In honor of Customer Service Week 2018, Cornell Hotelie grad Kelly To recently spoke with eCornell’s Dani Crino about the value of customer service from the perspective of a recent Cornell Hotel School grad.
Kelly is a 2018 graduate of Cornell’s Hotel School, with a degree in hotel administration and a minor in design and environmental analysis. Originally from Long Island, she now works in New York City as an events operation coordinator at a management consulting firm, and has experience in customer service, outreach, and hospitality.
What follows is an abridged version of our Q&A with Kelly To.
Crino: Congrats on your graduation! As you enter the working world, how do you feel your education at Cornell has prepared you to be successful in your career?
To: My Cornell education definitely helped prepare me to be successful in my day-to-day work responsibilities. Right now, I’m working as an Events Coordinator which involves outreach, market research, negotiations, and project management—all of which I have learned and experienced in my courses.
I believe Cornell has provided me a very practical education that I’m now able to directly apply to my work. For example, I studied business computing, management communications, and negotiations at the Hotel School that provided really valuable skills that now help me in my daily responsibilities here in NYC.
I’m also so grateful for the community and support that the Hotel School provided me not only while I attended Cornell, but even today as a graduate.
Crino: What do you enjoy about working in the customer service industry?
To: What I enjoy the most about working in hospitality is the people. While working in a customer-facing role, you are constantly meeting new people from all walks of life. You get to learn their stories and where they come from, and you have the privilege of creating and providing them a memorable experience. I have also learned that the people who choose to work in hospitality are some of the most hardworking and passionate people that you will ever meet.
Throughout my service roles, I’ve been able to develop strong communication, interpersonal, and leadership skills. I was able to learn the operations of hotels, clubs, and restaurants—but more importantly, I learned how to quickly adapt to different environments and people—and how to react when things went wrong.
Crino: On the flip side, what do you find challenging about the customer service industry or field?
To: Really, the most challenging aspects of a customer service role are the same things that make it exciting. You can never please everyone, and there will always be difficult customers and situations. However, this serves as a motivation for me to always keep improving and innovating in order to continuously raise standards.
It can also be challenging because every single day is different, and you never know what’s going to happen at any given moment. However, understanding the operational standards and being ready to solve any problem that comes your way definitely keeps things exciting and keeps you on your toes.
Crino: More broadly, why do you think knowledge about customer service is valuable across organizations and for all team members?
To: Hospitality is important because it’s in everything that we do. Wherever there are people and interactions, there can be (and I think there should be) a focus on hospitality and service. This is not limited to the hotel, cruise, or airline industry or customer service roles that are externally client-facing. You can think of your “clients” as your coworkers and teammates. There are always opportunities to be of service to others.
It’s been a new, exciting experience working in corporate events because I’m now on the “client-side” of the hotels and restaurants. The “customers” that I am now serving are the internal employees of the company, which is exciting in its own way because I am able to help create and cultivate the company culture.
Ultimately, my goal is to build community and an inclusive culture through curated experiences. I enjoy this field because I’m able to interact with many different types of people every day, and it’s so rewarding to see events come to life knowing that your hard work has led up to an experience that others can have, enjoy, and remember.
Crino: Finally, as a Cornell Hotelie yourself, how do you think the Service Excellence training through eCornell could benefit team members, employees, or anyone who engages in customer service?
To: The Service Excellence training through eCornell has a very practical curriculum that I think you can apply directly into your everyday life. Elizabeth Martyn, the author, is also a Hotel School ‘07 alum and worked as an undergraduate core curriculum instructor at Cornell, so I can definitely speak to the value of that background and experience.
Understanding how to effectively communicate and collaborate with others is definitely an essential skill for people working in customer service and hospitality, but it’s really applicable to anyone looking for further develop themselves as a leader. I believe that having first-hand experience and training in service excellence is crucial in developing the problem-solving and “people” skills that are necessary to excel in any job in any industry.
Photo of Kelly To by Jason Ben Nathan