US Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association

Two of the most important phrases in service excellence are, “I don’t know” and “Let me find out”. As opposite as they may be, both phrases speak volumes about the service culture on a team. One wreaks of indifference and apathy, while the other expresses ownership and initiative. One of the words, has absolutely no business on a team where service is supposed to be paramount. The other should be the minimum standard that EVERYONE is held accountable to.
Banquet Server
Early in my hotel career, one of my jobs was as a banquet server. In that role, my job was to serve guests at catering events such as wedding receptions, holiday parties, etc. One evening, there was a large banquet in the hotel ballroom that began with light hors d’oeuvres (pronounced “awr durvz”) during the welcome reception, followed by a formal dinner. So I retrieved my tray of hors d’oeuvres from the cook, without bothering to study what the items were. I figured that by merely glancing at them, I would know enough to explain to the guests what the items were.
Before I made it out to the ballroom, however, the chef stopped me and began quizzing me on the items on my tray. Of course, I did not know what they were. He looked me in the eyes and said, “You are not a professional “, then walked away. I was crushed. I then went back to the cook, who I retrieved the hors d’oeuvres from, and learned how they were made, what were the ingredients and found out everything I could about each one. Before I went back to the ballroom, I found the chef and told him about each hors d’oeuvres. He looked at me again and said, “Now, you are a professional”.
Takeaway: It’s never ok to be half-way competent, on
purpose. If you don’t know something, find out.
During a hotel stay last year, I was in the mood to eat sushi for dinner. So I asked a front desk employee about where I could find a nearby sushi restaurant. She said “I don’t know”, and left it at that. I went to another employee, Jake, who was a few feet away and asked the same question. He didn’t know either but immediately went to find out. Jake then gave me two options that were less than five miles away. He then asked if I could wait a moment while he found out the exact address and hours of operation for each restaurant. Jake not only returned with these items, but also printed the menus for me.
Takeaway: Get excited about learning something
new that can help the customer.
It’s one thing to not know. It’s another to be content with not knowing. The front desk agent in the previous story was obviously satisfied with not knowing. Whenever I see an apathetic employee, the first thing that goes through my mind is…”You must have a very poor manager who allows you to work here AND have an indifferent attitude”. I saw a statistic once which showed that over 60% of customers stop patronizing a particular business because of an attitude of indifference on the part of a company employee.
Takeaway: All it takes is one employee to turn a customer away
forever. Conversely, all it takes is one employee to turn
a customer into a loyal ambassador of your business.
Make no mistake…people will do whatever you allow them to do (or not do). Inevitably, that indifferent attitude will get even worse (and infectious) when it becomes clear that the manager is not going to address it. On the other hand, morale soars when standards are high and expectations are clear.
Takeaway: Never, EVER tolerate indifference on your team.
Regularly share information with your team and ask them to come up with a list of “commonly asked questions” that your customers have. On a weekly basis, challenge everyone to share one thing they learned over the past week that could benefit the customer (and/or the team). While being knowledgeable is critical, there will be times when  you honestly won’t know the answer to a customer’s question. It may seem simple, but offering to find out the answer PLUS giving a little more information can have a tremendous impact on the service experience. It shows that you care. As I’ve written previously, service really is about genuinely caring. No matter what the question or request is, as long as its legal, ethical, and moral, find out. Your customers will appreciate it, you will have pride in your job, and your team will develop a stellar reputation for being exceptional.