Category Archives: Customer Service

Bodensee-Blues: Stafetten-Krimi (Kriminalromane im GMEINER-Verlag) (German Edition)

Can large operations still have a personality?

I find the bigger an operation or organisation gets, the less personal it becomes.  As the management of a large workforce becomes unwieldy, formalised standards of performance are introduced, productivity and efficiency are scrutinised and automation is introduced to streamline processes.  Everything strives to become ‘Efficient!’  This is understandable, but has ‘efficient’ ever been your motivation to visit a retail store or luxury hotel?

Does being efficient = increased sales?


So what can you do? In most instances, it would appear as operations, like hotel chains or store chains, get big, the marketing team steps in to save the day and ‘create’ some personality for the brand.  In hotels this manifests itself in the form of contrived conversational posters, witty signs and irritating message on pillows and bathroom mirrors designed to make us feel warm and tingly inside.  Does it work, well yes to some extent but can feel like a veneer and is often undermined when we try to engage with the hotel staff.

I’m staying in the City West Hotel Dublin, delivering training on retail and customer experience.  City West is the largest hotel in Ireland and reportedly one of the largest in the world.  Unlike the more recent super hotels builds in the far east that sore into the sky, City West is sprawling and has all the hallmarks of a hotel that has grown and grown over the years  with little thought to the final monster they created.  It now houses, winding corridors, none-sequential room numbering and stairs that lead to nowhere – yes literally nowhere.  I can personally vouch for all of these having experienced two failed attempts to find my room 4,666.

Its early August and the hotel has successfully positioned itself as ‘the’ place to come for a family break.  Entertainment is provided daily, a theatre has been set up showing Disney movies and a kids disco runs from 7pm – 11pm every evening.  Its a resounding success, the hotel is teeming with young families, synonymous with a trip to a Disneyland hotel.

Hotel activities for familiesThe hotel also successfully attracts large groups, with 52 seater buses queuing outside the reception to park up.  It must be some operational feat to check-in 52x tired Far Eastern tourists and get them to their rooms, given the challenges I had speaking English as my first language.  Operationally, the hotel appears to run like clockwork.  Comfortable with the peaks of traffic at reception, bar and restaurants.  Breakfast was hassle free and checkout went without a hiccup.

Whilst operationally this is impressive, what I was particularly interested to see was how the hotel maintained a personality despite its size.  How the visitors felt personally pampered, as they would expect in the premium priced 4 star hotel, when thousands of people passed through it every day – and that excludes the conferencing facilities which can house 4,000 people?

Advertising itself as a gateway to Ireland’s capital Dublin.  It is also important that travellers from the far reaches of the globe, got a sense they were in Ireland and close to its capital whist staying here?  Some of this can be created with design and theatre, but what about the staff.

The staff were what impressed me the most.  Predominately Irish employees, the natural and inherent warmth of its people poured out like a smooth glass of their greatest export Guinness.  Effortless charm, confident conversationalists, warm and unwavering in their ability to answer the same question countless times, whilst conveying that it was the fist time anyone had ever asked such a great question.

City West Bar, great experienceIt’s 7:45pm and I’m sat in the bar alone, contemplating whether to dine in the Bistro or stay put at my table ideally positioned to watch the soccer that was about to start and have a bar snack.  “How you doing, do you want me to get another one of those for you?” asked the waitress noticing my beer had finished.  She was quite young, early 20’s at a guess, but demonstrated great confidence, happy to stand and chat.  I requested the beer tab be put on my room, she retuned “Oh you don’t appear to have a card linked to your room yet.  Let me sort that out for you” and disappeared to reception to resolve the issue.  The bar was packed and a small queue was forming for the Bistro restaurant that spilled into the bar areas, yet I felt like I was the only customer there.

The following morning: “Excuse me where do I go for breakfast” I asked, having inadvertently walked through double doors into a vast conference hall being prepared.  Guests appear to spend a lot of time getting lost in this hotel.  “Let me show you”, said the young lad setting up tables, and proceeded to walk me through the snaking rooms of conferencing facilities towards the breakfast bistro, “there you go sir” having navigated me to entrance of the breakfast restaurant.

Why was this impressive?  I would expect the service to be of a high standard in a 4 star hotel, surely that’s what you are paying for.   We do, but we don’t necessarily expect it to be warm and personable.

From a sales perspective, the waitress generated add-on sales, I was drinking at a faster rate, thanks to her, as the glass kept filling up.  My dwell time was increased as I felt relaxed, resulting in a €15 bar snack also.  In reality my trade was secured for the evening regardless.  I was unlikely to travel far from the hotel for my evening meal.  The following day, however, was a different story.  Had the service been simply ‘efficient’ I would have considered venturing into Dublin city centre in my downtime.  Instead I stayed on site and worked in the lobby = 2x Coffee, Lunch & Afternoon Tea.

Personality = Extra Sales


Can you train staff to have a personality like this?  No, you can encourage these behaviours and create a culture that attracts personable people.  Initially, we must ensure our most personable staff are introduced into key touch points.  Have friendly, bubbly staff on the front line, welcoming at the door, setting the tone.  Conversely, reposition those members of the team that are incredibly efficient and proficient in operational tasks, but lack some of the people skills, natural warmth and charm, to interface less with customers but make the behind the scenes operations run like clockwork.

A shabby inefficient hotel that was friendly wouldn’t last long, of course, that is not the point here.  The point is that efficiency is something discussed in the boardroom not by customers considering where to spend their money.  It is a given for a premium brand.  Personality however, is a very cost effective way to make your customer experience memorable, profitable in terms of add-on sales and stand out from the competition.

If you run a retail or leisure operation, here are two questions to ask yourself:

  1. When was the last time you had a discussion about personality?
  2. How much of your staff meetings is spent talking about operational issues, compared to ‘how’ staff engage with the customer?

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I arrived early for a meeting with a local authority, as I often do.  I decided to kill an hour checking over my presentation and generally catching up on some work in Costa Coffee.

I’m in the queue, everything is going fine.  The lady in front asked for a large tea, the staff member that had a nice bubbly personality said, “did you mean a large or a tea pot.”  For less experienced Costa Coffee drinkers, a large tea is the size of a hot tub with a handle on either side.  The staff member grabbed a large cup and showed the lady, who inevitably opted for a tea pot instead.  The experience was nice and fun, with the staff member comparing the cup to a bath, to the amusement of everyone involved.

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What impressed me was that the staff member didn’t assume, or  take the “That’s what you ordered” approach, therefore exonerating herself from what would have been a poor decision by the customer.  Instead, she used her experience to check and make sure the customer got the right product.

This is all sounding pretty basic I know.  Let’s carry on.

Next customer was me, I also wanted a tea and opted immediately for the tea pot.  The staff member was waving her hand in front of her face, assumably hot – not overwhelmed by my charm.  “A bit warm in there?” I asked…we chatted for a moment only to be interrupted by the ‘Barista’ “skinny milk or normal?” “Skinny” I said.  At this point he abruptly plonked the tea pot onto the tray, with a good 1/3 of the pot tipping out through the spout, followed by the cup and small jug of milk.  Assuming I’d want the receipt, perhaps by my business attire, the cashier kindly printed it off and placed it on top of the water puddle that was gathering on the tray.

This is sounding very much like a ‘first world problem’, but there are two important lessons we can take form the interaction.

  1. The cashier personalised the experience, for me and the customer before me.  It was memorable, fun, away from a typically scripted approach and thus more engaging.  For the brief 45 second encounter I felt that I know her a little, and I am more than a beverage order on legs.
  2. The way the tea was served by the barista, devalued the product and the overall experience.

I recall a story I was told by a sales rep in the FMCG sector, he sold Jam’s and Chutneys to large supermarket chains.  In the buying call, he would dust the the jars, wipe the lids with a cloth before carefully handing them over to the client.  These £1 products were presented as if they were a luxury piece of jewellery.  The process was designed to add value to the product, and it works.

Costa make pleasant tea and coffee, but charge a premium for the experience.  We are charged between £2-£3 for the opportunity to shop or consume drinks here.  I can buy an equally pleasant cup of tea for 99p elsewhere, but would assumably sacrifice £2 worth of experience, based on Costa’s pricing strategy,

Back to my tea pot and tray.  Water from the tea pot is now sloshing all over the tray and is being soaked up by the receipt I wanted to keep.  This seemingly trivial incident has broader implications:

  • I end up with water on the table
  • I want to use my laptop for some work
  • I will inevitably drip water on my suit trousers, prior to an important meeting with the Policy Board of a District Council.

Of course I can clear this up myself, and did – but it does take a lot of little costa paper serviettes to soak up 1/3 of a tea pot.

Did the Barista give any of this a second thought when serving me – No, because I was an ‘order’ not a ‘person’.  In his mind his job never transcends beyond deliver of a warm drink.

He could learn a lot from his colleague.