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Article by Paul Sarlas

7 Tips for Managing a Seasonal Business

Savvy IQ - 22 June 2017
A seasonal fluctuation can result from dips in customer demand or supply issues.No one can prepare for every possible contingency, but consider these seven tips for developing and sustaining a season-proof business. Here are seven tips to consider:1. Understand the cycles in your industry.Rapid growth of a company is not unusual for business owner who's new to an industry. And that can disguise a normal seasonal fluctuation, leading the entrepreneur to expect the healthy sales will continue.Base projections about seasonality on sales data from at least two or three years. If the business hasn't been around that long, check with peers and industry sources.2. Fortify planning skills."Measure twice, cut once" is an old adage that still rings true, especially for a new business.Look ahead at least six months to plan appropriately. To carry the business through slower periods (the shoulder season) and complete lulls (the off-season), consider stocking away cash reserves during the busy months.Look hard at every element, from inventory to staffing, to avoid tying up cash unnecessarily during quiet months. And don't forget to take advantage of slow stretches to prepare for the peak season.3. Build alternative income streams.Although it might seem like a diversion from the core business, set up additional revenue sources to counteract the off-season. Just don't let attention to the alternative stream overtake a focus on the primary business.4. Customer promotions need to be countercyclical.Don't overlook the opportunity to take advantage of times when competitors may be in quiet mode. Target audiences are often just as accessible before a busy season as during its peak.5. Be creative about staying in touch.Set apart a business by making a point of maintaining visibility throughout the year.Even if regular clients aren't much in contact during the off-season, they might still be around. Be creative about finding ways to stay in touch with them all year round. It's a great way to turn one-time customers into repeat clients.6. Manage the impact of seasonality on staff.Hiring employees, including manager-level talent, is a critical factor for success. In some cases, there's simply no getting around the seasonality factor and short-term contracts are unavoidable.Just be sure to manage expectations of seasonal workers. Be clear about the length of the job and keep abreast of important issues like full-time and temporary regulations and developments surrounding the minimum wage.7. Select a clued-in funding partner.Make it a priority to cultivate a relationship with a funding partner with a firm grasp of the industry and its seasonal nature. A funder with experience dealing with similar businesses can help facilitate what's needed for anticipated expansion, hiring and other capital investments.Seasonality affects nearly every business, with few exceptions. But building seasonality into the business plan will go far in ensuring success.

How to deal with bad online reviews

Savvy IQ - 15 June 2017
The frequency with which potential guests read online feedback about restaurants before making decisions means that it's essential to manage a business's online reputation. In fact, this trend has spawned a new parasitic sub-industry - online reputation management. Few restaurants have the time or inclination to pay someone to manage an online reputation. But bad online reviews can be costly, inaccurate, and influential. The collection of a few of them - especially when they repeat the same message - is a serious red flag to many guests.Restaurant managers have to tackle bad reviews like they do most everything in this business - by getting out in front of the problem. A few tips for dealing with bad reviews online:Pay AttentionIt's worthwhile to make spending time on review websites a once-a-week routine. It's imperative to know what people are saying about you, whether it's good or bad. This is especially true in the restaurant business, governed as it is by subjective standards and emotional responses.Google Alerts is a good option for any restaurant, because it will send reports on any online content covering your business. It's also worthwhile to maintain a Facebook page, which offers guests the chance to post feedback and reviews. Some bad reviews are essentially meaningless, such as a negative comment on the hostess's wardrobe or the ice content in the daiquiris. But some undermine a core product of a restaurant - like a critique of the steaks at a steakhouse. It's essential to know these exist, and to spend time learning how to find them.Respond to Your GuestsDialogue with guests about their experiences demonstrates that you care, and that you're responsive to feedback and criticisms. It shows that you don't hide from problems and you value input. Most people recognize these traits as the foundation of a good business owner, even when they're response to a bad online review.Bad reviews don't have to be followed up with a treatise on good taste and decorum (as can be found on some review websites - it's worth a look). Instead, follow-ups should be succinct and fact-based. They should be the product of some background work into the specific problem and your work to resolve it. They're strictly positive, and grateful toward the guest (easier said than done, I know).It's also worthwhile to thank guests for positive feedback, online and in personal correspondence. Email discounts or offers to people who give feedback is a great and simple way to win a lifelong customer.Post Your Own ReviewsIs it ethical? Probably not. Does it save you a huge headache? Yes. Getting a known fan of your restaurant to post a review takes the spotlight away from mediocre reviews, especially when they're listed first on a review site. The internet culture reduces attention spans, making the top couple of reviews on most sites essential.It's also important to leverage Facebook and Twitter in this way, perpetuating positive reviews, special events, and discounts. This is what online reputation management enterprises do.The Online GameIt's important to remember that not all online reviews are bad. In fact, good reviews strung together on multiple websites offers the free advertising every business can use. Something about the restaurant industry motivates people to respond in writing. It's worth it to remember the value that paying attention to those responses carries.LikeHow to deal with bad online reviewsCommentShareShare How to deal with bad online reviews

How Business Blogging Can Build Your Credibility Offline

Savvy IQ - 5 June 2017
There are plenty of online benefits to posting high-quality content on your business blog regularly, and one of the most important is this:Information seekers and search engines will both recognize you and your website as authorities on the topic you're blogging about. This can help attract new potential customers and increase their trust to purchase your product or service, even though you haven't met in person.Networking, if done well, can also help you establish trusting relationships with potential customers. That is, as long as you attend networking events regularly, and cultivate long-term relationships with your fellow professionals.It's your job to train your network to recognize your ideal customers and the unique problems that you solve in your business. That way, when members of your network come across these people, they can introduce you. This creates an optimal situation where you're solving, not selling.Here are five ways that blending business blogging with in-person networking will help you attract new clients, grow your network, and make a meaningful contribution to those you meet.Match your message - One of the first things many people will do with that stack of business cards they collected at a networking event is visit people's websites. If they find a current and highly informative collection of articles (otherwise known as a blog) about the same topics you referred to at the meeting, that validates the positive impression you made in person.Educate - Your network can only learn so much from a 60-second introduction, especially in the midst of dozens of other introductions that can all start to blend together after awhile. On your blog, include case stories and samples that will clearly show your network what you do and who you do it for.Equip - By publishing blog posts on a variety of topics that correspond to the specific customers, products, services or situations that you deal with in your business, your networking colleagues can easily find and share this specific information when they meet an ideal customer for you.Spotlight - Members of your network may also post your content on social media to share with their entire network. By blogging consistently and linking to your posts on social media, you make it easy for your network to help you. You also make them look better by giving them great content to share. You can return the favor with a simple public "thank you" that your followers will see, or by promoting some of the other person's content or announcements.Follow up - If you speak to someone at a networking event who might also be a potential customer, blogging gives you a non-threatening and effective way to continue the conversation. Simply send them the link to one or two of your blog posts, that either describes how you solved a similar problem for another client (a case study), or provides some self-help tips they can apply immediately to get some initial relief.Blogging and social media don't replace in-person networking, but using them effectively can help you enhance your relationships - both online and offline.

Getting Your SWOT Analyses Right

Savvy IQ - 2 June 2017
In fact, most people carry out SWOT analyses very poorly, and they get them wrong, no, very wrong. Let me share with you why so many people mess up their SWOT analyses, and, more importantly, how to get them right.Getting SWOT Analyses WrongIn order to explain why so many companies get SWOT analyses wrong, let me describe how most companies develop their SWOT analyses. I admit that what I am about to share with you is a parody, but it is only just a parody...Most people start their SWOT analyses with their strengths, which the participants in a SWOT analysis session typically feel pretty good about. They know that they have to admit to a few weaknesses, so they move onto that next, but nothing that would be politically problematic. At that point, the participants are feeling somewhat tired, so they pull together a few opportunities, and finish up with a handful of potential threats.At this point, it is close to lunchtime, so the group arranges for a junior staffer to type up the results. The staffer circulates the document and places it on a company server, where it is promptly ignored until it is archived and deleted a year later. The end result of all of this effort is, to be precise, nothing.Getting SWOT Analyses RightSo, how do we get SWOT analyses right? The answer to that question is to remember that the purpose of a SWOT analysis session is to identify the opportunities that we are going to pursue over the following year.We should therefore, start any SWOT analysis by focusing on opportunities, and by that I mean only those opportunities that are likely to be substantial enough, and doable enough, to be worth pursuing. In practice, as we will see, we will end up spending the bulk of our time on opportunities, and very little on anything else. After identifying opportunities, we should then list any serious threats. Just as with opportunities, we should only focus on those threats that are likely to be material enough, and probable enough, to be worth considering.My basic advice when it comes to strengths and weaknesses is to spend very little time on them in any SWOT analysis meeting. While identifying strengths and weaknesses may be an interesting exercise, it is rarely time well spent. The only reason why we spend any time at all on either strengths or weaknesses in a SWOT analysis is to make sure that we can realistically attain our chosen opportunities, and deal with any serious threats. I wish to emphasize in this context that a strength means absolutely nothing, unless it enables us to pursue a sizable opportunity or deal with a significant threat. All other so-called strengths are not actually strengths at all, but merely irrelevances.At this point, we now have the raw material for a successful SWOT analysis. But we have to take it a level deeper if our SWOT analysis is actually going to be useful. We have to remember that "we can only do three"...We Can Only Do ThreeSteve Jobs would gather together his lieutenants each year to lay out the opportunities that Apple could pursue over the following year. Inevitably, the Apple management team would come up with a long list of potential opportunities that Apple could go after. Jobs would then say that "we can only do three", and he would list the three opportunities that Apple would focus on over the upcoming year. What I would suggest is that if that is true for Steve Jobs and Apple than it is true for all of our organizations. Realistically, we can only do three.We should make sure in a SWOT analysis meeting that we select the Top Three opportunities that we should go after, and the Top Three threats that we need to deal with. Because we cannot focus on everything, we should then ignore the rest for the time being.From SWOT Analysis To Actionable ResultsAs in any other project management meeting, we should finish up our SWOT analysis by allocating responsibilities, milestones and deadlines for each of the three threats and opportunities.My approach to SWOT analyses may not be quite what we have all learned in business school. On the other hand, if we go through the approach to SWOT analyses that I have just laid out, then our SWOT analysis meetings will be much more productive, and they will actually produce focused and actionable results.

Small Business Success - Easy Tips That Will Help You Succeed

Savvy IQ - 26 May 2017
One of the most effective ways to get your business off the ground is to do what is called networking. Sounds simple, but often neglected.Showing off your business, the uniqueness of you product or service to other people, you have to learn how to do it in a way that conveys integrity, yet in a laid-back confident way. You simply need to talk to people, and not push them, as you try advertise your business. With such a push on social media, networking is becoming far easier. I am amazed how little people actually use forums such as LinkedIn to network for business purposes. I personally use LinkedIn as my network connection to people for my consulting business, Savvy IQ.In many cases, someone will be genuinely grateful to learn about your business if you can offer a product or service that they've been seeking. Once you understand that the people are interested in what you are talking about, you can tell them more about your services or products. To be a good networker, you have to learn to be sensitive about knowing when is and isn't a good time to promote your business.Success in any business begins with following the strategies of those that have gone before us and already succeeded. If you read blogs or social media posts where business strategies similar to your own are being discussed, you can learn a great deal. Even better, find out where these people are and meet them at a conference or event. Some of these people may mentor you, but some of them will not; it is your job to take the information that you can get and apply it to your business. With the internet, it's not hard to at least develop online relationships with successful entrepreneurs. To get free advice from an online guru, the easiest way to drain their brain is to buy a product from them and then fire away with questions. It is best to be prepared to ask questions that are meaningful, opposed to ones that you should actually already know the answer to.If you are able to be consistent and focused when running your business, you should do very well. You need to learn how to prioritize the things you need to get done everyday and stop waiting. It is typical for the average worker to waste a lot of time using social media these days for personal use, why not maximise this to network with customers. Once you start running your own business, you will see how your priorities begin to change, and how you will take responsibility for every one of your decisions and actions. If you fail to produce, or reach your daily goals, the only person you are hurting is yourself by your lack of motivation and commitment. It is important to get your priorities straight, and accomplish what needs to be done initially before moving down the list.Whatever your small business may be, try to market it in any way possible to make it profitable. Your business will steadily grow as long as your customers are happy and you market your business both online and off-line.

ALL GM's - Five Imperatives for Improving Service Quality

Savvy IQ - 25 May 2017
Magazine: Summer 1990 Reading Time: 33 min Leonard L. Berry, Valarie A. Zeithaml and A. ParasuramanTHE DOWNTOWN Chicago Marriott hotel had been open for fifteen years before its management determined that two-thirds of all guest calls to housekeeping were to request ironing boards. This discovery prompted the idea of simply placing irons and ironing boards in all of the hotel's guest rooms, an idea that would cost $20,000. The hotel manager reviewed the capital budget and saw that $22,000 was earmarked to replace black-and-white television sets in the bathrooms of concierge-level guest rooms with color sets. The manager then inquired how many VIP guests had requested color television sets for their bathrooms and learned that no guest had ever made such a request. So the manager eliminated the color television sets and added the irons and ironing boards with no net addition to the capital budget, a big productivity boost for housekeeping, and a new, important guest room feature.We begin with this story to make two critical points. The first is that customers are the sole judge of service quality. Customers assess service by comparing the service they receive (perceptions) with the service they desire (expectations). A company can achieve a strong reputation for quality service only when it consistently meets customer service expectations.The second point is how easy it is for managers to forget the first point. Managers nod their heads in agreement when convention speakers stress the importance of customer focus and then go back to work and buy the equivalent of color TVs for the bathroom instead of ironing boards. We know it because we have spent most of the 1980s studying service quality in the United States. We have done extensive research with customers, front-line service providers, and managers in our studies of six service sectors: appliance repair, credit cards, insurance, long-distance telephone, retail banking, and securities brokerage. We describe our research program in more detail in the Appendix.Through our studies, we have been able to identify the principal dimensions customers use to judge a company's service:Tangibles. The appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel, and communication materials.Reliability. The ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately.Responsiveness. The willingness to help customers and to provide prompt service.Assurance. The knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to convey trust and confidence.Empathy. The provision of caring, individualized attention to customers.Knowing what customers expect is, of course, only part of the challenge. Another part--a big part--is actually meeting these expectations. In this article we attempt to answer a fundamental question: What must every company interested in improving service do to actually improve it? We answer in terms of five service imperatives: define the service role, compete for talent (and use it), emphasize service teams, go for reliability, and be great at problem resolution.Define the Service RoleThere are no standards for quality. We tell them to provide a high level of service to the customer.--A bank marketing officer, referring to branch office employeesIt's hard to say what our manager expects because he is no longer in our building.--A customer service representative at one of the branchesIn our unit, it's sell, sell, sell. And--oh yeah--give good service, too. But that's an afterthought.--A lender from one of the branchesThe above quotations from our research illustrate a common failing in service organizations: management's failure to properly define and reinforce the service role for employees. The result is service role ambiguity; the concept of service is vague and non-credible.The potential causes of service role ambiguity are many. They include the following:No service standards, which drains the credibility from management rhetoric about the importance of service.Too many service standards, which diminish employees' awareness of the most urgent service priorities.General service standards, which offer employees little direction and provide a limited basis for measuring their performance.Poorly communicated service standards, which make the standards a guessing game for employees, or, more likely, a nonentity.Service standards unconnected to the performance measurement, appraisal, and reward systems, which render the standards "toothless" while conveying management's low priority for service.Service standards are customer expectations stated in a way that is meaningful to employees. If well conceived, the standards guide and energize employees; they clarify the service task, convey a sense of priority, and provide benchmarks against which employees can judge their own performance and managers can judge the employees' and the organization's performance. Service standards bring a customer focus into the employee's day-to-day reality of service delivery.A common assumption is that contact personnel understand their customers' service priorities by virtue of regular customer contact. Our research shows otherwise. Our data reveals that managers in five major service companies had a more accurate grasp of customer expectations than did front-line contact employees.What it boils down to is this: If employees are unsure of how to deliver excellent service, if they think they know how but are wrong, or if they believe management does not really care about service, they are unlikely to deliver excellent service.Start with ResearchDefining the service role effectively starts with formal research to identify customers' principal service expectations. Guessing at what customers value most in service introduces a "Russian roulette" dynamic into the entire chain of service-improving actions, from setting service standards to the staffing, training, measuring, appraising, and rewarding decisions required to support the standards.Although the five service dimensions presented earlier provide a framework of customer expectations, each company must still do its own research to measure the relative importance of the service dimensions among customers, prospects, and different market segments. The firm must also assess company and competitor performance against customer expectations. Company-specific research lends insight to the process of setting service standards that generic studies cannot provide. For example, a firm will want to set standards for service dimensions that are important to target markets and on which the company's performance is weak compared to competitors.Research also helps managers make choices among service standards and pare down the list of standards to the pivotal ones that will make a difference for customers. Customers judge a company's service on the basis of a very few important service factors, and managers should establish a limited set of service standards for individual employees that contributes to the limited set of service goals for the organization.The most successful service companies focus employee attention on the preeminent service factors. At Deluxe Corporation (formerly Deluxe Check Printers), the focus is on error-free printing and next-day order shipment. At Southwest Airlines, it is on fifteen-minute turnaround of an aircraft once it arrives at the gate and on creating a "fun" atmosphere for passengers. At Sewell Village Cadillac in Dallas, Texas, it is on convenient, reliable after-sale service. Indeed, Sewell Village is one of the few automobile dealerships where the service manager's income is as handsome as the sales manager's!Communicate and Reinforce Service StandardsStill another key to defining the service role is to use every opportunity to communicate and reinforce service standards--in meetings and training sessions; in internal media such as wallet cards, desk signs, and wall posters; and in performance measurement, appraisal, and reward systems. Palais Royal, a successful Houston-based chain of apparel stores, posts service standards on a large sign in the employee area of each store and furnishes employees with personal copies of the standards. The explicit standards (for example, greeting or acknowledging every customer within 30 seconds) form a basis for training, performance measurement, appraisal, and compensation.Defining employees' service roles clearly, consistently, and credibly is important to any organization's efforts to improve service. The behavior-guiding and motivational benefits of service standards are well worth the investment necessary to develop and reinforce them. Service employees need to know what excellent service means--and why they should care about delivering it.Compete for Talent--and Use ItWe should be more aggressive and active in seeking qualified tellers, rather than just waiting for them to walk in off the street.--A bank branch managerNothing has changed about the raw material. It's as bad today as it has always been. We draw from the bottom of the barrel because that's the way we compensate.--Another branch managerWe have so many rules and regulations that we can't think anymore. We can't bend the rules. We can't be entrepreneurial. Our customers suffer.--A branch lenderDefining the service role is an important step, but it won't get a company very far unless the company has personnel with the attitude, ability, and flexibility to fulfill the role. Our studies indicate that two of the principal causes of poor service quality are placing the wrong people in the service role and giving employees too little control over the service. Contact employees who believe their units are not meeting service standards disagree with the following statements:My company hires people who are qualified to do their jobs.I have the freedom in my job to truly satisfy my customers' needs.Services are performances, and most of the time it is people who render these performances. From the customer's perspective, the people performing the service are the company. An incompetent insurance agent is an incompetent insurance company, and a rude waiter is a rude restaurant.So why do managers allow the wrong people to carry the company flag in front of customers? One reason is that most managers do not think like marketers when it comes to human resource issues. They view marketing as something you do to win over customers but not something you do to win over employees.Read the employment ads in your local newspaper. Is this any way to compete for talent? The same companies that advertise imaginatively to compete for customers advertise with no imagination at all to recruit employees. The employment ads are look-alike ads in fine print selling "jobs" rather than careers.Moreover, managers often do not have a well-defined profile of people to hire. They do not base hiring standards on service standards, which contributes to a mismatch between the type of people the company actually hires and the type of people the company needs to hire to deliver excellent service.Compounding the mismatch problem is anachronistic thinking about "affordable" wage rates, with the goal of "saving money" dominating the goal of "serving customers." The tendency we observe among service firm managers to spend more liberally on things than people runs counter to our research findings that customers value the human dimensions of service more than the "tangibles" of service. If you believe we are overstating our case, we invite you to visit your local department stores. Notice the expensive floor space, displays, and inventory, and then try to find salespeople who are knowledgeable about the merchandise and who tune into your needs with commitment and grace.The Problem Is Getting WorseThe problem of hiring the wrong people is getting worse due to labor-force shortfalls. Service sector employment is expanding rapidly, and the skills needed are being elevated just at the time that changing demographics are shrinking the labor pool of young people, who in many instances are not receiving the education they need to be marketable.1The implications for service quality are sobering. Rather than leave positions unfilled or pay what they consider to be exorbitant wages, many managers are hiring people who are woefully ill equipped to deliver excellent service. The pressure to hire "just about anyone" is very reaf in many industries.Squelching Talent through Rule Book ManagementService managers frequently add to their problems by not fully using the capabilities of those they do employ. By using thick policy and procedures manuals to control service delivery, managers stifle creativity, diminish the opportunity for employees to grow in their work, and chase the most able employees out the door in search of more interesting work.Thick rule books serve customers no better than employees. They produce regimented, "by-the-book" service when a flexible, "by-the-customer" one is needed. While managers are demanding that employees be "robot servers," customers are demanding that they be "thinking servers."One reason rule book management is so prevalent is that many managers believe it is essential to standardize service among different employees and service units. To some degree they are probably right. However, another factor is that many managers simply do not trust employees' judgment and make rules to replace it with their own. "Thinking" employees also threaten die control and power of insecure managers. The labor shortfall issue is also a factor. If you can't get good people, the theory goes, you at least need to make sure you control their work tightly. This theory is nonsense. People who are unqualified for a position should not be in that position. People who are qualified will perform better and stay with the company longer if given room to maneuver, achieve, and grow.The Search for Fresh IdeasExcellent service is too integral to a firm's future to accept yesterday's ideas about whom to hire, how to hire them, and what to do with them once hired. Managers need to compete as hard and creatively for talent market share as they compete for sales market share.Here is what we recommend: Market careers rather than jobs, market them in multiple ways, link hiring standards to service standards, and leverage the freedom factor. Companies that do these things will do just fine in the talent market.The idea of "career" may seem at odds with the demographically fragmented labor pool available and the high cost of employee benefit programs (which make part-time workers desirable), but in fact it is smart to look for the countertrend when prevailing routines are not working. Selling "just a job" does not typically inspire commitment and loyalty from employees or a willingness to invest in employee development from companies.This is why Nordstrom and Wal-Mart Stores, two of America's most successful retail chains, take a different tack. Unlike most department store companies, Nordstrom resists the lure of part-time salespeople, preferring to staff the stores with full-time personnel. Earning wages plus commissions, Nordstrom salespeople earn well above retailing standards. Indeed, the most successful Nordstrom salespeople earn more than some of the managers of competing stores in the same malls.Wal-Mart provides scholarship assistance to employees so that they can attend college while continuing to work part-time. Once these employees graduate from college, they are promoted into management. Approximately 40 percent of Wal-Mart's managers started as hourly trainees.Using good old-fashioned marketing fundamentals also makes sense. McDonald's "McMaster" program to attract older workers, Century 21's "Career Opportunity Week" advertised in national media, and Disney World's training of existing employees to recruit new employees illustrate the use of such familiar marketing concepts as market segmentation, market development, and personal selling.It is also important to use service standards as a basis for hiring decisions. This requires having written service standards for the various positions, written "ideal candidate" profiles tiiat reflect the service standards, and extensive line involvement in actual hiring decisions. Getting good people requires tenacity. There are no shortcuts. Jim Daniel, president of the high-performing Friendly Bank in Oklahoma City, makes the point well:2A continual challenge is finding people . . . who have the qualities necessary to provide the top-notch customer service that we require. Creative interviewing techniques must be utilized to obtain a clear picture of how the applicant truly feels about the public. Most applicants have had some degree of customer contact in previous employment. However, very few really thrive on customer contact. We look until we find that person.Of course, it does little good to recruit capable, service-minded people only to frustrate them into leaving. Competing for talent means having good careers to market, not just marketing them well. And having good careers to market is a principal reason why service freedom is so important. Human beings were not meant to be robots.To leverage the freedom factor, managers have to select their people well, provide them with a strong foundational culture in which to work, offer them strategic direction, and give them the company-specific training and education they need to perform their roles. And then managers need to get out of their way!We agree with Robert Waterman, who writes in The Renewal Factor: "When managers guide instead of control, the sky's the limit on what people can accomplish."3 We do recognize that some policies are necessary in most companies. What we are arguing for is thinning the rule book down to the bare essentials. Most companies would benefit from task forces that systematically review existing policies and procedures expressly to revise or eliminate those that unnecessarily restrict service freedom. Companies should also tackle head-on the issue of empowerment in the education and training of managers. Managers must learn the dangers of overmanagement; they must learn to widen the solution boundaries for their people.Emphasize Service TeamsWe're not working as a family and as a group. We may all come together again but it hasn"t happened yet.--A bank branch customer service representativeOur cashier sits there and smokes cigarettes and drinks coffee. She doesn't help with any of our work. She says it isn't in her job description.--A customer service representativeOur customers are used to walking in, talking to us, and getting the money tomorrow. Now that doesn't happen. Your priority becomes someone else's C drawer.--A lending officerService work is frequently frustrating and demoralizing. Customers can be rude and insensitive. The sheer number of customers to be served can be psychologically and physically overwhelming. Control over service can be dispersed among multiple organizational units that function without cohesion or a unified spirit, limiting contact employees' ability to come through for their customers.It is very common for service workers to get "beat up" by the service role and become less effective even as they gain technical experience that should theoretically produce the opposite result. In numerous cases, however, what customers perceive as inhospitable behavior is actually the "coping" behavior of weary servers who have taken too many punches. Many service workers, of course, do not succumb to the stresses of the service role. They may be indomitable personalities, have an unusually strong work ethic, or work for supportive managers who help them get through difficult periods. Any number of factors can account for the fact that service work pummels and changes some employees more than others.One dynamic that is particularly important in kindling and sustaining service-mindedness is the presence of service "teammates." An interactive community of coworkers who collaborate, overcome, and achieve together is a powerful antidote to service burnout. Membership on a team can be rejuvenating and inspirational. It can also raise the ante for individual performance. To let down the boss is bad, but to let down the team is often worse. Team participation can unleash one of the most potent of motivators--the respect of peers.Service teamwork is also important because people in service organizations typically depend on one another. The end service the customer receives is commonly the result of many behind-the-scenes, internal services.Our research shows convincingly that teamwork is a principal factor in delivering excellent service. Employees who indicate that their organizational units are not meeting service standards disagreewith the following statements:I feel that I am part of a team in my unit.Everyone in my unit contributes to a team effort in serving customers.I feel a sense of responsibility to help my fellow employees do their jobs well.My fellow employees and I cooperate more than we compete.I feel that I am an important member of this company.Organizational teamwork is clearly not a new idea, but it is an idea whose time has come. Robert Reich views "collective entrepreneurship" within organizations as the primary route to a better economic future for the United States.4 Marketing researcher Mimi Lieber admonishes top managers to "reward cooperative farming rather than the number of pelts."5 Retail executive Allen Questrom states that the biggest challenge in U.S. industry is to develop "team energy?"6Working at TeamworkService team building cannot be left to chance. Some degree of structuring, assigning, and facilitating is needed to overcome organizational inertia. Managers should strive to nurture teamwork within organizational units (intraunit teams) and between organizational units (interunit teams).Some firms have already formed teams to accomplish specific tasks or solve problems. But we believe managers must go beyond this focus to fully reap the benefits of service teamwork. Creating the richest form of service teamwork requires long-lasting team membership; frequent team contact and communication; team leadership, direction, and goals; and team measurements and rewards (in addition to individual employee measurements and rewards).In the 1990s a growing number of service firms will boldly pursue the full benefits of service teamwork by replacing functional organizational structures with market-focused team structures. PHH FleetAmerica, the nation's largest automobile fleet management company, is experimenting with this approach by assigning teams to serve the range of needs of selected large clients. This is in contrast to the firm's predominantly functional structure, in which various departments specialize in specific tasks (such as automobile procurement, titles, and disposal) and clients deal with different units for different needs.Aid Association for Lutherans (AAL) totally reorganized its $50 billion insurance business from a functional structure to a market-team structure in 1987. Before reorganizing, AAL field agents contacted multiple internal departments for support services, which was a cumbersome and impersonal process. Now, field agents contact an assigned home office team to receive whatever internal service they require. These all-purpose teams perform more than 150 functions previously spread throughout the organization. Management gives the restructuring credit for reducing case-processing time by as much as 75 percent.7In effect, FleetAmerica and AAL are moving from interunit to intraunit service delivery with their new structures. Management is placing people with different specialties together in the same unit and saying, "Work together as a team, take ownership of the customer, and improve the way we do things." This approach is promising because it combines into one package close-to-the-customer decision making, unified control over the service, and--most of all--the team energy about which Mr. Questrom speaks.Go for ReliabilityI was told I would be the first call tomorrow. At 12:30 the next afternoon I called to ask them when their day started.--An appliance repair customerI don't trust their computers or statements. I don't want to be at the mercy of their mismanagement.--A securities brokerage customerIf I'm going to charge something I don't want any problems.--A credit card customerBreaking the service promise is the single most important way service companies fail their customers. When a firm is careless in performing the service, when it makes mistakes, when it doesn't do what it said it would do, customers lose confidence in the firm's reliability; they lose confidence in the firm's wherewithal to do what it promises to do dependably and accurately.We have learned in our research that service reliability is the service "core" to most customers. Little else matters to customers when a company is not dependable. We have now measured the relative importance of the five service dimensions in nine independent customer samples covering a variety of services. In all nine samples, respondents rate reliability as the single most important feature in judging service quality. Unfortunately, the evidence that U.S. companies are delivering service reliability is not reassuring. Our data shows our sample companies, large, well-known U.S. firms, are more deficient on the reliability dimension than on any other.We sometimes hear executives say that 98 percent reliability is acceptable and that it is cost-prohibitive to do better. We disagree. The flip side of 98 percent reliability is 2 percent unreliability, and more than likely, the actual "cost" of 2 percent unreliability is higher than the cost of improving 98 percent reliability.If executives were to calculate the true costs of service unreliability--lost customers, unfavorable word-of-mouth, and redoing services not done properly the first time--they would realize just how much sloppiness steals from the bottom line and that a "zero defects" attitude is as important in services as in manufacturing.And if more executives were to investigate the primary causes of service unreliability in their companies, they would find most of them rooted in poor service design, inattention to service details, and basic carelessness--problems that cannot be solved by throwing money at them.Reliability is the heart of excellent service. No one reading this article wants to travel on an airline whose pilots are usually dependable, to be operated on by a surgeon who usually remembers where on the body the surgery is to be done, or to bank with a financial institution that usually keeps its records straight. When we have our consumer hats on, "usually" isn't good enough. And it is not just the "high-stake" services involving our health or financial security for which we demand reliability. The dry cleaner that loses our shirts, the automobile repair firm that says a car is fixed when it isn't, the taxi service that forgets to pick us up to go to the airport--these folks also lose our confidence. And our business. Robert Ferchat, president of Northern Telecom Canada Ltd., captures the spirit of a zero-defects approach to service:8Think for a moment about what it would mean in our daily lives if people got things right only 99 percent of the time: at least 200,000 wrong prescriptions would be processed every year; there would be nine misspelled words on every page of a magazine; we'd have unsafe drinking water four times each year; there would be no telephone service for fifteen minutes every day.Building a "Do-It-Right-First" AttitudeManagers should use every opportunity to build a "do-it-right-first" attitude. This means specifically addressing the reliability issue in company communications, including mission statements; setting reliability standards; teaching the why and how of reliability in training programs; appointing reliability teams to study specific services and recommend ways to improve reliability; measuring error rates; and rewarding error-free service.Service reliability is so important that we suggest companies ask each employee to make a formal commitment to it. Maryland's Preston Trucking Company, selected in 1987 as one of the ten best U.S. companies to work for, has made service reliability the centerpiece of its Commitment to Excellence statement that each employee signs. The statement, posted in each Preston facility, reads in part:. . . Once I make a commitment to a customer or another associate, I promise to fulfill it on time. I will do what I say when I say I will do it. . . . I understand that one claim or one mistake is one error too many. I promise to do my job right the first time and to continually seek performance improvement.Books and Co., a Dayton, Ohio, bookstore whose sales have grown 30 percent a year since 1984, insists that each new employee sign a performance contract that spells out the employee's service responsibilities. Several of the clauses pertain directly to service reliability.One of the most important opportunities for improving reliability involves analyzing services for "fail points"--the service processes most vulnerable to mishap. Firms can identify fail points by monitoring service delivery through "mystery shoppers" and periodic surveys; by soliciting the input of employees actually performing the service; by studying and categorizing customer service complaints; and by mapping the architecture of the service process--generally referred to as "blueprinting."Identifying fail points focuses attention on the need for special training, additional inspection, building in corrective subprocesses, or even redesigning the original process. Consider the case of Florida Power & Light and its quest to reduce the duration and frequency of service interruptions, a major cause of customer complaints. Serving a part of the country that averages 80 days a year of thunderstorms and lightning, the company has developed a sophisticated, computer-based lightning tracking system to anticipate where weather-related problems might occur and to strategically position crews to quicken recovery response time. This and other initiatives have enabled the utility to reduce service unavailability (customer minutes interrupted divided by customers served) from 70 minutes at the end of 1987 to 48.37 minutes at the end of 1988. The company's target for 1991 is 36.41 minutes.Outstanding service reliability is the foundation on which to build a reputation for outstanding service quality. Companies that consider the service promise inviolate are most likely to earn the confidence of their customers. And the confidence of customers is the greatest asset a company can have.Be Great at Problem ResolutionIf you have a problem, they treat you like you have a disease.--A banking customerYou can't get in touch with these people.--A credit card customerWhen you call in irate, who do you talk to? The office clerk who can't do anything.--An appliance repair customerWhen a customer experiences a problem with a service--when something goes awry--the customer's confidence is jarred but probably not destroyed, unless the problem reflects a pattern of negative experience with the company. Thus, what happens after the service problem occurs--the firm's response--becomes crucial. The firm can make things better with the customer--at least to some extent--or much, much worse.All too often, service companies make things worse. They do not encourage their customers to resolve their problems and set up roadblocks for those who try to do so. They do not put sufficiently trained personnel, or enough of them, in problem-resolution positions. They do not give employees the authority to solve most problems immediately. And they do not invest in the communication and information systems that would support the problem-resolution service.Three possibilities arise when a customer experiences a service problem:The customer complains and is satisfied with the company's response.The customer complains and is not satisfied with the company's response.The customer does not complain to the company and remains dissatisfied.Of these possible outcomes, the first one is good and the last two are very bad. Our sample companies received the most favorable service quality scores from customers who had experienced no recent service problems with them, the next most favorable scores from customers whose problems were resolved satisfactorily, and the worst scores (by far) from customers whose problems were not resolved satisfactorily. Table 1 presents these numbers.In effect, companies that do not respond effectively to customer complaints compound the failure; they fail to come through for the customer again. At this point, the customer's shaky confidence in the firm probably collapses.Many dissatisfied customers do not complain, often making unflattering comments about the firm and taking their business elsewhere instead. The studies of Technical Assistance Research Programs, Inc. (TARP), a Washington, D.C., organization noted for its research on customer complaining behavior, document that large numbers of customers do not complain because they fear a hassle, perceive no easy or efficient way to air their grievances, or believe complaining will not do them any good.9Managers need to come to grips with the seriousness of the lost business and negative word-of-mouth that occurs when customers cannot resolve problems with the firm, or do not even try. How a company handles service problems tells customers (and employees) a great deal about the firm's service values and priorities.Three PrescriptionsBeing excellent in recovery is easier said than done. We offer these specific prescriptions.Encourage customers to complain and make it easy for them to do so.Managers who want to improve problem-resolution service must over come the common customer perception that companies don't really care when things go wrong. The solution calls for some creative marketing of the customer feedback idea. Comment cards available in service delivery facilities and toll-free telephone numbers merely scratch the surface of what is possible. British Airways' Video Point booths, in which disembarking passengers can videotape their concerns, make an unusually strong statement that the company wants to know when its customers are unhappy.Make timely, personal communications with customers a key part of the strategy.Companies frequently make two fatal mistakes in problem resolution: They take too long to respond to customers, and they respond impersonally. Timely, personal communication with unhappy customers offers a firm the best chance to regain the customer's favor. By responding quickly, a firm conveys a sense of urgency. By responding personally, with a telephone call or a visit, it creates an opportunity for dialogue with customers--an opportunity to listen, ask questions, explain, apologize, achieve closure.North Carolina's Wachovia Bank & Trust has a "sundown rule"--employees must establish contact with a complaining customer before sunset on the day a complaint is received. When Minneapoli's First Bank System messed up a direct payroll deposit for a client company in 1988, it immediately sent every employee of that company a $15 check and an apology. In addition, the employees were given the name and telephone number of a person at the bank who could answer questions and resolve problems. Silence is not golden when a problem exists and the customer is waiting to hear.Encourage employees to respond effectively to customer problems and give them the means to do so.Companies must market the idea of problem resolution to employees, not just to customers. This involves many of the ideas we have already covered in the article, for example, setting and rein forcing problem-resolution standards, and giving employees the freedom to truly solve customer problems. It is no fun trying to solve customer problems if doing so produces a small mountain of red tape or a sneer from a supervisor.Service employees need specific training about how to deal with angry customers and how to help customers solve service problems. In some cases, they need access to information systems that will tell them more about the customer, the situation causing the problem, and possible solutions.When American Express card holders telephone the 800 number on their monthly statement, they talk to a highly trained customer service representative with the authority to solve on the spot 85 percent of the problems that prompt telephone calls. The representatives key billing or other changes directly into an on-line data system, and these adjustments are reflected in the card holder's next statement. Over the years, American Express has made a huge investment in problem-resolution staffing, training, and technology, and as a result few, if any, U.S. companies have a stronger reputation for fast, reliable problem-resolution service. Given the strong pricing competition American Express faces from bank credit cards, this is not a bad reputation to have.Specifics aside, problem-resolution excellence requires that managers view services marketing as a way of cementing customer loyalty through service and trust, rather than only as a way to acquire new customers. Effective services marketing--and its cornerstone, service quality--requires that managers take the long view.Agenda for the 1990sExcellent service is within reach if managers are willing to stretch for it. In every single industry in the United States, there are examples of companies delivering superb service and profiting from it. But these are the exceptional stories; in most companies, quality service is still a soft idea, an elusive goal, or a low priority.Our objective in this article has been to frame an agenda for improving service that will strip away softness and elusiveness, and help galvanize management commitment. The five service-improvement imperatives described here apply whether a company is small or large, new or old, a pure service organization or a manufacturer that supplies product-support service. It is time for U.S. companies to raise their service aspirations significantly. It is time for U.S. executives to declare war on mediocre service and set their sights on excellent service, every day, every week, every month. At stake is market leadership--within industries and among countries. It is hard to imagine any service company faring well in the ultracompetitive decade ahead if its service is suspect. And it is hard to imagine U.S. service industries holding their own against foreign competition if their service isn't strong.But more is at stake than economics and competitiveness. The service issue is inextricably linked to the issues of craftsmanship, integrity, generosity,. and civility in our culture. What many U.S. consumers are really anguishing about when they complain of poor service is their perception of a declining culture.We have an agenda for improving service quality in the United States. We have a new decade ahead of us. What we need now is the will to set our sights higher, provide genuine leadership, and do what it takes to transform potential into achievement.

Hotel Strategic Planning a Must

Savvy IQ - 18 May 2017
For the property that we are consulting for, the F&B layout, design and functionality has come purely from the interior designers that were appointed for the project; which have put together concepts and designs with an approach as to what will possibly look nice in a hotel and not what the market would need or what would be functional for the space. The concept idea has come form the investor of the property, from inspiration of a venue that he frequents in London often. However, there has not been any level of involvement from someone with operational hospitality experience or advice from someone in the industry; which in my experience is typical in many hotel F&B concept development phases. This then leads to the evident lack of planning and strategy.I have posted many articles on concept development and how a restaurant idea can come to fruition; In my experience, and one point I make over and over, is that a concept must begin from a menu. The menu defines the decor, ambience, pricing, service style and so on. If for example you decide on creating and Italian concept. The question I ask is: what type of Italian? Is it a Gelataria, Pizzeria, Osteria, Enoteca, Ristorante or a cafe? The differences with the type of offering will change the decor. You wont see a Gelataria with table cloths and candles set, and you wont see a Ristorante with counter service alone. I know these maybe slightly exaggerated, however the point that I am trying to make is that an operational hospitality professional should dictate the menu and concept direction, before a designer is even involved. Taking into consideration some of my previous posts on concept development, the next important piece of information I would like to share is the need of strategic planning, which leads me to writing this post.Strategic planning provides the roadmap for your hotel to move forward toward the achievement of the goals and objectives set, and ultimately, the mission and vision that you should have of developed (see the post 'A Restaurants Business Plan' December 29, 2015, Pavlos Sarlas). To be effective, strategic planning must encompass all levels of your hotel with involvement from as many as possible and practicable. In addition, coordination of plans between departments, divisions and the hotel as a whole is a best practice in achieving success.How its definedStrategic planning is the process of developing a plan, guideline or roadmap for your hotel, which is based on its mission, vision, values and stated goals and objectives, which indicates the specific strategies and tactics or actions that will be taken to achieve these goals.Strategic planning should guide the efforts of the entire hotel; however, it is not unusual for more than one strategic plan to be in place; an overall hotel plan, for instance, that drives the development and implementation of other related plans that might include marketing plans, HR plans, finance plans or department-specific plan.The importance of planningThe importance of strategic planning at all levels is twofold: first it puts a stake in the ground in terms of what the hotel is hoping to achieve and second, it serves as a guide for employees to direct their activities and resources (time and money) toward goals and objectives that have been considered and adopted by the organization as a whole.The challenges to strategic planningPerhaps the greatest challenge of strategic planning is the actual execution of the plan. So often, ideas are put down on paper, yet the deliverables are not achieved. In the instance of the hotel that I previously mentioned, there challenge comes form having many people with great ideas, but limited people to execute, delegate, document and follow up.Much time is spent creating the plan, often with numerous meetings and sometimes with the help of external resources, such as consultants or facilitators. But, once the plan is completed, hotels often face difficulties in moving forward with the elements of the plan. This can occur for a number of reasons: employees at all levels were not sufficiently involved or engaged in the plan's development, clear accountability is not established or there is no regular follow up on plan progress.Implementing best practicesHotels can increase their ability to execute their strategic plan by following a number of best practices. These include: identifying an individual who will be responsible for ensuring the plan's implementation, conducting regular updates on plan progress and clearly identifying accountability for each element of the plan's action plans. In addition, many hotels are part of a bigger group which can utilize best practices from other sister hotels. For the more boutique hotels, such as the one mentioned in my post, best practices can be seen from the competitor hotels or other successful global properties that you can learn from.The measure of successMeasures of plan success ultimately reflect accomplishment of the goals and objectives identified in the plan. Importantly, these goals and objectives must be meaningful and measurable. A goal of "increase sales," for instance, is not specific enough to determine whether it has been effectively met. A goal of "increase sales by 10 percent in the next six months" is a goal that two individuals can review and evaluate. This should be relevant to the whole strategy, both the overall hotel strategy and then the more micro strategies in each department.From an F&B side the strategy should even be broken down to an outlet level and and then an individual front of house and back of house plan, where the measures would include payroll costs, food costs, beverage costs, and average check increases through upselling or cover count per hour increases through marketing as an example.The importance of strategic planning at early stage is critical to the success of any hotel.

Restaurant Reservations - Technology v Human: More than just a reservationist

Savvy IQ - 10 May 2017
Let's get this straight. I am not saying that you should remove your online bookings system, however I do believe a restaurant call centre or reservationist can be a beneficial part to your business model. I am all for new technology and am one of those guys that use all my tech toys everywhere and anywhere it can make my life more efficient. But I do see the advantages in having a top performing reservationist in your organisation. Your online booking system has its limitations and a reservationist is more than a person who takes bookings. Therefore, moving completely to a digital bookings option could mean a loss of potential customers.Of course, there are many positives to an online reservations system, however, I believe it should not be the only tool in your outlet. In this technological time, we crave simplicity and efficiency from a smartphone and aim to be able to do everything from this one device in the least amount of time possible. However, what becomes more frustrating with technology is when it does not go to plan due to constraints from software. The bookings software is just not there yet. The software cannot upsell like a person can, it cannot recommend menu items from personal experience and it cannot give locality information during the booking process. Simply an algorithm cannot always replace a human.Bringing back the reservationist and adding what I would call a 'retro' approach to bookings, will make you stand out from the crowd.Your reservationist must be trained to be the 'know it all' about your business. They are the voice of your organisation and the first point of interaction to the public. They must have the ability to manage a complaint, respond effectively to a marketing or PR request, direct a HR and recruitment request; and the list goes on. When a reservationist is focused exclusively on taking bookings, you can only imagine what the response will be when someone calls seeking employment within the organisation. "Email HR on this email address, goodbye" End of call. Meanwhile, your restaurant just lost a fantastic barman to the next restaurant who took the call more effectively.I know the idea of a call centre and a 'human' on a phone may sound a little archaic to some people, but at least read the below and then make your own judgement to see if you are really doing it right.Below is a list of best practices that your restaurant reservations team can use.It's interesting to consider what differentiates a top performing reservationist from the rest of the team. Generally, it's because they truly understand your brand and apply several best practices they have mastered into their daily routine.1. Being prepared for the differentiating the calls.It is important to understand that not all calls will be a reservation. It could be a call that is a complaint or a compliment from a previous dining experience in your outlet; or it could be a question for an event, menu options, capacity or room size. A good reservationist will know exactly how to respond to any of these cases and more; with one outcome, a satisfied guest. This is a prime example as to the limitations of an online booking software. Yes, you can have a click here for HR, click here for PR, or click here for other. Meanwhile, the writer for Conde Nast who wanted a last-minute article on a restaurant went to your competitor who took the call. What did that cost your business?2. Listening carefully to the customer's needs and ask the right questionsMost people stop listening and start planning a response before understanding the request fully. We are all guilty of doing this. The core question, problem, or compliment is not always understood. A top reservationist will listen to the customer, make notes and then carefully respond appropriately understanding the customer's feelings and position. You can ask all the questions in the world but if you don't hear what people tell you won't be able to present the proper solution.Let's take a complaint as an example. The disgruntled customer calls the restaurant and asks for the Manager. Without any questions, the call is transferred to the manager, who is then bombarded with the complaint and has zero information at hand to be able to actively find an amicable outcome. When it comes to complaints or the like, the top performer will ask the right questions that probe to the heart of the issue. This sounds simple but most people fail at this and ask weak, feeble questions. Top performers are comfortable asking the right questions to find the solution. "May I ask what this is regarding", "When did you dine in", "Please explain to me your experience so I can ensure the appropriate person handles the matter", etc etc.A top performer will also have certain KPI's linked to what discounts, complimentary offers and vouchers they can offer. An idea would be to train your team in effective complaint handing so that calls do not have to go to mangers. Yes, the manger should be informed, however handling a call before escalating it should be a set KPI; In addition, the customer appreciates the concern being handled as soon as possible. Extending the time of handling the matter only agitates the customer more.3. They ask for clarification and take detailed notesWhen a top performer is unclear of what is being requested, they will ask the obvious questions: "Can you clarify that for me?". It sounds simple; however, I have seen on many occasions the wrong information sent to departments due to a poor understanding from the call centre. The call could be a PR enquiry that requires information on your venue by a due date to publish in a magazine. The reservations take note of the request without the due date. By the time the PR manager returns the call, it's too late; the article is published and your venue has missed out. The top performer is prepared with notebook at hand and actions all what is requested of them.4. They carefully plan their day and scheduleDuring the day, there will be calls that need to be transferred to appropriate departments. For example, events bookings will be passed onto the events manager, HR enquiries past onto the HR department, account matters passed onto the finance team etc. etc. A top performer will have a schedule that will allow for follow ups to each of these departments to ensure that the call has received the appropriate feedback. The last thing a top performer wants is the second phone call from a customer, stating that the problem or request was not handled.5. They set high KPI's for closing reservations.Top performing reservationists do not wait for their manager to issue the KPI's. They set their own goals that are usually more ambitious than the group KPI's set by the manager. Rewards programs set by the management is just a base for what the restaurant wants to achieve. For example, the reservationist may receive PS1 per person as a booking bonus after achieving a minimum of say 100 pax in a week. The top performer will aim for 300 pax, knowing they can pocket an extra one hundred pounds.In most cases, where there is a reward there is penalty. Say that bonus KPI's are deducted if more than 2 enquiries or complaints in a month are not handled effectively and need to be transferred over to the manager. In this case, the top performer will set their own KPI of a 'zero strike rate'. Meaning that the target is to ensure no calls go to the manager and all calls are handled effectively. They will analyse past calls and complaints to better manager future calls. The top performers are your assets and at minimum must be remunerated above market rate for this skill.6. Upselling and recommendationsHaving a reservationist allows for the opportunity to upsell during the booking process. For example, if a PA is booking a table for their Manager for an important business lunch, a top performer will take the opportunity to offer the chefs menus, so that the meal is uninterrupted from waiters asking for choices from a menu. Meanwhile the average spend on that table has just been bumped up, selling a 3-course menu rather than the guest possibly choosing one course. Another example would be if a guest was to make a reservation for an anniversary. If it were an online system, maybe there would be a small area to write notes. "it's our anniversary, can you do something special?". However, with the top performer on the phone, the offerings are only limited by budget. "We can arrange flowers on arrival, a glass of champagne, a special menu" etc etc. And imagine how many people do not even write in the notes when booking online. The top performer will pry and ask every reservation if it's a special occasion, taking every opportunity to upsell.7. They know their productThey know the restaurant layout, the menu, the staffing structure and the operating procedures extremely well. This allows them to sell or offer their product, service or solution to any call. The vast majority of people fail miserably at this. They usually end up talking about aspects of the product or offer solution that have little or no relevance to their customer's situation. A top performer will spend time with the operations team to understand the guest experience. Therefore, any situation at hand is fully understood. They study the wine list, food menus and events packs to offer the right information to the guest.8. They are ready for objections.On many occasions, they will be unable to satisfy the customer's request. Customers may ask for a table at 7:30pm on a Saturday night, when policy states 2 sittings to maximise the capacity, hence needing a 6:30pm booking or a 9pm booking. Top performers anticipate objections and plan their response before the call. They assist with solutions, such as 8pm entry and a drink at the bar until the table is ready, or recommend after dinner venues nearby if the guest chooses 6:30pm when they have a theatre show at 10pm. They study the area and offer pre and post dining solutions if the restaurant cannot cater for their needs. But most importantly, the do not lose the booking.9. The important follow up callAs mentioned in point 5 in planning the day, the top performer will follow up important and valuable bookings, events or complaints. If a complaint guest has been re-invited in for dinner, the top performer will follow up with a call after the event to ensure the guest has now been satisfied. If a big event has been requested through the top performer and they have passed onto the events manager, the top performer will follow up with the events manager to ensure that the booking is complete. They will even follow up on simple reservations for 2 people, such as a special occasion which they took the booking for; engagements, birthdays or wedding anniversaries. The special touches bring back business and make the occasion even more memorable.The reservationist is more than just a phone operator or reservationist; And considering the above, we should consider a better title for this role. I know I have referred the role as a reservationist, however I recommend suiting your own establishment and structure. What could the title be you ask? Contemplate the role in detail as to what you want to achieve in your outlet. From the hotel organisational structure methodology, an option could be Guest Relations.One final point: Focus is on reservations.Although I have mentioned several other reasons as to why the reservationist is more than just a person to take bookings. We all understand that a large percentage of the role is to actually do just that, take reservations. Therefore your 'Guest Relations' team must recognise that there are explicit operational considerations that assist the restaurant operations.Reservations help the restaurant estimate demand and allow the Restaurant Manager to better schedule their staff. Reservations also help manage the workflow and plan the mise en plus. By staggering the reservations or creating 2 sittings on peak evenings as previously mentioned the restaurant manager can ensure that the kitchen or floor staff are not overwhelmed by all customers arriving at once. Swamping the bartender with cocktail orders and burying the kitchen with food requests is the last thing any restaurant needs. Your online booking program can do this to a certain extent. A clever algorithm that states how many bookings can be taken at a certain time. However, it takes a top performer to maximise your bookings and offer more than an online system can ever do.
Article by Paul Sarlas

Hotel GM and The Owner - Communication

Savvy IQ - 4 May 2017
An owner sees things from a macro level and therefore some challenges that need tactic, time and strategy seem quite easy to solve from an eagle eye view; and questions are then raised as to why the GM is not actively actioning these challenges, hence leading the owner to directly liaise with team members to attempt to solve the challenges. However, the underlying factors and misinformation given through the limited channels clouds judgment. One has employed a competent General Manager to make these daily tactful decisions.The Relationships between the owner and General Manager of a small hotel, not under management are crucial to the success of the business. The General Manager is the critical link between the vision of the ownership and its interpretation and translation to the team, in order to be the motivating factor for employees to believe and succeed. More often, this link is not necessarily linear but in the form of a triangle, when the owner, possibly through a team member/s that they are acquainted with, takes an active role in the hotel's operations and decision making.With all due respect to owners, the GM is the person who really operates the hotel. The GM implements the owner's vision and achieves the goals, nurtures and sustains the hotel's human resources and is the person who must take ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of the asset. The GM reports to multiple masters, responding both to the owner's and guest's expectations. As a result, clear protocols of communication and accountability must be established, as well as a measurement technique for success.Ownership should strive to identify and communicate a clear set of goals to the GM. Each hotel owner has different expectations and exit strategies for assets from short-term custodial roles to a long-term holds. The GM must understand the priorities of the owner to fulfill his or her mission, including the development of a realistic business plan that covers financial budgets, cash flow projections, capital improvement requirements and marketing strategies. A focus on the basics, such as customer service, human resources, product and profit is also an integral part of the GM's role, as are active participation in hotel sales department activities, financial management and communication to the owner regarding the property's operating status.Returning phone calls and completing projects for the owner can inhibit a GM's ability to manage the hotel properly. Preventative mechanisms include scheduling meetings with the owner to discuss periodic progress, adherence to the business plan and general physical plant issues, with notes taken and action steps assigned with deadlines; the distribution of daily reports plus monthly financial statements with written explanation of operational progress and deviation from plan; and the immediate disclosure and distribution of information regarding unexpected challenges related to ownership risk or deviation from the business plan.There are no good surprises. Information, positive or negative, should never be withheld by management. In all cases, communication must be proactive and truthful without assumption or ownership's pre-existing knowledge or awareness. The GM's goal is to educate the owner whenever possible and to supply solid information, which builds trust between ownership and the GM. Information flow should abide by the requirements of agreements set and the needs of the owner.Owners measure success by achievement of the business plan and expected cash flows. In some circumstances, success might also be measured on the ability of the manager to enhance asset value for sale to another party. Alignment of interests between owner and manager should be basic and include maximized market RevPAR penetration; above average customer satisfaction; the highest potential of competitive operating margins; employee retention percentage, employee morale and safety; and physical asset preservation.Owners today involve themselves in their hotel assets and in dialogue with the GM and this should be the point of contact and key communicator. This definitely does not mean that owner should go directly to team members. Of course it's a nice approach that the owner is seen chatting with team members, however business decisions should always be conducted through the GM. A smart owner should gain an understanding of and exploit the depth of its GM and his/her resources as part of the relationship they have. The synergies created by the owner and the GM relationship allow a "win-win-win" for all parties.

The 'NEW' Hotel General Manager

Savvy IQ - 20 April 2017
That being said, there has been a visible and real shift across the industry in the last ten years. A rare combination of circumstances; including, but not limited to, the financial crisis that have conspired to making today's General Manager very different in character from their predecessors. Whereas, in years gone by, the role was primarily guest-facing, most of the General Managers responsibilities are now performed behind the scenesIn truth, the vision of a General Manager as a lobby-swanning super-host has been out of date for a while. This somewhat romanticised image stems from an era of simpler corporate structures and rather fewer reels of red tape. Nowadays, the General Manager needs to juggle a wider range of tasks and, as big brands come to dominate the market, words such as 'governance' and 'legislation' are rarely far from their minds.If you can balance several tasks while keeping a smile on your face, you may have the chops to work as a hotel General Manager. General Managers oversee every function related to a hotel, from valet parking to the quality of restaurant service. Their job is to keep their property running smoothly, all while handling challenges with a patient and pleasant attitude to keep guests satisfied and employees motivated.So what does it take to be a 'NEW' General ManagerMost distinctly, one of the most important task a General Manager sets is the company's goals. The best General Managers establish goals that drive the team to stretch to achieve them. This does not mean capricious, unworkable goals that are bound to be missed and do not motivate anyone, but rather goals that will not allow anyone to forget how tough the competition is.High standards come from more than demanding goals, of course. Similarly, to the best sports coaches, university professors, or symphony conductors, top General Managers set a personal example in terms of the hours they work, their obvious commitment to success, and the consistent quality of their efforts. Furthermore, they set and reinforce high standards in small ways that quickly develop to success.They reject long-winded, poorly prepared plans and "bagged" profit targets instead of complaining but accepting them anyway. Their department heads must know the intricate details of their business or function, not just the big picture. Marginal performers do not stay long in pivotal jobs. The best General Managers set the bar high and create deadlines which are enforced. Above all, they are impossible to satisfy. As soon as the sales or production or R&D department reaches one standard, they raise expectations a notch and go on from there.Key points to be that "NEW' General ManagerHotel general managers wear many hats, so they must be multitaskers. They oversee the quality of food, guest relations, the front desk, finances, housekeeping, maintenance and team training and development. A General Manager may segue from an employee evaluation to checking on the F&B setup for a meeting in the hotel's conference center. They must be able to organize and keep track of projects, schedules and people. Organizational talents are especially important in larger hotels, which have more complex operations.Hotel General Managers are professional trouble-shooters. They must be able to think of creative and practical solutions to problems in a fast-paced environment. They need the capacity to reason by applying common sense to complete their duties. Hotel managers must know math to interpret financial information. They also need the ability to make decisions based on a combination of company reports and their own professional experiences and ideas.Don't be embarrassed to admit that you don't know everything. Knowledge comes from the years of experience. More and more answers come your way with time. When someone from your team asks you something and you don't know the answer to, just say that you don't know the answer and that you'll get back to them once you know.Of course, you still must maintain a certain level of "distance" between you and your hotel team, but you also have to make sure that you are interested to get to know them personally. Research has shown that businesses who treat their team members as family have a higher productivity rate and have a far better workplace morale.No hotel manager can survive without being decisive. They can never let over-thinking or dithering get in the way of a clear, cool-headed decision. Sometimes it's a question of taking a risk. But the manager has ultimate responsibility for averting or mopping up a disaster - and they must own the consequences if they don't hit the mark.The hospitality industry is evolving every day. In your hotel, this might be a change in policies, staff attrition or a new technology. Don't be frightened of change. Times are changing and you must embrace it. If your employees see that you are adopting to change rather than resisting it, they would follow suit. Especially when it comes to technology. We find our younger team members look forward to the technological changes and will assist the hotel in moving with the times.The elite managers who have a strong vision, always seek a better way to do tasks or apply a more appealing approach. They are enthusiastic for change, curios about what is going on in the hospitality world, and the ability to keep abreast of breaking industry news. You should be aware of new trends and industry news that might affect your hotel. We know you are busy, however it is important to set aside even just 15 to 30 minutes a day to read about industry news and trends. These days it is much easier to do this with all the mobile apps available.Teaching is part of your job as a hotel general manager. Sharing what you know to your team will not only foster a sense of empowerment in your hotel. It would actually make your role as a General Manager much easier due to the fact that you are equipping them with knowledge and skills they can use to perform their job without constant assistance from you.Coaching is fundamental as a General Manager--the basic skills and plays that make a team a consistent winner. Great General Managers do the same thing. They know that sustained superior performance can not be built on one-shot improvements like restructurings, massive cost reductions, or reorganizations. Sure, they'll take such sweeping actions if they are in a situation where that is necessary or desirable. But their priority is avoiding that kind of situation. And they do that by focusing on the six key tasks that constitute the foundations of every general manager's job: shaping the work environment, setting strategy, allocating resources, developing managers, building the organization, and overseeing operations.What Top General Managers Should Do?First and foremost, putting someone in a General Manager role who does not already know the business or the people involved, simply because they are a successful "professional manager," is risky. Unless the business is easy to learn, it will be very difficult for the new General Manager to learn enough, fast enough, to develop a good agenda. And unless the situation involves only a few people, it will be difficult to build a strong network fast enough to implement the agenda.Especially for large and complex businesses, this condition suggests that "growing" one's own executives should be a high priority. Many companies today say that developing their own executives is important, but in light of the booming executive search business, one has to conclude that either they are not trying hard or their efforts simply are not succeeding.Second, management training courses, offered both in universities and in corporations, probably overemphasize formal tools, unambiguous problems, and situations that deal simplistically with human relationships.Some of the time-management programs currently in vogue are a good example of the problem. Based on simplistic conceptions about the nature of managerial work, these programs instruct managers to stop letting people and problems "interrupt" their daily work. They often tell potential executives that short and disjointed conversations are ineffective. They advise managers to discipline themselves not to let "irrelevant" people and topics into their schedules. Similarly, training programs that emphasize formal quantitative tools operate on the assumption that such tools are central to effective performance. All evidence suggests that while these tools are sometimes relevant, they are hardly central.Third, people who are new in general management positions can probably be gotten up to speed more effectively than is the norm today. Initially, a new General Manager usually needs to spend a considerable amount of time collecting information, establishing relationships, selecting a basic direction for his or her area of responsibilities, and developing a supporting organization. During the first three to six months on the job, demands from superiors to accomplish specific tasks or to work on pet projects--anything that significantly diverts attention away from agenda setting and network building--can be counterproductive.Finally, the formal planning systems within which many General Managers must operate probably hinder effective performance. A good planning system should help a general manager create an intelligent agenda and a strong network. It should encourage the General Manager to think about the strategy and how to implement it, to consider both the short and long term plans and, regardless of the time frame, to consider financial, product, market, and organizational issues. Furthermore, it should be a flexible tool so that, depending on what kind of environment among subordinates is desired, he or she can use the planning system to help achieve the goals.To sum up, outstanding General Managers affect their companies in six important ways. They develop a distinctive work environment; spearhead innovative strategic thinking; manage company resources productively; direct the people development and deployment process; build a dynamic organization; and oversee day-to-day operations. Individually, none of these things is totally new or unique. But successful General Managers are better at seeing the interrelationships among these six areas, setting priorities, and making the right things happen. As a result, their activities in these areas make a coherent and consistent pattern that moves the business forward.These six responsibilities don't tell the whole story, of course. Leadership skills and the General Managers personal style and experience are important pieces of the whole. But focusing effort in these six areas will help any General Manager become more effective. And that should mean making the right things happen faster and more often--which is what all of us want to achieve as general managers.

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