lagging in their basic attention to the guest experience.

In the age of Trip Advisor and Facebook, hotels risk serious backlash for upsetting guests with everything from reservation mix-ups to stained bedding. I am firmly of the opinion that whether you are a 5-star international brand or a humble B&B, your guest experience should be your primary goal and failure to address that is a fatal flaw in the management plan.

Speaking from many instances of personal experience, my hair now stands on end if I am addressed with “Are you right there?”. Okay, this offhand blow-off now seems to be retreating to the more remote establishments better suited to servicing the needs of blue singlet-clad long-haul truckers and dusty opal miners tonguin’ for a schooner, but that’s no excuse. Regardless of your Triple A rating, if a staff member’s automatic response to a patron’s inquiry is to deliver a “what do you want, can’t you see I’m busy?” greeting, this is quite often a clue to a deeper malaise. The incompetency cluster usually extends to other areas like cleanliness, dining and general maintenance and a pointer that someone in the management team needs a dose of “radical career guidance”.

In that unrestrained rant five years ago, I also noted how our friends across the Tasman seemed to have an instinctive understanding of “hospitality”. A recent anonymous trip again reconfirmed my belief that Australians appear to need to work against their natural tendency for nonchalance and indifference. Convict DNA perhaps?

Want to know what I really think? See my TripAdvisor page

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