Building a Culture of Guest Service Excellence

Montgomery Parks, a department of the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC), hosted the final installment of its spring Speaker Series yesterday in Silver Spring. The session, Building a Culture of Guest Service Excellence, featured presenter Neelay Bhatt.

Mr. Neelay Bhatt of PROS Consulting, Inc.


A Principal of Indianapolis-based PROS Consulting, Inc. and member of the National Recreation and Park Association’s Board of Directors, Bhatt, who was introduced by Montgomery Parks Director Michael Riley, is noted for his work as an adviser on parks projects that have resulted in more than $2 billion in facility development and infrastructure improvements globally.

Hearing vs. listening

Opening the presentation in the most unexpected way (no spoiler!), Bhatt designed the session to encourage participants to think about the customer experience at every touch point, from employees to the community to stakeholders. Emphasizing the importance listening to constituents and solving their concerns is “a sign of good government and good service.”

“We’re not listening to understand,” Bhatt opined, when confronted by an irritated or flummoxed customer. “We already have preconceived notions” that influence how team members respond to clients and stakeholders. Instead, Bhatt encouraged attendees to “take a listening breath” before speaking or continuing the conversation.

It only takes one action

Neelay Bhatt discussed the impact of living in a culture largely driven by social media and the positive and challenging ways that it influences customer service delivery. “It only takes one action to be a viral moment,” Bhatt said. Citing social media fails by an airline company that appeared to physically mistreat a customer, and the ensuing backlash that harmed its financial bottom line and reputation. Bhatt cautioned: “Don’t become a meme.”

Conversely, he shared the story of a call to action by a patron, which resulted in a positive customer service victory lap by a steakhouse that went above-and-beyond to deliver a stellar experience.

Citing a Lee Resources study of organizations’ perceptions about how well they deliver service and feedback from the customers who utilize their products and services, Neelay Bhatt noted the stark disparity between the perceived satisfaction rates by the providers (80% of organizations believed they excelled at customer service) and the clients (only 8% surveyed rated their experience as excellent).

The customer experience begins sooner than you think

During the presentation, Bhatt shared that customers often engage with an organization online – through websites, social media and apps – before ever procuring goods and services. He implored participants to spend resources on enhancing the virtual customer experience, including creating easy and accessible ways to rate services, request assistance, and for parks in particular, report malfunctioning equipment or potential hazards.

Bhatt suggested offering content, services, and resources in multiple languages, as well as ensure accessibility by users with disabilities at every level of the customer experience. He also noted that organizations’ staff should reflect the diversity of its stakeholders, beyond race and gender, which can help defuse potentially unpleasant customer interactions, or eliminate them altogether.

Top takeaways

Neelay Bhatt left the audience with three customer experience rules to consider and proactively address:

1. Don’t answer people’s questions

Answer the underlying question or issue instead, which happens when we actively listen with empathy and a commitment to solve problems for customers.

2. Words don’t matter

The right words matter. Instead of telling customers no or no problem, try saying you’re welcome or it’s my pleasure. Avoid negative words.

3. Don’t train people

Empower your team to perform their functions, including delivering awesome services to stakeholders. Ultimately, it’s about the people: employees, whom Bhatt called “internal customers,” and clients, who are the “external customers.”

For more information about the Montgomery Parks Speaker Series, or to learn more about their parks and programs, visit


About the Author: Kesi Stribling

Editor, Ask The Strategist

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