Having a happy, motivated and productive team is key to excellent customer service, maintaining sales and controlling costs. Your team can be your point of differentiation so what is the secret to keeping your team engaged, motivated and eager to please you and your customers? Here are my top 5 tips for any hospitality or leisure business.

1. Recruit wisely

We’re in a people business. So let’s focus on people who like people!

What’s so often happens is we recruit on aptitude, but then fire on attitude. There are of course times when previous experience or industry knowledge is imperative; your head chef obviously needs a combination of culinary and management skills, your sommelier needs to know his or her wines and your maintenance engineer needs to be familiar with the technical and safety requirements.

But if you’re a tourist attraction appealing to young families then loving children (and having the ability to relate to them as well as parents) surely has to feature high up on the list of attributes. And whether you’re a 5 star country house hotel or a leisure venue, don’t you want people who have a “can do; nothing is too much trouble” attitude? If so, add it to the top of your criteria.

Rather than waiting till you have a vacancy and you’re at desperation point to take anybody who comes along, start creating a list of the people you can call upon whom you’re confident share your values and would jump at the chance to work with you when the opportunity comes.

2. Set expectations

No one likes uncertainty or being left in the dark, so set your expectations of your team early on. This means a thorough induction, not expecting them to hit the floor running. Same goes for seasonal staff too.

Of course this involves training your team and giving them all the necessary resources such as equipment. But it also means giving them sufficient time to do the job to the standard that you and your customers would expect.

Just as importantly giving them the confidence; often people know what they should be doing, but just lack that certainty and confidence to do this really well. Take up-selling for example, or dealing with complaints. Both important aspects of a customer facing role; team members often understand the principles but just feel uncomfortable doing it. So let them practise in a safe environment, and give them feedback, support and coaching.

Define everyone’s areas of responsibility to ensure no gaps and no duplication of effort. Avoid the frictions that occur when someone hasn’t pulled their weight or others are seen to ‘interfere’ with your way of doing things.

3. Communication

None of us likes being kept in the dark; let people know what’s going on. Conduct daily briefings to include what’s happening that could affect the operation or the customer experience in any way (e.g. maintenance, staff shortages, unavailable products or services), as well as any feedback from staff on their observations or ideas. Let your team know how the business is performing, and what this means to them. Communicate any changes that are happening in the business before they happen, and how this might affect them.

4. Responsibility

Communication is a two-way process, not only do people need to know what’s going on, they want to be heard.

Ask your team for their input and their ideas. Often they’re closest to customers and know first-hand what’s most important to them. They’ll invariably spot simple things that can improve business. And even if they can’t be implemented today, they might spark ideas for future development.

Give them the freedom and authority to take decisions and do what’s best. You only have to look at what team members will achieve when you’re not there to realise how capable they really are. Not only does this give them a sense of pride and ownership, it frees you up to focus on other things, and when customers are involved gives them a smoother experience.

5. Reward and recognition

Celebrate and share successes; everyone likes to be appreciated, and sometimes this is simple as a heart-felt thank you at the end of a busy shift or hectic day.

Consider what’s important to individuals within your team, not everyone is motivated by the same things. For some a treat or maybe even time off to attend to something that’s important to them –  such as giving them the night off on their birthday, or the afternoon off to attend their children’s sport’s day.

Give people opportunities for development; consider personal development as well as business orientated. Such as learning a second language, or English as a second language (both of which might have practical applications at work too).

Play to people’s strengths and give them development and responsibility in areas they excel in.

Be sure to recognise all departments, including back of house staff, e.g. housekeeping is often the most undervalued department, but is commonly the most profitable aspect of a hotel.

Make your business somewhere people love to work, and are happy to be advocates and ambassadors for your business. That way when you come to recruit you’ll be able to do so wisely and have a steady stream of people queueing up!

Caroline Cooper is a speaker, author, trainer and consultant on customer service and customer loyalty. She’s the founder of Naturally Loyal who specialises in helping businesses retain more of their quality customers, and is author of “The Hotel Success Handbook.”

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