TECHNOLOGY MAY BE THE ENGINE; PEOPLE ARE THE FUEL
Technology has changed everything. The internet was used by approximately 90 million American adults to make travel plans during the past year, with 76 percent of online travelers planning leisure trips online.
Most see the Internet as a very useful or essential tool for planning a trip, including choosing where to stay overnight, planning travel routes, and discovering potential places and attractions to visit. New data from a Ypartnership/Harrison Group survey of American travelers show that nearly a third of all cellphones in the U.S. now smartphones. And nearly 20 percent of U.S. travelers have downloaded one or more travel-related apps to their smartphones.
The consumer does not only search and buy, but also provides commentary and content. The new dynamic in which the user generates further content paves the way for social media commentators to influence other travellers, suppliers, products, and services. We see this in action as we upload our own videos and tweet consistently.
No surprise, then, that the use of technology has also led to a decrease in the extent to which visitors make calls, especially to a travel agency or airline, state and local tourism office, car rental agency, or hotel, and to your box office or ticket office.
So I wonder, does it matter that these transactions involve no person-to-person exchange?
Ten years ago, I planned my first trip to California for a seven day period with my partner and two kids. We planned to drive the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The hotels we stayed in, the places we ate, the cultural attractions we visited were researched and booked through the internet. The first human I encountered was the receptionist on arrival at our hotel in San Francisco. He was friendly and calm, which was good, considering our baggage had been held over in Denver, it was late, we were hungry, and the kids were just on the edge of being badly behaved. The receptionist saved the evening by calling the airport, booking a family friendly restaurant nearby, and in addition, suggesting an activity the following day. Hotels know the business they are in; keeping their customers content, and wanting to return.
And here’s my point: if technology is driving traffic to our museums, theatres, and cultural institutions, are we prepared to receive our patrons as gracefully and as efficiently as we think we are? We are in the experience business -- the first human interaction our customer has with us can enhance or detract from how they feel.
A whopping 68 percent of consumers visiting a place for the first time report that rude or discourteous behavior influences their decision to return.
Learning to identify and analyze customer needs and problems; recognizing the most common reasons for customer complaints; and discovering ways to cultivate and maintain special customer relationships are essential to improving your relationship with your audience.
Figuring out what customer service means to your organization can be a challenge. Thinking about customer interaction from a variety of standpoints helps; was your staffer dealing with a request, inquiry, or problem? If the service was excellent, why? If it was not, why?
When questioned, reasons for service slips include; ‘I don’t have enough time”; “People are stupid”; “I don’t have the back-up I need”. Your customer wants your representative to invite them back, listen, value, greet and help them.
For example, years ago, as the front of house manager of a 900-seat theatre in Glasgow, Scotland every night along with the house ushers. I welcomed and said goodnight to every customer. Most people would smile, or say “nice to see you again” or ask a question, but when leaving the theatre, the interaction was different. If they had had a good time, many would tell you that “it was grand”, and if the play was problematical, they would shake their heads, look wry, and say “better next time”. But our message was the same – it’s great to see you, we welcome you, please come again. Simple enough, right?
If you want your staff to make service a priority, you have to show them you consider it a priority. Consistently.
Improving people skills may not cost a great deal. Here are some tips:
- Let your staff share this week’s horror story at staff meetings, and use it as a learning tool for what went well in the encounter, and what did not.
- Routinely discuss online material, videos, books, blogs, articles, newsletters and ezines that cover people skill topics.
- Find ways to engage your customers in direct and open conversations. Moreover, make this a regular occurrence, not an annual chore.
- Create easy and quick ways for your staff and customers to give you feedback. Then act on it or they’ll stop sending it your way.
- Ensure that information from the point of contact, where your customers and frontline staff interact, is shared across your organization. This is where your organization lives, yet many managers never see or hear or feel it.
- Aim on continued improvement as an everyday way of doing business.
- Reward your employees if they hit the bar you set.
- A friendly smile, warm greeting, genuine concern, smart solutions make a difference.
Technology may be the engine. People are the fuel. People first. Always. The last thing we need is for twitter or facebook to bite us where it hurts…
Pick one of these tips and implement it. Then another, then another. With each one, make sure you’re happy with the results before starting the next one. But don’t strive for perfection. Remember, improving customer service is a process, not an event. It’s about making ongoing change. Perfection can be the enemy of change. You’ll improve as you go so you don’t need to be perfect to keep moving forward.