12 ways to upskill in hospitality customer service


Great service needs more than just a friendly smile, quick response and product knowledge. There’s a host of other skills that service and front-line staff need if your business is going to be ahead of the competitors. Whether you’re in retail, foodservice or administration, these skills can apply.

The following are key fundamentals which, as staff and managers improve their ability in these areas, will result in a significant increase in service, feedback and sales.

1. Understand personality types.

As staff become ‘amateur psychologists’ and learn about human behaviour, they will be more confident in guiding and influencing customers and responding to their requests. Start by finding short YouTube videos on the four ‘personality types’ and share them with your team, asking how they apply to customers.

2. Keep your promises.

Help staff to manage their response to customer complaints. Stay up-to-date with company policies to ensure that any promise you make for a customer can be delivered. No saying ‘it will be with you in 10 minutes’ or promising a great table – under-promise and over-deliver. Be careful about making grand claims like ‘Sydney’s finest seafood’ - they are hard to prove and people will be sceptical.

3. Be honest.

Being open and transparent with your customers proves that you truly care about their happiness and satisfaction, even when the message you’re sharing is not positive. A good place to begin within your business is improving communication between the kitchen and floor staff.

4. Become a product expert.

Learn everything about every product and service that you are selling to your customers. Spend time on studying the product as well as the various solutions you are offering for various circumstances, for example function menus. Competence leads to increased confidence and that leads to increased sales. Training in the menu (what dishes taste and look like) is also an essential for your staff.

5. Be confident with different types of people.

If you sound confident in your conversation over the phone, then convincing customers about a booking change or menu choice will become easier. Making eye contact and dealing with people who are different to you are skills that will serve your staff well in all areas of their life.

6. Use positive language.

Using positive language that is motivating and in ways persuading, is the best way to reach your customers. For example, if you go to an Apple store and they don’t have a product, they will say “as it happens…that will be arriving in 3 days” - not "it’s out of stock". How can your staff give a positive response to requests for menu changes that you don’t do, or seating changes that are not possible?

7.Understand body language.

Maintaining a good body language is also important, even when you’re talking with a customer on the phone. Smiling frequently and expressing happiness and laughter in your conversation helps to improve their experience. The old saying ‘if you’re happy, tell your face’ still applies.

8. Be tech savvy.

When you have good technical skills, it can be much quicker to communicate with customers and the people in your business. Show customers how to like you on Facebook, how to download the Instagram app, or get a great angle for a group photo.

9. Work out why things happen.

Analysing problems as soon as you begin to speak with a customer is a way to show your professionalism. It also boosts your own ability to solve problems and discover new solutions. For example, if a customer thinks they’ve been overcharged and calls you or wants to know if there are allergens in the food when they visit tonight, investigate their enquiries for a better customer experience.

10. Learn from mistakes.

Taking time to reflect on mistakes you have made gives insight into how to better manage customers and communication in the future. It's about stepping away and looking at a situation objectively, without being defensive. Watch how others do it and ask for feedback when you’ve made a blunder.

11. Negotiate and persuade.

Knowing how to compromise with customers is essential to reach win-win results. If you’re handling enquiries about an upcoming event, take the discussion beyond just providing information - make a follow-up call. Some corporate clients are used to getting their own way with group bookings and can be intimidating - ask experienced colleagues for help in handling these situations. Having all your information at hand will give your more confidence, and each time makes it easier!

12. Close the deal.

Understanding how to close a deal is an essential part of the communication process. Handle objections, ask for a decision, take their credit card details and confirm. Now on to the next one – champion!