To our friends in the hospitality industry, ‘tis the season to be at the top of your game delivering amazing experiences to your customers as they partake in merriment this holiday season. It’s also a time when we are asked to attend company parties, friends’ holiday events or a business conference that requires good networking skills. Customer service, inter-company parties and business or personal networking skills all go hand in hand.
Business Insider recently released tips and tricks to be the most interesting person at a holiday party and we found that each of the tips was one that you can also use in customer service, engaging with your peers at the company party or simply networking at a conference event.
Smile as You Enter the Room – and Keep It Going
Studies show that we tend to be more attracted to people who are smiling. A smile makes you more approachable and people gravitate to others when they feel a sense of comfort in the person’s body language, such as a smile. A smile communicates positivity and is an easy expression to interpret —we tend to trust people who are easier to read and who are confident. A simple, genuine smile communicates all of that quickly. Smiling is the simplest way to make a positive first impression and is one that opens the door to positive interactions. Your customers are watching you from the moment you walk in, and a smile is a surefire way to engage them and earn their trust. At an event, a smile can light up a room and make people immediately drawn to you, which makes networking that much easier.
Make Eye Contact
Nothing makes the person you are conversing with feel more engaged or more important than good eye contact. In casual social settings, it’s easy to find yourself scanning the room or taking a quick glance at your smartphone, which can hamper eye contact with the person in front of you and make them feel unimportant. And when it comes to customer service, the eyes tell it all. Polite eye contact lets your customer know that they are important, and you are working to meet their needs.
People love to talk about themselves—it’s human nature. The most engaging people are not necessarily charming because they have the best stories or have been on exotic adventures; they are often the most enchanting because they make others feel interesting and special by listening. This holiday season, I encourage you to ask leading questions of your customers, peers, or business associates and get to know them a bit better. For example, rather than simply asking “do you have plans for the holidays?” perhaps ask “what are you most looking forward to this holiday season? Do you have any family or friend traditions that you anticipate year-round? What’s your favorite holiday memory?”
Give the Gift of a Compliment
Regardless of how outwardly successful a person may appear, everyone has insecurities. Compliments are a fantastic way to engage with someone. A genuine compliment helps to alleviate insecurities, and receiving a compliment certainly make a person feel special. The best compliments to give are ones that are both heartfelt and thoughtful. A compliment can be simple (“Mrs. Jones, your earrings are as radiant as you this evening”, “the color of that blouse really makes your eyes sparkle”, or “what a fun holiday tie, Mr. Smith. It’s so fun to see everyone embracing the season!”) or one that brings in personal touches (“Mrs. Jones, I understand that you have become quite a Zumba enthusiast. It looks like you have an extra bounce in your step. I bet you feel great!”).
Increase Your Knowledge
If you are someone who finds themselves at a loss for what to say to engage your customers or interact with others at an event, pick up a book, watch a documentary, read a trade publication or take interest in a human-interest story! People are natural explorers and want to learn new things, and there’s no better way to become an expert conversationalist than to have something thought-provoking to contribute to the conversation. Being able to reference things that you have learned not only satisfies a person’s innate desire to discover something new, but it also opens the door for the person you are conversing with to share new information with you. Not much of a bookworm? Try to stay up on current events and matters that interest you and be able to speak intelligently on your passions. And just as a reminder, stay away from polarizing topics like politics, but weather and sports are usually safe conversation topics.
It's easy to start a conversation with, “I just watched a fascinating documentary about how Google is studying teams. I’d love to share my ideas with you about team-building for us” to your Board President, CEO or General Manager. Or, when Mrs. Jones responds that she took up Zumba after a trip to Colombia, where she was first introduced to it, you could say, “I’ve never been to Colombia; it looks beautiful – especially the countryside. I read a fascinating statistic on their coffee industry recently. Did you visit any coffee farms while you were there?”
Building rapport and strong connections with strangers is the key to delivering a positive customer experience and successfully navigating a cocktail reception, holiday event or business conference. Who knows? These casual encounters may just change your life, your perspective or simply give you an interesting tidbit of information to follow up on.
Happy networking and happy holidays!
Whitney Reid Pennell, president of the RCS Hospitality Group (formerly Reid Consulting Services) is a celebrated management consultant, educator and speaker. RCS, the creators of the Food and Beverage Boot Camp™, specialize in operations consulting, strategic planning, food and beverage management, and training programs.
For more information, phone (623) 322-0773; or visit the RCS website at www.consultingrcs.com.