The Sunday News
THE tourism and hospitality products/services are highly involving and inseparable from the person delivering them and this makes the service personnel an important part of the overall product.
Professional business soft skills of service personnel are some of the most critical competencies deserving a high level of attention in the tourism and hospitality industry in the 21st century.
A soft skill is an aptitude or competence, any inherent or acquired trait that can be repetitively executed.
It is a skill which can be tested and evaluated through its performance only.
Though it can be established, trained, learnt, or coached, it is acquired only by executing it and can be improved through repetition and practice.
Soft skills are also described as expertise, capabilities and traits that relate to character, attitude and performance rather than to formal or technical knowledge.
In other words, these skills refer to a person’s psychological qualities, social styles and other behavioural patterns like motivation, communication, team work and confidence.
Perhaps the most important thing to note at this point is that soft skills not only nourish hard skills and create tremendous opportunities to optimise service delivery that delights the customer.
While hard skills are valuable, customer service runs on soft skills. People are therefore the key to delighting customers, especially in the tourism and hospitality industry.
Customer delight is the reaction of customers when the performance of any product not only satisfies them but also provides unexpected level of value or satisfaction.
It is more affect-based than satisfaction and therefore more correlated with emotions, such as joy, arousal and pleasure because of the element of surprise intensifies these emotions.
Delightful experiences bear more memory trace and are naturally more vividly memorable than satisfactory ones.
Customers easily get impatient, annoyed or even offended by customer service personnel who are disorganised or seem not proficient with handling people.
Service staff need to be highly organised and communicate the correct information for the specific task at hand.
A friendly disposition is magical in delivering great quality customer service in the tourism and hospitality industry. Having a careless or defensive disposition has no place in this practice.
Customers need to feel charmed and loved for them to be delighted and this makes them desire to come back again and again to experience the same feeling.
Customer soft skills are pivotal in creating that distinguishing factor between a particular business entity and the rest despite near-similarity of the actual product or service on offer.
Soft skills are quite often underrated in the business realm. This is likely because of the label “soft.”
In truth, soft skills can be rather difficult to master. These skills, also called interpersonal skills, require a significant amount of psychological work and neurological strengthening.
While customer service soft skills are the master key to the delivery of excellent service capable of going beyond the satisfaction of customers to delighting them, the skills are not a given.
Not everyone is born with the flawless ability to make cutting edge decisions, and not everyone gets into their first job engagement with perfect collaboration skills.
Although some soft skills can be personal traits, it would be hard to find someone who masters them all, so many of them can be learned and perfected over time.
In today’s global economy, customers have become increasingly price-sensitive, but for any business, competing purely on price alone is a downright poor business strategy that could quite easily push the business into an unplanned exit strategy.
Delivering top drawer customer service is a definite way business can foster loyalty and keep customers coming back for more. It is not easy for frontline service representatives to delight today’s customers; it is becoming increasingly harder.
According to the Harvard Business Review (2017), as customers handle more of the simple issues themselves, frontline service reps get increasingly tough ones—the issues customers can not solve on their own.
Any employer would be remiss to hire an agent without evaluating, or at least asking about, their soft skills.
There are numerous of them and all of them will help an employee’s performance in some way, and some may in the great quest to dazzle and delight customers
The main factors determining the formation of the self-concept of an individual (whether service employee or customer) are the environment as well as people with whom the individual interacts. Emotions are definitely contagious.
If an employee is positive and happy and has a positive attitude, it will mostly likely rub off on the customer or even other employees.
These great attitudes will hopefully lead to a great customer experience. Delivering great customer service will enhance the employee’s sense of competence and achievement, as well as self-esteem.
While great sales interaction makes for a happy, confident and validated customer, and that customer happiness can also “rub off” on the service personnel serving them thereby triggering a cycle of good feelings flowing in that service environment and beyond.
Self-concept may be summed up as the totality of a complex, organised, and dynamic system of learned beliefs, attitudes and opinions that each person holds to be true about his or her personal existence.
Self-concepts represent knowledge structures that consist of beliefs about the self, including one’s attributes, social roles, and goals.
When employees believe that they have the ability and authority to solve complex, and sometimes ambiguous, customer service needs, an initial negative feeling it potentially lead to a positive affective state entailing relief, satisfaction and excitement.
No business can meet its customers’ expectations or even better still disconfirm them positively without a prudently set system of communication.
This is even more critical in the tourism and hospitality industry where there is intense human contact in the production, delivery and consumption of the service. The advantages of communicating effectively with customers include soothing any tensions, clearing any obscurities, and putting any doubts arising from the just experienced service to rest.
It is human nature to require validation of another person for decisions undertaken and it is the role of service staff to communicate that validation and assurance to customers in the post purchase stage.
It is widely accepted that consumers enter into a consumption experience with a set of expectations of what they would like to happen.
Good communication by staff can go a long way in making customers conscious of the positive points of the service.
Research on the tourism and hospitality sector has established that it is the rapport, the empathy, the dialogue, the relationship and the communication that the service deliverer establishes with the customer that makes the critical difference.
The higher order thinking capabilities of staff enables them through innovative service design to create an element of pleasant surprise in the overall service outcomes thereby scoring a “wow” effect and intense arousal in the customer.
Higher order thinking skills also kick in when there has been a service failure.
For effective service recovery, one has to use critical thinking, evaluative and problem-solving acumen, which can win the loyalty of the customer after disappointment.
In other words, disappointment needs not only to be removed but to be replaced with pleasure and arousal.
When that is achieved, the customer is absolutely won back, with even a higher sense of attachment than originally.
Emotional connections with customers can be fostered and cemented in a number of ways, but the pivotal one is optimised customer-staff interaction.
In such instances, it is not simply what one does that is important, but also how one does it.
This is essentially a function of the people skills of the frontline staff and their competencies in handling each and customer as an individual, not as just another business transaction.
The key drivers of emotional attachment are not necessarily the same as the key drivers of customer satisfaction.
In fact, one of the biggest opportunities to create an emotional attachment is through exceptional customer-staff interactions in the social context.
Business transactions can only attain emotional attachment of the customers if they are conducted as social exchanges and this requires exceptional social skills on the part of the customer service employees.
Positive and emotionally connecting customer experiences are therefore value creators within organisations that are promoted through an atmosphere of friendliness and personal attention, which in turn encourage repeat purchase behaviour and ultimately spawn customer loyalty.
Emotional attachment is the root of customer commitment and the basis of any long lasting relationship between a customer and service.
– Phineas Chauke is a Tourism Consultant, Marketer and Tour Guide. Contact him on email: [email protected] twitter: @phinychauke619 and mobile: +263776058523