Holiday Serving Under-The-Gun

Chip Bell Posted by Chip Bell.

Chip R. Bell is a senior partner with the Chip Bell Group and manages the office near Atlanta. He is the author of nineteen books, including Managers as Mentors (coauthored with Marshall Goldsmith) and Wired and Dangerous (co-authored with John Patterson).

Holiday Serving Under-The-Gun

Host! The word carries a variety of meanings, each painted in the color “help.” It conjures a maître de escorting a guest to the best table; a hotel concierge taking the stress out of a tourist’s holiday; or the greeter at a large party ensuring no detail is overlooked. And, it is the perfect moniker for the front-line service person during the busy holidays. It is also the antidote to the stress that comes from being constantly under-the-gun!

My best example of a great host is the concierge at The London Hotel in Manhattan—Michael Sinatra (now at the Park Hyatt). It was an hour before the start of Broadway shows and the concierge desk was glutted with guests seeking help with dinner reservations, directions, shopping recommendations, and last minute show tickets. And, it was the week before Christmas! I watched Michael deliver non-stop warmth, focus and charm. Like the serene duck swimming on a pond, you could not see Michael’s “feet paddling hard.”

The following day I stopped by to inquire about his talent and technique for graceful holiday serving under pressure. He humbly offered a few ideas as if they were common sense principles known by everyone. Below are my notes from our brief conversation.

Focus on Serving A Customer.

Read that line again and pay attention to the singular predicate. Great hosts do not think of the target of their service efforts in plural…they only think in singular. When you are around Michael he seems completely absorbed in you and you alone. The truth is that he is processing a million details to ensure his guests get what they need. But all of that is kept behind the scenes and all his customers see and feel is a laser-like focus on their unique needs.

Be a Service Choreographer.

Just like the key to a confidently delivered a speech is solid preparation, be prepared to serve. A great customer experience requires managing an amalgamation of diverse elements. Fail on one performance dimension and it can color the whole experience dark for customers. A waitress might be super friendly, but if she can’t get orders right her weaknesses overshadow her strengths. Preparation brings competence; it also reduces your potential for service fatigue.

Master the Details That Matter

Effective hosts master the “little things” and manage the customer’s experience from end-to-end. They know it is not the lions and tigers that usually doom service quality, it is the gnats and mosquitoes—those tiny irritants that are easy to overlook but often deliver aggravation out of proportion to their size. Be ready, pay close attention, and keep a watchful eye out for gremlins that frustrate customers and ramp up your stress.

Create Made-to-Order Service Experiences

“Let me show you a shortcut” or “If you call right after lunch, you will have a much better chance…” are comments customers hear from a great host. Great hosts are forever seeking ways to make the customer’s experience go smoothly and effortless. And, the more you focus on using ingenuity, the less you are victim to monotony. In response to being asked how he remains fresh after answering the same question a hundred times, Michael said, “My fun comes in finding a new way to provide a clear, helpful answer.”

View Processes Through the Eyes of Customers

Great hosts don’t see customers through the lens of the organization; they see the organization through the lens of customers. They can quickly size up a prospective service interaction, spot the breakdowns waiting to happen, and adjust accordingly. Armed with a customer perspective they are able to anticipate, problem-solve, and be sincerely empathetic. Such resourcefulness wins the praise of busy shoppers.

‘Tis the season of good cheer! And, you can be the recipient of a festive season even while dealing with impatient customers, long lines, and arduous hours. Assume the role of great host—like Michael Sinatra–and watch your stress subside, your morale climb, and your customers smile!

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