Smiling through adversity

Leisure and hospitality are synonymous with customer service. It’s the responsibility of individual members of staff to deliver that all-important customer experience. During these challenging times, customers want reassurance, empathy and professionalism more than ever. But it’s tough to keep smiling through difficulties, as individuals face their own worries and anxieties.

Whether you’re running an outdoor event, backstage theatre tours or working at a bar or restaurant, customer service staff are facing enormous amounts of pressure. It’s important the industry recognises this pressure and works to support customer-facing staff members.

A happy, healthy hospitality team will be much better equipped to continue delivering great service for customers.

Is customer service more challenging than ever?

We’re living in uncertain times at the moment. Both customers and staff are facing unfamiliar changes and strange environments. Where’s the nearest hand sanitising station? Is it table service or do I order at the bar? Where do I stand? How do I do the right thing?

With a myriad of new situations comes a myriad of questions. Unfortunately, customer service staff are bearing the brunt. Not only do staff members have to guide and inform customers of the new changes, they have to deal with confusion and even potential anger at customers who don’t agree with the rules.

“The new normal” is a scary place for everyone. Customer service teams are more important than ever, with their role providing vital reassurance for uncertain patrons.

How to deal with tough customers

Constantly delivering great customer service and hospitality can be draining, particularly if you’re dealing with difficult situations.

Smiling through potential customer altercations can take its toll emotionally. After all, you’re doing your best and trying to make your customers happy. But not every complaint or query goes smoothly, and remaining friendly, polite and professional can be a challenge sometimes. Remember – we’re all human, and we all get emotional sometimes. The best thing to do is to learn how to handle stress and improve your own resilience during potential confrontations.

Our top tips for those in the hospitality industry

  • Listen and empathise

Don’t try to argue with a customer. Let them share their views with you, and demonstrate you understand their frustration. Try not to respond to any comments that are designed to aggravate or upset you – it will simply escalate the situation.

  • Speak slowly and never raise your voice

It doesn’t matter if a customer gets angry or speaks to you in an unreasonable way. Try to keep your temper and your voice steady. This will naturally help the other person to calm down too.

  • Remember – the customer doesn’t know you

Try not to take any comments or frustrations personally. The whole world is going through a challenging time at the moment, and sometimes anger gets the better of us. Try to support your customer and deal with them empathetically – assume they’re having a bad day and try to resolve their problems professionally.

  • Take five

Any altercation that upsets or angers you has the potential to ruin your day. Don’t let it. Ask a colleague or manager if you can take a short break to relax and reset. Then, when you’re ready, return to work with a fresh smile on your face.

  • Talk if things get too much

You may feel overwhelmed at work, or your personal life could spill over into your professional life and impact the way you work. Talk to your colleagues or managers and ask for support. It might feel uncomfortable to seek help at first, but you will be mitigating a much bigger problem later down the line.

The impact of smiling

Smiling connects us. It provides a shared moment of joy and empathy. Now, in our post COVID-19 world, face masks are all the rage. It’s tougher than ever to deliver fantastic service while working from behind a mask.

Service with a smile is no longer applicable. How can customer service staff appear welcoming or cheerful when their face is covered? Furthermore, how can we all interact authentically and pick up on vital social cues?

Instead of a smile, consider using gestures such as a thumbs up or a wave to welcome customers. Don’t underestimate the impact of eye contact, either. We’ve all hear the expression ‘smile with your eyes’, so make sure you utilise this.

Another top tip is to verbally reassure customers. Ask if your customers are happy with the service, if there’s anything else they require etc. You can no longer look for smiles and small expressions of satisfaction to provide the answers. Remember to speak clearly and raise your voice slightly when communicating from behind a mask – customers may struggle to hear you so you’ll need to be extra clear when speaking to them.

You’re looking after customers… but who’s looking after you?

One in five hospitality workers have mental health issues related to their working environment. Customer service can be difficult and demanding, which has an impact on an individual’s mental health. Support can be inconsistent, and often employees are expected to ‘smile through’ troubles.

Long hours, poor work-life balance and high pressure can contribute to individuals feeling unable to cope. Employers can put support measures in place to help their people thrive.

We all have a responsibility to look after one another

Front-facinghospitality staff look after customers, and managers must look after their team. From an employer viewpoint, it’s important to make sure your employees are adequately supported.

Employees should feel safe and supported while at work. They should look forward to coming to work, knowing they are cared for by the people around them.

Keeping a positive, upbeat persona all day can be challenging. Those working in an office job, or working from home, are naturally more able to represent authentic emotions through the day. Desk workers are able to be quiet or less interactive with colleagues if they don’t feel either physically or mentally well. Unfortunately, for those working in the ‘public eye’, they must be positive, upbeat and understanding towards customers at all time.

Employers in the hospitality and leisure industry should recognise these challenges. Managers in particular should be trained to support their team’s wellbeing. This includes recognising signs of mental health issues, and the ability to engage in and lead conversations around wellbeing.

We Are Wellbeing offers a range of wellbeing services, including educational seminars and manager training to help give your company culture a boost. Throughout 2020, existing and new Booking Protect customers can take advantage of a free wellbeing package. This will help our partners to support their teams throughout these difficult times.

For more information, get in touch with our lovely team. Or better still, get to know a little bit more about them.


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