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Proactive vs. Reactive Service

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

There are two distinct experiences when it comes to service: reactive and proactive. Both styles of service effective ways to fulfill a guest’s needs; however, one style of service is infinitely more desirable than the other and this must be actively worked towards. Understanding the difference between reactive and proactive service and knowing your style of service is imperative to improving it. Knowing this equips a leader to provide the best luxury service to all their guests and to educate staff on how to do the same. It starts with identifying the gap between the experience you are currently creating and the experience you want your guests to have. To begin, leaders and staff must have the knowledge of what distinguishes each type of service.

Reactive Service

Reactive service is the most common type of service in the hospitality industry. This is what a majority of guests will experience throughout their travels, when dining, or on a plane. Reactive service is identified as when a staff member is made available for guests to approach with a need. A great example of this is a call center. The staff there are ready and waiting for a guest to reach out to them. The need could be requesting a napkin, or the need could be to provide a complaint, there is no distinction in reactive service if the interaction will be positive or negative. To think of it simply, reactive service is a staff reacting to a guest request. Responding to a guest need as it arises and never prior to the guest having to approach the staff member opens the doors for more problems to arise than be prevented. It relies on the guest to make an effort to solve any problems they may have. When a guest must approach a staff member to resolve an issue, this is a sign that service has fallen below what is expected.

There is nothing inherently wrong with reactive service, it is so common that today’s guests are accustomed to it and accept it. However, reactive service leaves much room for improvement. The key to reactive service is the guest must play a role in order for their experience to improve. To be considered one of the leading service providers a company must take a step up from this type of service and be proactive with guest needs.

Proactive Service

Proactive service is what distinguishes luxury service from all else. This is when the staff takes the appropriate steps to anticipate all the guest’s needs prior to them having to ask. The staff anticipates all that a guest may request and prevents the guest from having to experience going without the need. Proactive service is noticeably different than reactive service because the guest is never given a role in the service they receive. Staff members go out of their way to seek what the guest desires, there is a guest-centric mentality. A perfect example of proactive service is how a bellman greets a guest upon their arrival. The bellman will automatically take the guests’ luggage and escorts the arriving guests to their room. There is no need to ask a guest if they would like help with carrying the luggage, it is assumed that they don’t need to because there is a staff member to do it for them.

Proactive service gives the notion that the brand is more prepared, professional, and knowledgeable than others when guests don’t feel that they need to make a ‘special request’ to receive something. This type of service allows your staff to create stronger and more genuine emotional connections with guests and by doing so, the staff is better able to anticipate guest needs. This type of service focuses on exceeding guest expectations before the guest is even aware of the level of expectation they should have. Everything is arranged prior to guest arrival so the only action the guest must take is to enjoy the experience. This simple change in service style can elevate an experience from typical and standard to luxurious and exceptional.

How to Implement Proactive Service

While both types of service will fulfill a guest’s needs in the end, it is clear which type of service luxury establishments should implement. Proactive service anticipates every possible challenge in a guest experience before it arises and it resolves the challenges before the guest is even aware. There is no recovery needed if implemented properly. So how do you ensure your organization provides proactive service? The first step is understanding guests needs and preferences. Keep your ear to the ground and think from the perspective of a guest. The entire team must be thoughtful in their service and thinking from the guest perspective will help facilitate thoughtfulness. The best way to provide guests with what they need is to think of the experience through the eyes of a guest. Another measure that staff can take is ensuring they do not pass off a guest need to another staff member or department. Do not ‘bounce the guest around’ before being able to fulfill their need. Ensure that the staff member that originally identified the need is the one to complete it.

Let’s set the scene of an example of reactive and proactive service. We are dining at a restaurant, there are two servers, each approaches a table and says the following.

Server 1: “Hello. I am ____ and I will be your server tonight. Would you like something to drink?”

Server 2: “Good evening. I am _____ and I will be taking you on you a delicate journey of taste tonight. Allow me to showcase our exceptional dinner experience…. Which libation is enticing you this evening?”

Can you identify which server is exemplifying proactive service? If you know its Server 2, you would be right! Again, there is nothing particularly wrong with reactive service and what Server 1 said, it gets the job done. But in luxury service, we strive to do more than ‘get the job done’. Server 2 is drawing the guests in and creating excitement for what comes next, the “delicate journey of taste”.

It is important to remember that creating a proactive service culture will not occur overnight. This takes proper learning beforehand to prepare the staff and give them the correct mindset. In the end it comes to the environment that the leaders create. It takes confidence and competence on the staff’s part to provide a phenomenal experience and leaders must help their team reach this level. They must have the knowledge and skills to anticipate and be thoughtful about a guest’s needs. Most importantly, it takes a certain standard of service call for by leaders in order for the staff to reach their fullest potential. There is an attention to detail and passion service for that is imperative to create exceptional experiences and reach the standards that proactive service demands.


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