How to Deliver 5-Star Customer Service: Tips for Hospitality Leaders

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

Consultant, public speaker, and author Micah Solomon has a lot of tips for hospitality leaders on how to deliver 5-star customer service, more than enough to fill a book titled The Heart of Hospitality. The most important tips in that book focus on people (your team and your customers) and process (how you inspire your team and impress your customers). At day’s end, though, it’s all about the wow.

Friends chat together while enjoying coffee in a cafe

Wowing Customers Makes Them Happy and You Successful

In The Heart of Hospitality, Solomon contends the five pillars of 5-star customer service are:

  • Effective hiring: Hire people with the necessary presence, personality, and perseverance.
  • A process that makes excellence the norm and the goal: It’s about systems designed to achieve every goal related to employee excellence and customer satisfaction.
  • Employees who are greenlighted to do what it takes to create excellence: Give them the resources to achieve your goals and the freedom to tap those resources.
  • Anticipating and fulfilling customers’ requests and expectations: The important things clients get without asking are the things that wow them.
  • Continually reaffirm the commitment to excellence: Through training and example, keep that commitment front and center.

In Forbes, Solomon shares five “wow customer service stories from 5-star hotels.” Here’s the storyline for one:

  • Customer arrives and realizes she left an important bag at home, four hours away.
  • Unprompted, employee volunteers to drive to the customer’s home and get the bag.
  • Hospitality business folklore is born, for consumption by employees and customers.

Solomon sums it up nicely: Stories such as these are “powerful because they lead to folklore among our guests and, in the retelling, among employees as well. Service, at the end of the day, is all about making emotional connections, and there’s no way to make a connection faster than through a powerful story.”

Hospitality Is the Gold Standard

You can choose to deliver service or hospitality. Choose the latter and you’re more likely to provide 5-star customer service.

According to Hotel Management, service is the “process of doing something for someone.” Take that to the next level, a clerk being personable and helpful when checking someone in, and you have hospitality.

The gold standard of hospitality services is making the next level your standard. You can get that done with:

A Digital Edge

Social media is a fabulous marketing and service tool. Here’s the abbreviated version of our 10 tips on using social media to good effect in the hospitality business:

10. Use social media to make interactions with customers super-easy.
9. Outline your social media strategy.
8. Use Facebook as your social media hub.
7. Use social media to identify your customers and what they want.
6. Present the same “face” on all your platforms.
5. Make sure to maximize the visuals.
4. Don’t overlook real-time service-related uses for social media.
3. Be smart when you pay to play.
2. Put real thought and effort into what/how you present.
1. Pay attention to what the competition is doing.

A guest checks in for her salon appointment

A Material Edge

Your aim should be to give your customers the little extras that say “you matter.” Freebies run the gamut from the stereotypical chocolate on the pillow to butler service.

They don’t cost much, but freebies such as a bottle of wine at dinner, a room upgrade, or breakfasts can gently stamp your brand on the customer’s memory.

A Personal Edge

It boils down to knowing your customers, as a group and individually. You know what you’re selling. Comfort for business travelers? Family focus and amenities? Atmosphere and offerings catering to beachgoers? Whatever it is, deliver it consistently and personably.

Think human factor. The simple act of remembering a customer’s name can make priceless personal connections. So can:

  • Logging information on birthdays and anniversaries and sending special deals to mark the occasions
  • Listening carefully, for the customer’s benefit and yours
  • Identifying and pulling emotional triggers (a treat or toy for a distraught child, an aspirin for a businesswoman with a headache, a kind word or assistance for a grandmother or grandfather)
  • Offering pet-friendly accommodations

Continual Training

It’s a given that you train incoming employees; it’s a fact that reinforcing that training continually is a must; and it’s smart to keep your team current on industry trends and practices.

The reinforcement is critical to sustain what you achieve. Ask yourself:

  • Do your people know what’s hot and what’s not when it comes to nightlife and daytime adventures in host communities?
  • Do your people know that “technology cannot hug a repeat guest”? (It’s about training workers to deliver a personal touch.)
  • Do your people know how to effectively use social media to serve customers?
  • Do you keep your people in the loop? They can’t do what you want if they don’t know what you want.

One of the only constants in any business is the need to succeed. Keeping employees up to date on hospitality practices and standards can help satisfy that need.

Nurturing Responsibility

Managers and their teams should strive to avoid problems, but they can’t avoid what they choose to ignore. Businesses spend time and money benchmarking to assess how their customer service compares with that of their competitors; yet some give little weight to customer complaints. Listening to customer complaints and responding effectively is good business. No excuses. Just solutions – if possible – or apologies.

Ensure that:

  • You set customer expectations through deeds, words, and even advertisements, then establish employee responsibilities for those expectations. Employees should be tasked with trying to exceed them when possible.
  • Staff should be pressed to be innovative and flexible when dealing with customers. They can’t do that unless you train them to anticipate customers’ needs and empower them to respond. (The employee who fetched the forgetful patron’s bag knew the value of extraordinary service and his manager’s willingness to underwrite it.)

Two hotel guests check in with a friendly front desk professional

A Warm Welcome and Fond Farewell

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.’s Gold Standards are guidelines that “encompass the values and philosophy by which we operate.” Their Three Steps of Service include:

  • Extending warm and sincere greeting
  • Using the guest’s name, anticipating and fulfilling each guest’s needs
  • Offering a fond farewell, using the guest’s name

Simple practices, but inarguably effective in connecting with those you serve.

Follow Through

People-to-people interactions and social media connections enable hospitality providers to capture mountains of data about customers. Use it.

  • Send thank-you notes after stays, perhaps with a tease to coming events or special offers.
  • Use email addresses and social media to thoughtfully reconnect with customers, from offering bargains to extending birthday wishes or anniversary acknowledgements.
  • Seek customer feedback, and act on what you learn.

Remember, the difference between a nice hotel stay and one that puts stars in your customers eyes and on your label is pushing the experience to the next level, from service to hospitality, and owning it.

USF can help you position your business to deliver and sustain 5-star service. See what the Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education is offering, such as our Hospitality Leadership Program.

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