TOUCH POINT TRAUMA… or Service in Toon Town

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“Beep, Beep…could you move your dishes out of the way!”

No, the road runner did not just show up at our meal! It was our waitress and she wanted us to move dishes out of the way so she could set down more food. My tablemates and I were flabbergasted. Had she really just said “beep, beep” and asked US to move the dishes? Actually, the more we thought about it, the whole meal had turned into a bit of a cartoon. The beeping actually came after she had forgotten the bread twice, handed us saucers so we could put the cups on them, reached over and in front of us in the middle of conversations without an ‘excuse me’, served food without utensils and pointed at one of us when asking a question. In addition, one of the guests had an English accent and our server would say “what?” to everything she said, instead of attempting to understand her words in a more polite way. It was as if each point of contact had a comical cartoon caption that might have been funny for someone to watch, not for someone to experience. To set the scene, several of us in the hospitality industry had been invited by this very well -known seafood restaurant chain to experience their setting with hopes we would be very impressed and leave wanting to recommend it to guests, customers, colleagues and friends. While their intentions were good and the food was actually delicious, the experience seemed like a visit to Toon (a nickname for cartoons) Town. Instead of talking about this restaurant, the meal, and how we would recommend it to guests, my colleagues and I laughed about what happened and reviewed how traumatic each of our server’s actions had been.

Managers of this restaurant had pulled out almost all the stops to make this a VIP experience. The stop they missed was training their staff on the importance of each touch point, each point of contact and how making sure every moment of the experience would be remembered in a positive way. Perhaps this server thought being funny, flippant and forceful were okay in service delivery. Perhaps the management team thought good food and good ambiance were enough. Perhaps no one had ever taken the time to help the team and especially our waitress analyze each aspect of service delivery and how the smallest actions can be turned into the strongest gestures of service impact. Funny, how funny actions lead to a less than fun experience.

Service is not just a “thing” that happens, it is the sum total of a series of events that make up the Customer-Provider interaction. Broken down into the smallest units possible, it is a series of Touch points – moments of the relationship providing opportunities to be superior, to get by, or to fail. When most of these moments are positive, customers say they received “good” service. When service providers excel in each of these moments they have surpassed customer expectations. Each touch point can engage a guest in a positive or negative way. All touch points are linked together like a chain to create each individual guest experience. A touch point is any person, place or thing that a guest comes into contact with during their experience. Every employee is a touch point. Every guest room and all in it are touch points. Every eating area, front desk and hallway is a touch point. Every telephone conversation with a guest, every towel in the room, signage around the venue…each of these is a touch point. At the seafood restaurant, several touch points became caricatures of service mishaps instead of smoothly drawn scenes of service delivery.

A meeting planner had just completed her meeting at a major brand hotel and signed off on a very large bill. She had parked in the parking lot and after all her farewells with the hotel’s staff, she took the elevator to the parking levels, entered her car, found her parking ticket which had been validated by her hotel contact and proceeded to the ticket booth. As she drove up, the attendant was eating a bag of cheetos and had cheese powder on her hands. She held up a finger to ask the lady to wait until she stopped chewing. Then, she opened her window and said ‘ticket please’. She fed the ticket into the automatic price calculator and asked the meeting planner for $25 since she had been there all day. The meeting planner said the ticket had been validated and that there should be no fee. The attendant shrugged her shoulders, looked annoyed and said the meeting planner should have told her that when handing over the ticket. The meeting planner was quite displeased at this point and had to wait for the attendant to correct the mistake as she would not raise the bar for the meeting planner to leave until she did. When the attendant finally figured it out, she mumbled thank you while staring off into the distance.

Think about all the traumatic touch points that took place in this scenario. Back to Toon Town, this parking attendant became a humorous illustration of exactly what service should not be. How could each touch point have been handled differently? What could have made each touch point exceptional? After a great meeting and lots of dollars spent at this hotel, what was the meeting planner’s final impression of the hotel and how they managed their team?

Touch points don’t have to be traumatic. Each of the touch point situations noted above are easily fixed. The key is to be aware of them, to identify what makes any one touch point good or bad, to observe the impact of each touch point on guests as well as fellow employees and to do something about them.

It is essential for employees to understand and identify all the existing and possible touch points in their roles and actions and how each small moment can make a positive, indifferent or negative impact. Managers need to understand the overall flow of all touch points and help employees manage all touch points for seamless service delivery. Once everyone is in tune with what touch points are and how to identify them, the next step is to determine how to make them exceptional and how to ensure each touch point flows smoothly to the next.

Hoteliers and business leaders must understand that the beginning, middle and end must all flow together with constant and consistent service excellence touch points.

  • Understand how to define a touch point
  • Analyze all the touch points that might occur in each employee’s daily duties
  • Figure out how to take the ordinary touch points and moments to an exceptional level of service
  • Train employees to execute a service excellence strategy for each of the touch points within their control

Service is not just a thing that happens. When done well it is a multi-dimensional experience created by a series of thoughtful touch points that make an emotional impact on a guest or customer. The flow of the guest experience is determined by if, and how an individual or organization defines service standards and the ways they can make them exceptional. Each moment matters and merges with the next. Seamless service delivery happens when well-designed touch points are choreographed together to create a positive result for each guest.

A recent example of this exceptional service choreography with well-defined touchpoints occurred during a recent event for the South Florida Junior Miss Academic Scholarship Program. The meeting was held at The Point of Aventura, Residential Condominiums in South Florida. The management team wanted to make a strong and caring impact on the attendees and identified all points of contact in advance. From the security guards at the gate, to the valet, to the concierge, to the maintenance and security staff, to the catering team, each step of the way had been identified and each employee oriented in ways to make their own roles and touchpoints exceptional. And, they did. Angela Kendall-Dempsey, Chairman, Florida’s Junior Miss and Principal ,DKD Marketing, had this to say: “The location was fantastic. The Point in Aventura provided three incredible rehearsal, performance and judging rooms, valet services, arranging of furniture, a dance floor and more. They were gracious and bent over backwards to support us. I have to admit, I’ve NEVER experienced a condominium staff (and I’ve stayed in many over the years), with such extraordinary communications skills and hospitality – they were a well-oiled machine who helped us at every turn.”

Engage guests in real life. Don’t give the impression of service through a rapid succession of poor service touchpoints and leave guests wondering “what’s up Doc?” Do illustrate an image of well-defined and coordinated service touchpoints and sketch out the best guest experiences for your guests.