Customer Service, Hire for Attitude

Attitude-is-a-decision One person can make a tremendous difference even in a huge organization. Especially if that person understands service, and how every interaction inside and outside the company is with a customer.  That is true and valid especially in the hospitality industry.

Hire for attitude.

It will make your life easier in the long run to have people who are good listeners and problem solvers. Support them, reward them, and ask them to show the rest of the organization how it's done.

They have a rare gift. As I've been known to say, common sense (and courtesy) are not that common.

If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I recently stayed at a hotel where the noise level in the room reminded me of the disco days, trembling floor included. I'm guilty of venting, just like every human being with or without a Twitter handle.

However, I did what a responsible customer does and communicated with the hotel staff about the issue. I wrote the post on how to complain effectively, and I tend to uphold my end of the deal. I called the front desk that very night and asked if they could help in any way. I was asked to describe the issue, then was put on hold. For ten minutes. While the music — not in my taste, for the record — kept booming outside/inside the room.

Then someone else picked up the phone — was it a hot potato to the first person? Who knows? — and I had to retell him what the issue was. I could see him shrug it off on the phone, while he was saying "the hotel is full, madam. Nothing we can do." And indeed, there was nothing *he* was going to do. That was clear.

Thank heavens for iPods and for remembering to pack mine. Although when the music ran out and the garbage trucks started their route at 4am, I was jolted awake. Blame me for having difficulty going to sleep again when startled in my deepest sleep. It made for a very long day for sure.

I actually used to know the CEO of that hotel chain many years ago. He died of cancer, he was young to go so prematurely. I missed his philosophy on hiring last week. He believed in hiring for attitude, and in rewarding it.

The day after

The day after, instead of charging the front desk, I packed my bags in the room, and went to discuss the issue in person. That's where I met a superb front desk person — I hope she makes more than the others, because her attitude is gold to the hotel.

She listened to the issue, and immediately went in problem solving mode without any mentions of blocks of rooms occupied by the conference organizers, or blogs for that matter. To her, I was a customer who needed a good night sleep. Isn't that what hotels are for?

Nothing anyone could do about the poor insulation that didn't support the hotel design. While I was at the desk talking with her, another guest reported the same issue to an otherwise passive front desk staff. Hey, if people don't complain too loudly, we get away with having to help, they seemed to indicate.

Why we call it customer service

We found a solution, my bags were taken care of, and I had a solid good night rest the following one. One person made all the difference in the world to me. I'm sure she does to countless others when they have the good luck of her being within earshot or on duty.

You know what she said to me? She said she loved her job, she would not have it any other way. As opposed to the rest who seemed to want to shrink away from talking to customers, unless all was well. Her former CEO of years past would  have been proud. 

I was lucky. The question though is, why do we need to rely on luck? Why can't we identify, hire, and reward for attitude? It makes a huge difference in customer experience. Hire good people, and don't be afraid to pay them well, because they will save you money every day.

Customer conversations affect the stock price probably even more than the CEO these days. Now think about the pay disparity…

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0 responses to “Customer Service, Hire for Attitude”

  1. This was a great post. I really admire Zappo’s approach to hiring. All of their employees, regardless of level, have to take an intensive training class to identify those who would be capable of living up to its “Powered by Service” motto. I wish we all had that level of discipline.
    Parissa Behnia

  2. As a marketing professional, stories like these really solidify my opinions about what happens down-stream. It seems that for some, sales prevention is “Job One!” However, attitude is a choice. There is a great motivational video called “Fish!” that is used extensively at The Home Depot to demonstrate this point. Every day when you arrive at work you are making a decision to spend the next 8-10 hours being happy or being miserable.
    For some, it seems, it has become a sport! As a GM with over 100 hourly employees working for me in a store that was open 24 hours, it was impossible to touch everyone every day. What I found was that it didn’t matter how much the person was paid, either they believed in the leadership and was happy to be there or they didn’t. For the most part, money is irrelevant. It was a conscious decision by the associate to be happy and engage with customers or avoid them and walk around with a dark cloud. You can see it a mile away. Have you ever seen an employee in a retail store look down an isle, notice that you were there, change their direction an walk down the next empty isle?
    At some point, as a leader, you either change people or change people.

  3. Customer service is one of my hot buttons and in the hospitality industry you’ve GOT to deliver great service. There are usually many options for places to stay / eat / recreate. No need to put up with poor service in most cases.
    There’s a local hotel which placed the following on the outside of the employee entrance so all walking by on the sidewalk can see: “Through these doors walk some of the most remarkable people we could ever meet.” For employees, that not only shows they’re valued, but sets the bar they need to live up to. And reminds managers of what they need to consider when hiring – it’s all about attitude. Everyday.

  4. Great post, Valeria. As the socialization of business increases every day, it is imperative that all employees have great communication skills if they are interacting with anyone – customer, colleagues and everyone in between. One bad experience from anyone at a business can make it online and be read by thousands. I read a post the other day about a man’s terrible customer service experience at Salad Creations where his chicken was undercooked and the management told him he was wrong. He explained that someone who has a good experience will tell three people, but someone who has a bad experience will tell 3,000, which is exactly what he did. I know I will never go to that restaurant based on his one terrible review and I imagine that the thousands that read his blog are thinking the same thing. Hiring and rewarding good attitude is the best way to keep everyone happy, employees included. I wish there was a way to measure how good attitude leads to good business, such as the way we are trying to measure how social media is good for business today. Maybe this way businesses will be more inclined to reward these wonderful, unique and talented people.

  5. Thanks for the reminder on the critical hiring criterion. Too often the newly hired, untrained staff are assigned to customer service so that they can “really experience” who the customers are and what they want.
    Even if a customer service rep is hired for attitude, the second important step is to give authority. Even people with good attitudes need tools to solve the problems.
    When responsibility is coupled with authority in a person with a great attitude–magic happens!

  6. @Parissa – it was straight from the heart. I think the trick is to give ourselves daily reminders. Say the day starts off not so well, what can we do to breathe, and crack a smile at how annoyed we are? I make fun of myself when I go from zero to Italian 😉
    @Chris – downstream is where the stuff that makes your company happens. I dislike thinking about the other downstream, which is often the guy to kick for some execs. In your example, I bet that people who worked with people who were positive got that way. Yo cracked me up about the averting gaze and walk away MO. I’ve seen it alright.
    @Patrick – and you have such a nice team for that reason. You view customer service and marketing in similar ways: helpful and proactive. Trusting is very powerful. My mentor and former CEO used to say “see what you can do.” And that was it. Wow!
    @Alexandra – learn communication skills or bear the consequences. The thing is you know who those people are. You are a patron of that store because of them. I had that with a little shop in downtown Modena. When the lady who worked there moved on, I did not set foot in the store. The whole atmosphere, even the inventory, changed. It was almost as if the joy had been sucked out of the place with her. There are plenty of choices and plenty of things we don’t need today. Including sloppy service.
    @Mary – you know what I find? That people who want to make a difference learn very quickly how to do that for customers, or move on to a company that will let them help them. Most innovators don’t wait for permission, and can do wonders with what is available. So while authority helps, it’s not a show stopper.

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