What you will learn

This unit will help you to learn about the communication and customer service skills you need to work with workmates and customers in the hospitality industry.

It will help you to:

  • communicate clearly and professionally with customers
  • keep up a high standard of personal presentation
  • provide excellent service to customers
  • understand how to deal with conflicts and customer complaints
  • work well in a team.



1  A communication skills toolbox

What is communication?









Communication is a two-way process.

SPEAKER – sends a message and listens for feedback.

LISTENER – listens to the message and sends feedback.

We look for feedback (something back to us, a response) from the LISTENER. Otherwise, we can’t be sure they understood what we meant.


Barriers to communication

Look at the communication model again. The red zigzag lines are barriers that can block or confuse messages.

Many different things can be a barrier between the speaker and the listener.


Communication barriers can lead to frustration, confusion, customer dissatisfaction and sometimes conflict or danger.


Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication is all the ways we communicate without using words. Another word for this is ‘body language’.

Some experts say that only 30% of the meaning in a message is carried in the words, and 70% of the meaning is sent by body language.

Listeners notice body language, often unconsciously (without realising it).


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How important is non-verbal communication?

Try these two activities.

  1. Watch a television program where people are talking e.g. a soap opera. Turn the volume down, and see how much you can follow of what’s going on.
  2. Sit on your hands. Now talk with people in a small group for 5 minutes without moving your hands and arms.

Talk about your experiences with other learners.

Non-verbal communication from customers

You work in a restaurant and you are watching some customers.
Could you guess what they wanted or were feeling from their body language, before they spoke to you?


Think about these situations.

Show how you think these customers might show their feelings in their body language.

  1. A customer has been talking but now he is ready to order.
  2. A customer is not happy with her meal.
  3. A customer wants to order another drink.

Blocks to listening

Listening is just as important as speaking. If the receiver doesn’t listen properly, communication isn’t effective (doesn’t work properly).

There are many different ways of not listening properly. Everyone does it, but we can learn to do it less by noticing it in ourselves.


Below you can see the words or thoughts of some listeners.

Are they really listening to the person speaking to them?

If they are not listening, what are they doing?


Active listening

You can get better at listening actively by practising.




Summarising is a useful communication skill when feelings are strong, e.g. when someone is angry. You do it by summing up what the speaker has said and repeating it using similar words. You should try to acknowledge the way the speaker feels, as well as what they are saying.

It is useful because:

  • it slows down the interaction, giving a calmer feeling
  • it lets you check you understand what the problem is
  • it shows the person you are really listening and trying to understand
  • It shows you understand they are upset.

Here are some ways you can summarise what a person is saying.


Asking questions

Asking questions is an important communication skill. In the workplace, you might need to:

  • check a request (get clear what the person means)
  • check the details of a task
  • chat with a customer and put them at ease.

You can be more effective if you understand the different types of questions you can use.

Closed questions

People can only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to these questions.

Ask a closed question if:

  • you want a clear decision from someone
  • time is short.

Open questions

These questions ask for more information.

Ask an open question if:

  • you want to encourage someone to talk to you
  • you need a specific piece of information.

Open questions begin with words such as:

How …?                      When …?                    Who …?

Where …?                   What …?                     Why …?

What is the best question to ask?

  1. Kara is cleaning rooms. One guest is just walking out as she wheels her trolley up.

What is the best question for her to ask?

  1. Are you going out now?
  2. When would you like your room cleaned?
  3. May I clean your room now?The chef has put up the quantities for preparing the evening menu but has just written “Potatoes 3’’. The kitchen attendant thinks this is probably wrong – it’s not many potatoes.

What is the best question for the kitchen attendant to ask?

  1. How many potatoes should I cut up?
  2. Do you want me to cut up all the potatoes?
  3. Did you mean 3 kilos of potatoes?

Pat is at reception when an elderly couple come up looking a bit confused.

What is the best question for Pat to ask?

  1. What room are you in?
  2. How can I help you?
  3. What do you want?

The elderly couple want to see the city but aren’t sure where to start.

What is the best question for Pat to start with?

  1. Would you like to see the harbour?
  2. What kinds of things are you interested in?
  3. How long are you spending here?


Communicating at work

Communication is very important in the hospitality workplace because it is a service industry where you will deal with customers all the time. Effective communication is important to:

  • understand what customers want so you can provide good service
  • give customers a good impression of the business
  • help workmates get along in their teams
  • prevent misunderstandings.

When you are communicating at work, you should use your whole ‘toolbox’ of communication skills – active listening skills, questioning skills and non-verbal communication skills.

Communicate in a professional way

Communication at work is different from communicating at home.

We use more formal, professional language instead of the informal ways we talk to each other in our private lives.

We also behave more formally and politely to people.

Here are some ways to behave in a polite, professional and friendly way when you are communicating with others at work:

  • use pleasantries (polite social words) such as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’
  • stand up when you are introduced to someone
  • introduce yourself and any other people with you
  • use people’s names in conversation
  • open doors for others, especially customers
  • always offer a chair to elderly and special needs customers.

Many bigger hospitality businesses have clear guidelines (protocols) about workplace communication. For example:

  • staff may be required to answer the telephone in a particular way
  • it may not be okay to address senior staff by their first name.

Speak in clear language

This is another part of speaking formally, not informally. In our private lives, we may use slang, idioms, jargon, acronyms and unclear pronunciation, because we know the people we are talking to will understand what we mean.

But at work, it is important to use standard English words and pronounce them clearly. Otherwise, your customers and workmates may not understand you.

In the following table are some examples of different types of informal language.


Communicate with people from other cultures

In hospitality, you will probably often have customers from different cultures.

Also Australia is a multicultural nation so you will often have workmates from cultures different to yourself.

Different culture

People from other countries and cultures may do some things differently from you, such as:

  • dressing differently
  • eating different food
  • speaking differently
  • using different non-verbal communication (body language)
  • treating relationships between men and women differently.

What is polite or acceptable in one culture may be rude or unacceptable in another.

Can you think of any examples?

You can’t know and understand everything about every other culture. But it is important to learn something about the culture of the people who will be visiting your hospitality workplace, so you can understand how to treat them correctly.

Different language

Many international visitors to Australia have some knowledge of English, but have difficulty with the Australian accent and the use of idioms and slang.

So how can we communicate well with people we may not understand very well? Or people who do not understand us very well.

  • Be patient and tolerant when you don’t understand what someone’s behaviour means.
  • Show interest and acceptance so your customers enjoy their visit and your workmates feel accepted in the workplace.
  • Speak clearly and avoid running words together or using slang.
  • Watch for signs that the listener doesn’t really understand what you have said. You may need to repeat yourself slowly and clearly, restate what you have said in different terms.
  • Ask your supervisor for advice if a situation makes you feel awkward or unsure.

Check instructions

Supervisors often give instructions verbally and sometimes they may not be clear to you.

It might be because:

  • the instructions were not detailed enough
  • there was too much at once so you couldn’t remember it all
  • you didn’t have time to ask questions
  • you didn’t understand some of the words
  • you didn’t understand the person’s accent
  • you felt silly for not understanding.



Ask questions

Asking questions is an important way to check that you understand something.

Some question words you could use are:

Should I …?

Is that what you mean?

So you mean I should …

Sorry, can you repeat that?

Can I check, do you mean …?

Can you show me how …?

Can you explain exactly what you want me to do?


Here is an example:



Answer the telephone

When you answer a telephone at work, you give the caller their first impression of your organisation. So every time you answer the telephone, be polite, professional and assist the caller as much as you can.

Guidelines for answering the phone

  1. Ask your supervisor how you should answer the phone
    1. Welcome to Hot Tamale (your name) speaking
  2. Answer the phone promptly.
  3. Have a pen and a note pad by the phone.
  4. Do not answer a call with food in your mouth.
  5. Do not answer the phone while speaking to someone else.
  6. If you need to put a caller on hold:
    • introduce yourself and the business
    • ask them if they mind being put on hold.

Take messages

If you have to take messages at work, either from the telephone or from a person face-to-face, be very careful when you write down the message. You need to get it right. This may mean that you have to ask questions until you are sure about the message.

Here are some suggestions to help you take messages down correctly.

  • Don’t write and listen at the same time.
  • Check with the person on the other end of the phone or the person you are talking to.
  • Read back the message.

When you are taking a telephone message, take down these details:

  • the caller’s name
  • the name of the person the to whom the message is directed
  • the time of the call
  • the details of the call purpose or action to be taken
  • time for a call to be returned or when the caller will phone back
  • the caller’s contact number.

Providing customer service skills

What is good customer service?

Hospitality is a service industry. Part of your job is to give customers a happy experience so they will return and recommend your establishment to others.

Here are the four steps to providing good customer service:

  1. Connect with the customer.
  2. Find out what the customer wants.
  3. Meet the customer’s needs and requests.
  4. Add a little bit extra when you can.

Good customer service is based on good communication.

You need to use your toolbox of communication skills with customers to provide good customer service.

  1. Connect with the customer

This helps customers feel confident that you will take good care of them.

  • Use an open question in your greeting e.g. ‘Good morning, how can I help you?’
  • Use active listening to show the customer that you are genuinely interested in what they are saying.
  • Use open body language.
  1. Find out what the customer wants

Use a mix of open and closed questions.

Use open questions:

  • to show interest in customers and get them chatting
  • to seek information so you can start to work out what their needs are.

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Use closed questions:

  • to get facts
  • to control the discussion and
    keep the customer focused.

Watch your customer’s body language.

Are they happy with your service? Do you need to find out more?


  1. Meet customer requests

Do your best to meet customer requests promptly.

If there is a delay, keep the customer informed.

If you can’t meet a customer’s request in a reasonable timeframe you should:

  • apologise
  • recommend an alternative
  • refer them to your supervisor or manager.

Your scope of authority

This means that you shouldn’t do things or make decisions which are not part of your normal job role.

If a customer makes a request that is outside the scope of your job, you should:

  • seek help from another staff member
  • refer the customer to your supervisor.

Customer requests must be reasonable. You are not expected to:

  • break the law
  • humiliate or demean yourself (make yourself feel bad)
  • do anything that is unsafe or dangerous.

If you are ever asked to do something you feel is not right, excuse yourself and immediately contact management.

4. Add a little bit extra when you can

This will depend on the department you work in.

You can do this through things you say and things you do.

Things you say
  • Is there anything else I can help you with?
  • Nice to see you again.
  • I look forward to seeing you again soon.
  • Use the customer’s name if you know it.
  • Put a ‘smile in your voice’ on the telephone.
Things you do
  • Smile.
  • Use open body language.
  • Listen actively if a customer wants to chat.
  • Open the door for a customer or let the customer walk through first.
  • Give information – suggest things to do, places to go, talk about venue facilities.
  • Offer to help if you can see that a customer needs it.

Provide information to customers

Good customer service means being able to answer customers’ questions.

Information about your business

You need to know about the hospitality business you work in – things like:

  • restaurant or café opening hours
  • room types
  • leisure facilities (gym, pool, sporting facilities)
  • laundry facilities
  • medical facilities
  • emergency assembly points.

Information about your local area

You also need to know about your local area – the things a visitor might want to see and do. You may also need to know about local transport and where to get transport timetables.

4   Responding to conflicts and complaints

Guests generally expect friendly service, clean and well maintained facilities and a level of quality in line with what they paid. They are dissatisfied if they feel their needs or expectations have not been met.

Conflict with a customer

There may be many reasons for conflict with a customer or guest.

Some common examples are:

  • they believe a staff member was rude or unhelpful
  • facilities closed e.g. pool, restaurant
  • expectations not being met – room size, windows, ventilation
  • dissatisfied with food or service in food outlets
  • dissatisfied with accommodation or services – the room too noisy, too cold, no view
  • cleanliness
  • booking mismanaged
  • a mistake with an account – the guest may have been charged for items they didn’t use
  • something broke down e.g. hot water, air conditioning
  • noise from other customers.

Some complaints are reasonable, some are unreasonable. Either way, they need to be resolved calmly and promptly.

Customer warning signs

A customer may show warning signs of becoming angry or distressed.

The customer might:

  • speak more loudly and quickly
  • argue with staff or another guest
  • swear or speak rudely
  • cry
  • make twisted facial expressions
  • physically touch someone
  • slam doors or make other noise
  • throw or kick something.


If you see these warning signs, ask for help from your supervisor or a workmate.

Conflict between workmates

In the hospitality industry you work with a lot of different people. They all have different personalities, ways of doing things, ideas, ways of communicating – and many more differences. Because of the differences, there could sometimes be conflict or arguments between workmates.

Reasons for conflict

Some reasons for conflict between workmates include:

  • work pressure
  • bad communication which causes a misunderstanding
  • prejudice – about all sorts of things from which football team the other person barracks for, what kind of car they drive, through to issues of ethnicity, gender, body shape and age
  • intolerance about difference in opinions
  • difference in beliefs
  • people gossiping about others
  • a team member not pulling their weight.


How to apologise

  • Use the customer’s name if you know it.
  • Show concern. State that you understand they feel upset, inconvenienced or distressed.
  • Say you are sorry. Even if the business is not to blame for the problem, you are still sorry about the situation and for their upset.
  • Do not make excuses. Don’t tell the customer it was the fault of a particular individual or department. They do not want to know whose fault it was – they just want it fixed.
  • Thank the customer for complaining. They have brought a problem to your attention, so it can be fixed. It will help your business do better next time.

Refer to your supervisor

You may have the power, within your job role, to deal with some complaints or problems. However, you may need to refer other complaints problems to your supervisor, who will make a decision about what to do.

5   Personal presentation

First impressions are very important. A customer will see your personal presentation as a sign of the standards and quality of the business. If they see staff with dirty or crumpled uniforms and messy hair, they may feel that the hygiene of their rooms and food will be similar.

So you need to put care and attention into your personal presentation.



Posture is how you stand and move. Your posture is a kind of non-verbal communication. It can tell people about your attitude to your job.

Customers can see you when you wait on them, serve them at the bar or walk around the property doing your job. They form opinions based on what they see.

6   Working in a team

What is a team?

A team is a group of people who work together to achieve the same goals or have a common interest or need. They can be found in the workplace; but they can also be found in the home, clubs, community, school or sport.

A team can be a formal team such as a work group or footy team; or an informal team such as a group of people who go for a walk at lunchtime.

Team goals

The team’s goals are what need to be achieved by the team. Here are some examples of team goals.