How to make memorable customer experience a hallmark of your Hospitality
Keeping a nationwide hospitality team of over 14,000 people upskilled, engaged, and motivated is challenging enough at the best of times. Even more so when preparing for the hospitality industry’s biggest reopening in living memory.
As Group Head of Learning & Development for Marston’s PLC, Jane Murray is no stranger to such challenges, having had that very brief on her desk since the middle of 2020. Jane and her team are responsible for the largest training rollout in the company’s long history. One that doubles down on the experience of customers, over and above all else.
We caught up with Jane to find out more about the nuts and bolts of how to deliver consistently excellent customer service. And to ask for the advice she would give hospitality operators faced with the reality of having to deliver more with fewer staff.
Click the video to watch the conversation in full or read on below for a handy summary of some of the key takeaways.
Your people are the differentiator
Teaching effective ‘soft skills’ is fundamental for any customer-facing role, and none more so than for those in hospitality. Particularly when 7 out of 10 consumers say they’re prepared to pay more to frequent businesses that offer great service1.
However, it’s one thing to have a policy of ‘greeting customers with a smile’ or urging staff to ‘always go the extra mile’. But what do those terms really mean in practice?
For Jane and her team at Marston’s, learning to have authentic interactions with customers is what elevates ‘OK’ service to ‘great’. These can come in many forms; making a personal menu recommendation, offering to take a group photo, or spotting that a family with young children might need a highchair before they ask.
It would, of course, be impossible to make an exhaustive list of every potential eventuality in a service environment. But by offering hospitality training that uses true-to-life working scenarios and examples you can give your people a behavioral blueprint for work.
Exposing them to the kind of situations they are likely to face in their day-to-day roles in a safe, repeatable environment is ideal preparation. One where they can make mistakes with no negative consequences, take the learnings, and be better prepared next time around.
Competing on great venues, the quality of your menu, or even original experiential ideas will only get you so far. If your people are not in a position to deliver on the promise of the great day/night out that your customers crave then you are fighting a losing battle.
Achieving more with fewer staff on board
Outstanding people are the key ingredient to delivering outstanding hospitality. But with many hospitality staff having left the industry as a result of the pandemic, a lack of people is a challenge that the majority of operators face today.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of people working in hospitality in the UK alone has dropped by more than 355,000 between 2020 and 20212.
As someone who is no stranger to the issue, Jane had the following 3 key pieces of advice to fellow hospitality operators:
- Prioritize what your guests care about: With limited resources, it’s vital to double down on the things that matter most to your customers. Going back to the basics of your core offering is the order of the day. Strip back any unnecessary complications and make sure your customers are first and foremost getting what they expect from your business.
- Keep your existing staff engaged: For those staff members you do have onboard, it’s vital to keep them motivated and enjoying their jobs. You’re likely asking them to handle more responsibility than they might have initially expected. Make sure that is backed up with the trust, active listening, and (where possible) the extra training they need to excel and progress.
- Make your business an employer of choice: It’s on your team to demonstrate how hospitality is a career with huge opportunities to grow. Or even just a community-sprinted environment for part-time or temporary staff looking to earn some extra money. With fewer candidates in the market, competition for new faces is likely to be high for the foreseeable future.
Going beyond role-play training
A traditional method used in hospitality training is the often ‘dreaded’ role play.
When done right, effective role-playing exercises can help build up your team’s confidence, develop their listening skills, and encourage creative problem-solving. Particularly when dealing with demanding customers or unexpected circumstances.
There’s just one problem. Not everyone relishes the idea of standing up in a group environment, in front of their peers and having their abilities critiqued.
More fearless team members may embrace the chance for a little amateur dramatics at work. But for those of a milder disposition, role plays might be something to be suffered through. More importantly, these team members won’t take nearly as much from the sessions as you might hope.
It’s an issue that Jane identified when considering the ideal solution for training her people at Marston’s. By opting for gamified simulation training, her team was able to reap the benefits of role-play but in a format that allowed staff to sharpen their soft skills at their own pace. Without having to stand up in front of the rest of the class.
What’s more, the data and analytics produced by their simulation training allowed Janes’s team to spot some interesting trends. Those sites that trained the most were scoring significantly better in customer service.