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Customer Service

July 25, 2004

by Kit Cassingham

"As you wish" should be the innkeepers motto. The meaning of hospitality is found in the customer service you provide your guests. Your success is found in your customer service. Learn the language of service, and teach it to your staff, and enjoy your profits and success.

In 1987 when the movie "The Princess Bride" came out, I fell in love with a phrase that was used throughout the movie -- "as you wish". I thought it would be wonderful to have people say "as you wish" to my every request. With time I came to realize that was also the perfect phrase for the hospitality industry, if not for every service business.

Last year I read an article on the "language of service" where it talked about words and phrases that supported or detracted from service. "The Princess Bride" phrase returned to my mind as part of my recognition that the article was echoing my attitude about hospitality and service.

But we can't talk about service or hospitality without a discussion of the other aspects that are entailed in those ideals. Service is more than the language used -- a few key phrases. Service is also action. The action of your decisions creating the venue and atmosphere as well as in your every day treatment of your guests. Without those everyday basic actions, no well-turned phrase of service or hospitality will matter.

Leona Helmsley prided herself in creating the perfect guestroom in her hotels. An ad she ran for awhile showed a hotel room with a caption like "What's wrong with this room?" The room had a large closet, was clean, loaded with amenities, and well appointed. The answer to her question was "There are no extra pillows or blankets in the closet." Her attitude was that a guest shouldn't have to ask for anything because the staff had anticipated and taken care of it all before you checked in. That's one example of the action of service.

Action of service I've seen innkeepers take that speaks volumes about service and hospitality ranges from guestroom to common area appointments as well as rules and policies. Here are nine actions an innkeeper could take that would make guests more comfortable:

  • a lamp on a bed-side table on each side of the bed, with a three-way bulb in each lamp
  • a tissue box placed on each side of the bed and in the bathroom
  • reading lamps beside reading chairs, with sufficient wattage
  • wastebaskets in all the places waste is created (sink, toilet, desk, coffee/beverage station)
  • long breakfast hours
  • umbrellas beside the front door for guest use
  • a phone in each guestroom and a high speed internet connection
  • complementary snacks and beverages always available
  • flexible check-in and check-out times

Once you have your hospitality and service foundation established, will your guests find the action of service during their stay? Are guests greeted with an offer of a snack or beverage? Is that offer repeated during their stay? Do you offer to make dinner reservations for your guests, or discuss interesting dining options with them? Are there enough hangers in guest closets that they can hang everything they brought on their trip? Those are some of the details comprising service and hospitality.

Have you trained your staff to be on the lookout for service opportunities? When a guest is looking around, say on the floor, do you check to see what they need or lost? When they are fidgeting have you checked to see what they need, be it more coffee or another cookie, or a lap throw because it's gotten chilly? That's well-tuned action of service.

I was shopping in Target one day when a shelf bracket hooked the epaulet of my blouse and ripped the button off. I searched the floor for the button so I could make the required repairs. A clerk or manager saw me looking around, stopped to help, and then offered to have Target tend to the repairs for me. That's action of service!

And finally, the language of service. When a guest makes a request is the response "as you wish" or "you betcha"? Both imply that the guest's request will be satisfied; one is more formal while the other is more casual. It seems society is more casual these days, but I propose that the language of service shouldn't be allowed to slip into a casual tone because a more formal response is more gracious. Allowing your staff to respond to guest requests with phrases like, "sure", "all righty", or "you betcha" may undercut the hospitality you have worked so hard to create and develop. I believe that variations of "gladly", "right away", "of course", and "most certainly" -- or even "as you wish" -- are phrases to use at your inn.

In our busy world I've seen the language of service not only get more casual but to also become nonexistent. I hear excuses for why the guest's request can't be granted. I've heard flat refusals for denying a guest what seems like a simple request. What kind of hospitality is that? What kind of service is that?

There may be requests that can't be accomplished because they are illegal, against your moral or ethical beliefs, or are physically impossible. A gracious response is still due the guest, using the language of service.

The edge B&Bs have over most hotels is personal service. That service is seen in language and action. It's seen in flexible rules, heartfelt interaction, and an environment designed to give a sense of comfort and belonging. If an innkeeper loses that edge then their B&B is no different than a hotel. If it's no different than a hotel then why would guests come to that B&B instead of a hotel? And the B&B's guests certainly won't return if that service edge is lost; return guests (and referrals) are the bread and butter of every B&B.

The action of service and the language of service will give you the edge to thrive through slow times because of competition, recession, or terrorist attack. Learn the language of service to succeed, "as you wish".




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