Five Customer Service Lessons PR Professionals Can Learn From A Hotel Concierge
Being a master communicator or PR pro means being resourceful, tenacious and obsessively good at customer service. Specialized skills like understanding the news cycle and writing great releases are important too, but knowing the basic tenets of customer service can make your life — and your work — much easier.
Before my communications role at Intrepid Group, I spent two years as a concierge at a world-renowned 5-star hotel. This was an incredibly customer-centric work environment, and it consistently challenged me to provide exemplary service quickly, creatively and effectively. That experience prepared me for a career in public relations better than I ever could have imagined. From athletes and actors to eccentric billionaires, our high-profile clientele knew they could ask concierge anything and receive the answer they were looking for. Handling that type of unpredictability is not something you can train for.
In PR, we experience a similar level of unpredictability whenever an editor, news producer or writer calls. The news waits for no one, and when they’re on a deadline and come to you for an answer, it’s crucial that you deliver every single time. If you don’t, the next time they need something, they will surely be dialing someone else’s phone.
After learning a lot at the concierge desk, here are five customer service lessons that I brought with me into the world of communications:
1. Never Say No Without An Alternative
It is never okay to tell a hotel guest, “No, I can’t get a dinner reservation because that restaurant is full,” or “I’m sorry, the florist is closed now.” You simply must figure it out. Book them a table at the second best restaurant in the city. Send them a complimentary bottle of wine. Text your florist personally. Whatever you do, don’t say “no.”
Last year, a journalist called me looking for a trip in the South China Sea to report on repurposed oil rigs. I was stumped. Despite being completely out of our wheelhouse, this was still a high-profile journalist. I spent the next week on the phone with our Thailand team arranging a private boat to take him to another company’s converted rig, now a diving resort. After all that, he wasn’t even able to go. Instead, he took one of our day tours and penned 1,800 words for a top national newspaper.
2. Always Over-Deliver
Whenever a hotel guest asked for an anniversary dinner reservation, alarm bells would start firing in my head. At a golden-key concierge desk, a special occasion is like a call to arms to not only deliver the reservation, but also to over-deliver with the best table in the restaurant, a private driver to take them there and a complimentary bottle of champagne upon arrival. That’s at a minimum.
In PR, when you respond to requests or pitches, I try to think how I can deliver more than what is asked. Every occasion is a special occasion in PR. If someone asks for a quote, why not include images, infographics and relevant commercial statistics? They may prove useful and you will have effectively tripled your potential exposure in the story.
3. Throw Out Your Expectations Of A 9-to-5 Day
In concierge, you learn to get comfortable in an unpredictable environment. Your shift may end at 5 p.m., but that doesn’t mean the calls stop. A request could easily come in at 4:30 p.m. that takes hours to complete. Customer service doesn’t sleep, and neither does the news cycle.
There are world events happening day and night, and often our phones are the first to sound the alarm. Editors, producers and journalists work on the other side of that beat and often find themselves under tight deadlines. No matter what time a request comes in, if it’s urgent, make yourself available and you’ll always be the first person they come to for help.
The challenge here is knowing when to unplug and turn off. Although your responsiveness can be your biggest asset as a PR professional, it’s important to find balance.
4. Value Team And Brand Success Over Your Own
When Elton John arrived in his hotel room, everything he had asked for — including his requested spread of English mustards nearly impossible to find in North America — was right there waiting. These requests can take months to execute, but having that attention to detail and customer service is what keeps those guests coming back.
Much like concierge, PR is a machine that operates almost entirely behind the scenes. When your company appears in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, you won’t be getting a byline, a quote or even attribution on a quote you may have written. The key is really to understand how your efforts play into the overall success of the business, and finding motivation in that.
5. Anticipate People’s Needs—Don’t Wait To Be Asked
For me, one of life’s little pleasures is becoming a regular at a local haunt. When the barista at my favorite cafe says, “The usual?” I instantly feel like more than just a customer. It’s the same for regular hotel guests on the day their daily routine starts to take care of itself. The ability to anticipate and respond to guests’ needs is what separates 4.5 star hotels from 5.
As you familiarize yourself with journalists, producers and editors, you’ll start to pick up on their processes. You can have the right information waiting before they even ask for it. If, for example, a writer has covered a topic like Brexit in great detail, it’s likely they’ll be called on to do it again. Think about how your organization can lend its voice when the dollar makes another sudden move, and be forthcoming with that information. There is no harm in sending a few business magazines a quote from your CEO. When Brexit hit, we offered our opinion, insights, booking trends and quotes. We turned around some solid wins without a single initial request.
Every day I’m reminded how these lessons from behind the concierge desk have shaped my success in PR. I hope they prove equally successful for you.
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