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5 biggest fails while learning Hospitality Skills

Delivering the best customer service is something everyone in the hospitality industry needs to learn; and to learn, we need to make mistakes.

While we all struggle to learn new skills, we thought it would be interesting to showcase the process and therefore have gathered stories from EHL students from around the world.

Let us present below the 5 biggest fails in delivering customer service excellence, stretching from clumsiness, stress and pressure to giving it all but underestimating your physical strengths.

Fail 1: Multitasking gone wrong

 

The day I forgot the lid on the smoothie mixer...

...after a customer changed his mind various times and I redecorated the entire P bar with a bright green color, I learnt an important lesson:

Multitasking is not an inborn skill and in order to master it, you need to first feel confident about all the things you want to multitask on a separate basis.

Indeed, it is crucial to be able to do some small talk with a customer while preparing their order in order to deliver good customer service. However, sometimes (especially during the first period your training) it can be difficult to juggle between preparing a customer's order and connecting with them.

“Today, I am an expert in making smoothies.”

It can feel overwhelming to be surrounded by colleagues who know what they are doing while you don’t however, there is no need to feel this way. Like most of the skills in the hospitality industry, mastering it comes with experience. 

“In order to acquire the skill of multitasking, I practiced the smoothie recipes and memorized every step of the procedure until I dreamed about it in my sleep. After that, I mastered every small talk and handling changes in customer’s requests with ease.”

The more you practice a specific task, the better you learn how to repeat it perfectly and before you know it, you will be able to master them while at the same time entertaining your customers.

Learn how to make the perfect green smoothie?

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Fail 2: Lost in translation

 

The day I served “lamb shank” to someone who asked for “Lapsang” (a type of tea)...

...I learnt that it is necessary to make sure you understand the customer’s request correctly before putting the order in the system.

“Yes, it was 3pm and I thought it was a bit unusual to have lamb at that time but the restaurant served food throughout the day so I figured the customer was hungry. Plus, let’s just be honest, I had no idea Lapsang was a kind of tea! Culinary vocabulary can be rather tricky sometimes.”

Indeed it can! And I am actually glad noone was there to witness the customer's face when I delivered the order...

Maximising customer satisfaction and delivering excellent service also means understanding the customer's requests or needs. 

In a world full of different cultures, it is impossible to know all the culinary vocabulary from the different countries and it is normal to feel somewhat lost when you hear a word you are not familiar with. However, you have to realize that you will never know all the words and terms your customers will use. This does not mean that you won’t be able to do your job in the best way: you will learn day after day how to deal with this type of language barrier.

If you aren’t sure about your customer’s request, just double check with them to see if you heard correctly: “Lamb shank, is that right?” and they will correct you.” Do not worry, they won’t get mad, they would rather you get their order correct the first time. Especially if you are a trainee, they will understand that you still need to gain experience and most of them will be happy to help you.

“I have learned my lesson. And I am now able to recognize more than 10 types of different teas. I am a tea expert and aficionado."

If language barriers can be a daunting challenge, working with people from all around the world is a truly fulfilling experience as you get to learn about different cultures and ways to interact with people with different backgrounds. Don’t let language barriers stand in the way of embracing everything a diverse workplace has to offer.

Discover some tea rituals from around the world.

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Fail 3: “Intention” to detail

 

The day I had to personalize a dessert for a birthday and accidentally misspelled the name of the customer...

...I understood how important it is to pay attention to every detail, even though some of them may seem useless at first.

While I was interning in a 5 start hotel, a guest called to book a table in our gastronomic restaurant for his wife’s birthday. He asked for our best table and if we could prepare a small version of our signature cake with the message “Happy birthday my dear Juliet!” How was I supposed to know that his wife was French and her name was actually spelled “Juliette”?

“Today, I can take phone reservations knowing exactly what I need to ask for in order to avoid this kind of inattention.Oh! and I can spell Juliette in French!"

Attention to details comes with experience (just like many hospitality skills) and can be extended further than phone reservations. In fact, customers don’t always have the judgment to tell us everything we need to know in order to make the service successful (and this is completely normal! It is our job to make sure everything goes according to plan, not theirs).

As much as you might think that confirming information or asking for precisions may annoy the customer, trust me it won’t. They will appreciate your attention to detail and will be happy to confirm everything to you. In addition, this will develop your relationship with the customer and help you make their experience more personal in the long run. Just think about how big brands personalize their customers' experience.

Discover the 3 steps to personalize your customer journey like the Ritz Carlton

Fail 4: Dressed to kill

 

The day my makeup melted because of the heat...

...I learnt the importance of adapting to the environment you are exposed to. Not all of them are the same and it doesn’t make sense to act as if they were.

“I used to work in a hotel in the Swiss Alps, where the climate was rather cold. Every morning, I got up to do my makeup before starting my shift (it definitely made me look less tired than I actually was!) and, except refreshing it after lunch during busy days, it lasted the whole day. After finishing my internship in this hotel, I wished to step into another culture and decided to undertake a new internship, this time in Dubai. I started my morning routine as usual: I woke up and put on my makeup to give me a more “awake look”. Little did I know that with the heat my makeup wouldn’t last through the first hour of the day.”

“Today, I know it is important to understand the environment we live in and being able to adapt to it”.

This is not as much a skill as it is savoir-être but it is equally important. Adapting to the environment you are in is a real expression of your overall skills in hospitality. In fact, how you present yourself is key in delivering a good customer service. First of all, it will put your customers in a better mood (seeing someone who is not presentable will definitely irritate them) and it will give you more confidence in yourself which in turn will result in a better performance on your side.

“I know, it is not very nice to see dark circles under your eyes due to tiredness and knowing you can’t really cover them unless you wish to look like a sweaty mess after the first hour of your shift however, this small switch will positively impact many aspects of your day. Not to mention that you can use the time you would spend doing your makeup to sleep a bit more and look less tired.”

Adapting to your environment means much more than the way you present yourself (even though it is a crucial aspect): it also means understanding and respecting the cultural differences. This is probably the most important part of the hospitality industry as you will constantly be interacting with people from all around the world and respecting them will be the foundation of the relationship you will have with your customers (and your colleagues) and will affect the service you will provide them.

Fail 5: Know when to keep your mouth shut

 

The day I congratulated a lady who was a bit overweight for her pregnancy...

...I learnt that sometimes keeping a certain distance with the customers in front of you is the best thing you can do.

“Sure, I only wished to be nice and congratulate her for the upcoming baby. Unfortunately the lady was far from being pregnant… To make things even more uncomfortable, I gave her a baby gift bag and asked her when her due date was. You can only imagine how embarrassing the moment was; both for her and myself. I literally said she looked fat and she obviously didn’t appreciate it. I had no idea how I could apologize to her. I thought about offering cookies along with her tea but immediately thought it was inappropriate.”

Of course guest appreciate nice gestures from their hosts. A free coffee or dessert.  However, you need to make sure that the context is appropriate. Either ask your colleagues or wait to see if the customer makes a clear reference to what gesture they would appreciate. This type of situation can be difficult to fix as the customer may be so offended as to leave at once.

“I had never truly understood the meaning of “know when to keep your mouth shut” until that day. It sometimes is not only better but necessary to keep your thoughts to yourself.”

If you find yourself in a similar unfortunate episode, I would recommend you to just go and deeply apologize, explain that you didn’t mean to be intrusive and were only trying to be nice and finally ask if there is anything you can do for them and remain at their disposal.

Again, this is not so much a skill as it is savoir-être and good sense. As a rule of thumb, never get too friendly with customers. First of all, it can bother them as they probably want to enjoy some time with their friends (or alone) without a third party interfering in their conversation. Second, you may find yourself in this type of embarrassing situation if you do not pay attention to what you say.

Indeed, hospitality is synonym with customer interaction and it is therefore important to strike the right balance between appearing too cold and too friendly. This will come with experience, you will learn to “feel” the customer, you will quickly learn to decipher the non-verbal language of customers to see whether or not they wish to interact with you and if they do, make sure you let them lead the conversation to avoid being intrusive.

Finally, in the hospitality industry we focus on the importance on having the right training if you want to deliver customer service excellence. Do not worry if you feel like you will never be able to know which details to pay attention to or how to read customer’s behaviour: it will come with time and experience. One thing is sure: you need to be passionate about what you do because if you are, it will be much easier to keep on practicing which includes making mistakes. All you need to do is learn from them.

Disclaimer:

We have been asked to keep these stories anonymous and so we will. But we also had fun re-enacting the scenes with our fellow EHL students for illustration purposes.

We hope you enjoyed it!