Service with a Twist: The evolving business demands new attentiveness

Columns
Snack Corner

Typically, we at Film Journal international would begin the year with a commentary on trends for the upcoming 12 months. In so many cases, theatre operators think of trends in merchandise, fare or menus. In 2018, we should not lose sight of the importance and value of service to our patrons. Service attributes are in fact changing or being modified to fit the latest entertainment experiences in cinemas. There are at least five ways that theatres can reinforce the professional image and standards the new era of exhibition is promoting. All of these may appear to be common sense, but far too often they are overlooked.

Eye contact has always been a must in service. However, in the new generation of service standards it must be enhanced. Eye contact is as much an invitation to advance and participate as a personal invitation to a party. Eye contact also serves as a means to appraise conditions.

Employees should be required to identify inconsistency in body language when underage patrons attempt to purchase alcohol. Eye contact (or lack of it) is one of those moments that can detect if a person is probably attempting to hide his or her age. Eye contact can be used both as a welcoming sign or as a signal to detect inappropriate behavior.  

The smile is the universal signal of acceptance. No matter what language, a smile says, “I am here for you.”While suitable customer service involves treating customers with an affable, helpful attitude,service has now acquired an emotional quotient. Patrons remember how you make them feel. It has been said that just smiling and being interested in helping the guest is positive. The reality is that excellent customer service in the future will evolve into solving their problem with a smile, as this impacts the degree of satisfaction they recall. 

The greeting in previousyears has allowed for a simple welcome. The trend will evolve into something more elaborate. It will not only encompass a pleasant greeting but much more of a first impression of the establishment. Excellent service will not only require a welcoming smile and a pleasant hello but also include a description of the amenities in the facilities, determining what the patrons’ needs are and answering questions precisely. In other words, not only should employees deliver a congenial greeting, they should answer possible or perceived questions before they are asked.

Engagement will require better listening skills. Listening to the guest’s questions is just as important as any service skills. The growing amenities in theatres now can be confusing. “Can we take our wine into the auditorium?” “How long does it take to get a pizza?” The ability to listen carefully to the customer and know exactly what he/she needs and how you can help is more important now. The aptitude to demonstrate that you are truly hearing what the request is through body language and responses is vital. It is perfectly acceptable to ask clarifying questions to ensure that you understand the guest. A significant feature of customer service is simply making the customer feel heard.

Complete knowledge of the product offerings will become more important than ever, not only the film product, but seating charts, menu items and adult beverages available.  Therefore, engagement will take on an entirely different perspective. It will be helpful to hold daily briefings with the staff to confirm that everyone is aware of promotions, value-added services and amenities. Spend a few minutes each day discussing the newest products and make sure everyone is abundantly conscious of their performance in order to make well-informed endorsements to guests.

Clear communication is essential in customer service—you need to know what the customer wants and be able to articulate what you can do for her. Enunciating, speaking loudly enough and employing an upbeat tone will help you communicate clearly and positively with your customers. These skills are essential in phone communication as well. If you write or e-mail with customers, be sure to use proper grammar and spelling, and choose words and phrases that convey a similarly upbeat attitude.

Thank you: “He made me feel like I was spending a million dollars on the IMAX tickets I picked out. He took the time to offer suggestions on how to select the right seat and told me where to go to get food prior to the start time. I felt like the most important customer he had seen all year.”

This quote can be defined as a sincere “Thank you” by the guest, but if you reverse the lens, the employee is saying: Thank you for coming to our theatre, let me make your experience the best it can be. All too often we have had a service agent respond with the proverbial “No problem.” Exactly! It should be no problem—patrons are now paying high dollars for the ticket. What should be offered is “It was my pleasure” or “I am happy to assist you anytime.” This represents the transition in service opportunities in 2018.

2018 promises to bring a multitude of services in food and beverages as we convert concessions to fast-casual type menus. The services that are required for this change can either define the “movement” or undermine the advancement in cuisine. Will you be ready for the progression?

Larry Etter is senior VP at Malco Theatres and director of education at the National Association of Concessionaires.