Go Hard on the Soft Skills for Better Customer Service

By Flavio Martins | Small Business

In today’s world, a lot of times we think HARD is better. Work hard! Play hard! Drive a hard bargain! But it’s the soft skills that often make the greatest impact in the customer service experience.

Go Hard on the Soft Skills for Better Customer Service image customer service skillsGo Hard on the Soft Skills for Better Customer ServiceHard may mean strength such as “hard as a rock” versus soft which may seam weak as in “Don’t be a softy.” Apples taste better hard and to many peoples’ tastes, so does cheese.

There may be lots of things that work or seem better when they are hard but when it comes to service, it’s the soft skills that will enable the most memorable results, not the hard ones. Don’t get me wrong…hard skills are essential and important and will get the job done. But, it’s the soft skills that will make the emotional connection and inspire the lasting impact most hospitality leaders desire.

This guest post summarizes my colleague Roberta Nedry’s great post on Hotel Business Review discussing the need for greater emphasis in training the soft skills. Roberta’s focus in hotel guest experience is also critical for call center agents to effectively

In service and even in hospitality curricula, hard skills are often the focus for training and education to deliver effective job performance. Hard service skills include efficiency, responsiveness and accuracy as examples.

  • Hard skills are technical and operational actions needed for any one job role or task.
  • Hard skills are the procedures and responsibilities in job duties and descriptions.
  • Hard skills are the established systems and processes to deliver services and amenities to customers.

This includes things like the system used to take reservations, the procedures followed to check-in a guest, the processes followed to maintain the property, the workflow of preparing for a banquet, and the like. Hard skills focus on the systems, tools and methods used to deliver your products and services to guests.

Soft skills are the behaviors which directly impact guest impressions and feelings. These behaviors have the opportunity to cause positive, negative or indifferent reactions. These behaviors include communication styles, both verbal and non-verbal, attitudes, teamwork, awareness, authenticity, empathy and even leadership amongst others.

  • Soft skills showcase the personal side of service.
  • Soft skills focus on effective use of team members’ emotions.
  • Soft skills rely on behaviors and verbal skills used to effectively communicate.

The personal dimensions of service are the way employees greet guests, the manner in which they listen to their needs and requests, and the care they take in each Touchpoint. It’s the emotional experience that they create for guests! It’s how they make them feel!

Soft skills take guests right to the brain’s emotional reflex. They are the express train for service, especially exceptional service! Hard skills will get them there eventually but may be with less impact and possibly more aggravation. They will also not yield the rewards that the triggering of positive emotions will do via this direct route.

Go hard on the soft skills for better customer service experiences

Soft skills are less tangible but more powerful so they should have constant, consistent and persistent emphasis and understanding. Hospitality leaders need to understand HOW to showcase those behaviors and hold both managers and employees accountable for integrating them into all their daily actions and responsibilities. Priorities and budgets need to be dedicated to professional “soft skill” training and applications so that they become fully part of and integral to any service culture.

Employees need to understand what those skills are and why they will lead to great emotional benefits for both them and their guests. Science supports these outcomes with more and more evidence of how our brains are triggered to direct or respond to the multiple points of contact in our lives. When we understand what those triggers are and how we are impacted ourselves or how we impact others, we can then be proactive about how we handle those points of contact. This is what training in soft skills is all about and what will lead to exceptional service delivery and the most memorable guest experiences.

For example, according to new research, empathy, a powerful soft skill, is a habit we can cultivate, especially once we understand what it is all about. Empathy is a critical soft skill for service excellence. Empathy is about being able to relate to someone else, to step into their shoes, to understand why they might be feeing the way they do or to anticipate why they might feel a certain way.

Empathy is about discovering other people’s tastes and assembling the personal ingredients for service success. Getting better at service delivery and inspiring memorable guest experiences, even in the most simple, brief and ordinary moments, is directly connected to better understanding human nature.

Scientists are producing more evidence that we are “homo empathicus” which means we are wired for empathy, social cooperation and helping others. We just have to trigger that side of others and us and recognize that we are naturally evolving to care for each other or that we have the ability to care.

Caring is a key component and a key soft skill in service delivery. There are many ways to show we care, even with complete strangers and guests with whom we may interact for only a few moments. Smiling is one of the soft skills that can instantly show interest. Smiling with both eyes and voice add even more impact.

Showing empathy and that genuine interest and caring is in play happens with a greeting, a gesture, body language or the tone of voice. It happens through teamwork, through service recovery, through social media, through written documents—through every touchpoint.

Employees need to understand the multiple ways in which they can take guests on that express train to the brain and trigger those positive emotions that yield the most loyal customers. Soft skills need to be part of hiring, orientation, job training and performance reviews.

Soft skills need to be part of daily operations and permeate each level of an organization, both on the frontline and in the back. All roles need to learn more about the variety of behaviors that will impact those with whom they interact, both internally and externally. Leaders also need to design the framework and foundation for service behaviors that are most desired and how they fit into that particular organization.

Exceptional service and great guest experiences start to happen on a consistent basis when this comprehensive understanding of blending soft and hard skills takes place. Research in sociology, psychology and even history support the power of this strategy. Making an emotional connection about how to make emotional connections will be the soft sell that leads to hard profits.

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