Throughout university, I worked in hospitality – both on the reception of a luxury boutique hotel during my summers, and as a cocktail bartender during the term time. So I know how the industry works, and what makes it tick.
I also know that staff turnover is notoriously high. You can understand why, too. There’s no end of people looking for part time jobs, either while finishing at school or to fit around other jobs to make ends meet.
This creates its own problems, though. The hospitality industry is built around, well, hospitality. So often have I fallen in love with a place almost solely on the quality of its staff – specific members of staff.
So imagine the disappointment a customer feels when they turn up to their favourite bar or restaurant, only to find that the person who made is so special has moved on. What do you do?
I believe that great service is like any other relationship. It starts off superficial, then builds over time. So as a regular customer, you can quite easily expend a fair amount of effort in building a rapport and a relationship with one or a number of members of staff at your favourite hotel, bar or restaurant.
With that relationship comes some level of ‘preferential’ treatment. I say preferential in inverted commas, because it’s a bit of a dirty word when it comes to everyone being treated equally. Like it or loathe it, though, people who like you are going to treat you differently to a first time customer.
This may be with the odd free drink, or not needing to put a card behind the bar for a tab. Small tokens of recognition that say they trust you and appreciate your custom.
Small though they are, these innocuous gestures pay back dividends in terms of the bond the customer will feel with both the member of staff and the place they’re visiting.
So you can imagine how it can all go wrong when someone leaves, or several people do. Most places don’t have complicated CRM systems that can track every customers’ likes, needs, any freebies they’ve earned, spending habits etc. Even the ones that do, rely very much on the conscientiousness of the staff to enter the details.
Suddenly, you, as the customer, are back to square one. The chasm in the level of service you feel – even though it’s surely minor in reality – is huge. Comments such as, “This place has really gone downhill since so-and-so left” abound.
The reality is, the base level of service hasn’t really changed, but you’ve lost that relationship with a particular member of staff that made the place feel really special.
In place like Las Vegas, casino hosts, who look after the real high rollers, are prized for their little black books filled with details and contacts of the biggest players in town. The big players follow their hosts, too – so when they move to a different casino, the high-rollers go with them… and bring their profits.
The point is this: the high turnover of staff in the hospitality industry is at odds with the very thing it aims to deliver.
Staff are not incentivised to stick around. The lower level jobs in the industry are seen very much as stepping stones, as part-time gigs. The problem, is that the people working the ‘lower-level’ jobs are the people who can deliver the single biggest impact to the customer in terms of level of service.
It’s not something everyone can do, either. It’s a skill in its own right, and should be rewarded as such.
Those people who provide excellent customer service, who know their customer needs inside-out, should be prized and richly rewarded. A happy, almost emotionally invested, customer will spend more per visit, and will visit more regularly.
Are you ever going to be able to guarantee people won’t change jobs, move on? No. Of course not. But those managing bars, restaurants, hotels, need to make sure they have in place really robust handover and succession plans. The people leaving should be downloading all of their knowledge into their successor.
Even better, they should be encouraged to make notes as they go along. Create their own little black books, that are there for all the employees to refer to. So when a customer is due in, and it’s their favourite member of staff’s day off, or they’re ill, or they’ve left, the level of service and knowledge about them is uninterrupted.
Ultimately, from a customer’s perspective, they don’t care about the challenges of staff turnover, or the mechanics of continuity of service. They just know that they want great service, and they certainly know when it has fallen short or they don’t get it.
Most importantly, though, bars, restaurants, hotels, cafes and everything in between that depends on great customer service need to do better for those that provide it. They need to incentivise their best members of staff to stay. They need to reward them.
They need to put these people on pedestals.