Blog: Striving for great customer service

There are no readily available tools to teach good customer service. So instead, I’ve tried to mentor my staff with real situations.

The penzión may be elegant, but the key to success is good customer service.The penzión may be elegant, but the key to success is good customer service. (Source: Thom Kolton)

On my first day as hotelier, I looked around the guesthouse with a critical eye. It had been furnished in a faux rustic style typical of the region with ugly wood furniture, cheap wall hangings (including the requisite dancing kroj), and extremely uncomfortable single beds with equally unappealing bedding. I quickly made a decision: everything had to go! Fortunately, our large basement could accommodate the unusable furniture and tchotchkes.

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It would take an entire year to redesign and furnish the place as I envisioned, restrained only by the existing architecture. In the end, I had created what I believed to be an atmosphere of simple elegance and luxury that any discerning traveler would appreciate.

Read also: Blog: How I became a guesthouse hotelier Read more 

My next job was to train the staff. Slovakia, like other former Communist countries, is not renowned for its customer service. Quite the contrary, a visiting American was outraged by the lack of courtesy at a local restaurant. But I shrugged it off. “Eric, this is Slovakia.”

In retrospect, I was wrong to be blasé about it. Customers should demand good service, or at least give an appropriate online review. As an outspoken person, I do not hesitate to voice my objections when service is inadequate.

There are no readily available tools to teach good customer service. So instead, I’ve tried to mentor my staff with real situations. For example, a guest declines our dinner offer, but then arrives famished. Our choices are to 1) deny the guest dinner and make a grumpy person even grumpier or 2) quickly throw together a fine dinner and make the guest happy. The correct answer (2) seems obvious, but it was not initially evident to my staff. The results of this mentoring style seem to have worked well for my staff.

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In addition to these learned lessons, there is a set of rituals we follow to engage our guests:

  • Upon arrival, our guests are greeted with a personalised welcome message on the chalkboard outside the door. It is a simple gesture that guests really appreciate.
  • At check-in, our guests receive a free drink at the bar. This allows guests and staff to get acquainted, and for us to learn whether guests have any special needs or require information.
  • Arrival at breakfast is met with a smiling “Good morning!” followed by “How did you sleep?” This is not idle chit-chat; we want to know whether there is something we can do to enhance the guest experience.
  • We mingle with our guests, sharing tidbits of information about the village and region, and learning about where our guests are from. Reviewers so often commented that “it felt like home,” we took these words as the slogan on our visit cards.
  • Upon departure, we make a point of standing on the terrace and waving goodbye. Admittedly, we are sadder to see some depart more than others. But we love saying “Thank you and goodbye!” almost as much as we do “Welcome to Penzión Európa!”

We really try to do everything possible to ensure our guests feel welcomed and pampered throughout their stay. After all, we are in the hospitality industry. My staff does a great job, and I am both heartened and humbled by each positive review, knowing we have met or exceeded someone’s expectations.

Our guests’ biggest complaint: they have gained weight during their stay.

Thom Kolton is an American entrepreneur operating Penzión Európa (www.penzioneuropa.eu) in the village of Osturňa.

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