April 7, 2014
Like many teenagers trying to earn a little money, I spent quite a bit of time working a service industry job. My senior year of high school, I got a job as a dining room server at a local retirement home, and I genuinely loved working there. The facility where I worked was brand new (I was hired within a month of its opening) and seemed more like a cheerful, upscale hotel than a stereotypical depressing old folks’ home. More than that, though, I enjoyed getting to know the residents and bonding with my coworkers. For a 17-year-old working her first non-babysitting job, I’d been pretty lucky.
One thing that never really entered my mind while I was working there was the fact that I was, in a way, promoting our business and selling our services. And while working at a public relations agency hardly seems comparable to serving food to old people, many of the core qualities of a great PR professional can be gained through service industry jobs, from waiting tables to working in retail. I didn’t know it at the time, but that service job was giving me some of the key skills I’ll need in my future PR career.
- Have a positive attitude. Those who have worked service jobs have probably heard it a million times: smile and act like there’s nowhere else you’d rather be. A disgruntled server or store clerk who clearly doesn’t enjoy his or her job isn’t going to make anyone want to return to that place of business. Even if you’re having the worst day ever, don’t let it show – especially when you’re interacting with customers. Your attitude says a lot, and if you’re not enthusiastic about the company, then why should they be?
- Stay calm and professional in a crisis. Everyone who’s worked in the service industry has had at least one (and probably more) experience with an unsatisfied customer. Even though you probably wouldn’t realize it, you’re gaining valuable crisis communications skills while dealing with customers who want their food sent back to the kitchen because it wasn’t prepared to their liking. Getting angry and overly defensive isn’t going to solve anything – instead, keep your head on straight and do what you can to fix the situation.
- Know your product. This might seem like a no-brainer to seasoned PR professionals, but it’s absolutely important to know everything possible about what you’re promoting or selling. We had to memorize the specials for each meal as well as the soups of the day, and there was nothing more embarrassing than when a resident or guest had a question about a menu item that I couldn’t answer. If you’re working with a client or doing in-house work for a company, make sure you stay in the loop about new product and service updates so you can adjust your promotion strategy accordingly.
- Listen to your customers. Great PR, marketing and advertising campaigns typically come as a result of tailoring the promotional approach to customers’ specific needs, rather than blindly mass-promoting something. If customers in a restaurant or store speak up with a question, problem or even a compliment, take it seriously and keep what they said in mind for the future. When residents at my workplace raved about a certain dish, we made sure to offer it more often; likewise, we did away with unpopular entrees that not as many people enjoyed. If lots of customers like or need a certain product, it makes sense to promote that, as opposed to wasting time and money promoting something that they find unappealing or useless.
While not always easy, working in the service industry is a great way to learn how to deal with people. There will be customers who seem to have no intention beyond making your life miserable, but it’s important to learn how to deal with them in a professional manner. However, there will be others who absolutely make your day and remind you why you do what you do. No two days are the same in either a service or PR setting, and you never know what you’re going to get.
Lindsey Zimmerman is a sophomore studying Strategic Communications and specializing in Spanish. You can follow her on Twitter at @lindseyzim716.