Ava Sewell Williamson

“Customers are like teeth. Ignore them and they”ll go away” (Flanagan (n.d) as cited in Aswani, 2008). The preceding quote may sound painful however often times companies participate in this form of organizational suicide as they underestimate the importance of customer service. Bagdan (2013) and Hudson & Hudson (2013) agree on the importance of customer service education and training for hospitality organizations.  Hudson & Hudson (2103) argue that ‘customer service training has a positive impact on market share, growth prices and profits’. While there are challenges to delivering excellent customer service, many customers leave hospitality organizations such as food and beverage operations, events, attractions, entertainment, travel and transportation dissatisfied because of poor quality standards that could have been fixed through customer service training.

Customer service training is directly linked to the revenue that a company earns as a company’s revenue is derived from its customers and without customers there would be no need for the hospitality industry to exist. Customers are basically the heartbeat of any industry therefore if they are so important to a business, should one not ensure that customers’ needs are met? Poor customer service is like an asthmatic trampling on his inhaler and as such customer service training is imperative when striving to create a high quality hospitality industry. According to Forbes as cited in Aswani (2016), ‘86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience but only 1% of customers feel that vendors consistently meet their expectations’.  If customers will pay more for a better experience but are not receiving it and businesses want to distinguish themselves from others, then customer service training is crucial. Ford, Sturman and Heaton (2012) defend the position that excellence in customer service helps to distinguish similar businesses from each other. A customer walks into a restaurant and is met by an ill-mannered server, the customer is patient and does not retaliate immediately however upon being served she is greeted with slow service and rudeness. This customer then decides never to return. Although training may not necessarily ensure that servers are kind to customers, sanctions can be effected for insolent staff. Even though it should be obvious that good service is necessary, giving servers the benefit of the doubt and providing training would be a strategic move as they would then be better able to manage customer interactions.

In an industry where customer service is critical to operating a business, employers should not assume that employees know how to treat customers or how to give high quality service. It would be foolish to make such an assumption because of course everyone has manners, right? Employers have the responsibility of ensuring that customer service employees know the required standards so that they can understand what customers expect of them. Chow, Woodford and Showers-Chow (2008) argue that more effective training results in greater customer satisfaction and retention. An employee working at Company A talks about her experience where she was scheduled for regular customer service training together with other employees. The employees were well equipped with the training needed to deliver good customer service. As she improved her customer service skills, the managers began to assign her the task of training and assessing new staff members in the quality standards. The company had a system in which guests would provide feedback on positive service encounters with staff and these guest comments were directly linked to staff incentives and bonuses. At this organization customer service training was reinforced and rewarded and quality standards of service improved as noted in guests comments. The company experienced consistently high sales volumes and repeat business. In contrast, at Company B a similar incentive system was recommended to the manager however the sentiment was that there is no value in providing incentives to people to do their jobs.  Perhaps not surprisingly, years later customer service quality standards were at an all-time low at this organization with customers leaving in droves and the organization experiencing financial difficulty.

Although customer service training can be effective in improving quality standards there can be other factors that negate a company’s efforts to ensure that the skill acquired from customer service training actually enhances the quality of customer service delivery. Mirchandani (2012) provides an example to explain this statement when he purports that, ‘social and political contexts of customer service training are often ignored. Employees are only viewed as good communicators if they can blend in with the culture of their customers’.  Even when organizations are involved in customer service training, they still need to have systems in place to handle abusive customers. Mirchandani (2012) speaks of Indian call centre workers who service Western customers who become abusive when they do not understand the Indian accent. According to Media Partners Co., ‘It is important to know how to handle disgruntled customers’ and this statement is true for the customer service representative, hospitality organizations in general and those who make policies that affect customer service representatives.

Customer service is often the only way in which similar businesses are able differentiate. Hospitality organizations that are serious about maintaining customer service quality standards must train their staff in customer service. Failure to do so will result in these organizations losing customers and by extension losing revenue. Customer service training will better enable employees to interact with customers in a cordial manner that can create repeat business and loyal customers for organizations.

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