Travel industry and hospitality staff need to be like “gazelles on Red Bull” as opposed to “elephants on Valium”, according to customer service guru Fred Sirieix.


Sirieix, general manager at Galvin at Windows Michelin-starred restaurant and author of board game The Art of Service, told an Aspire Business Breakfast there was a “magic formula” for companies to attain top customer service, which involves identifying touch points during the “customer journey”.


He said: “The difference is to do it so it becomes a system and to do it with heart. I want my reception staff to know what is happening, to be waiting for the guests, super-excited. If you had a choice of a gazelle on Red Bull or an elephant on Valium, I know which I’d choose.”


For Sirieix, who co-hosted BBC2 series Michel Roux’s Service, it is critical employees see customers before they see them; smile at clients before they smile at them; and say hello to customers before they say hello to them.


“You make that vital first impression, you are building that trust,” he said. “Customers will only come back if you get a nine out of 10. The differentiator is service. It’s how you make people feel.”


Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service, highlighted five key areas to consider to achieve top customer experience: professionalism; how easy it is to do business with your company; dealing with problems; product and service quality; and timing.


“It’s not necessarily about responding immediately, it’s about responding appropriately. Don’t promise something you can’t deliver,” she said.


Gold Travel Counsellor Lisa Hillyard, who started  her career in the travel industry on a Youth Training Scheme more than 30 years ago, told the debate that being prepared to go “above and beyond” clients’ expectations was key to top customer service.


“It’s understanding what the customer is asking and being prepared to go beyond what they want,” she said.


As an example, she said small gestures such as texting clients on holiday, could make all the difference. “I will text my customer in Venice who has just finished his art course there. He will be thrilled to bits. One quick text makes him feel that I am on the ball and I care.”


Similarly, making sure clients’ aspirations were met by checking even the smallest of details, was crucial.


But she admitted: “Because I have such loyal customers you almost can’t wow them any more.”