Means Superior Service
|by Wayne Goldberg, Executive Vice President of Operations, La Quinta
All too often in our industry, great customer service is associated exclusively with upper upscale and luxury brands – the Ritz-Carltons of the world, for example, or the Four Seasons.
There is a reasonable explanation for this: Many brands in that segment do provide outstanding guest service, and customers pay a premium to receive it.
That said, selective service can be, and in our view must be, superior service. True success in our segment demands it.
Understanding the Service Chain: Why Great Brands Succeed
The literature on branding is voluminous, but the experts all have one fundamental point in common: All agree that for a brand to succeed and prosper over time, there must be an alignment between the needs of a customer and the interests and actions of the brand that provides the customer with service.
This principle is not “rocket science,” but it is amazing how many brands lose sight of it in practice.
We have all experienced this in various contexts: A long line punctuated by curt treatment at a retail store, or unapologetically inconsistent delivery of a product, can all be unpleasant experiences.
The first steps toward delivering excellent service, are identifying the critical actors at every step of the service chain, and providing them with incentives to provide great service, as well as tools for measuring the level of service they provide.
Beginning at the Property
At a hotel, of course, the key actors are the hotel’s general manager, and its on-property personnel, including line staff. The service they provide is embodied not only in a friendly face at check-in, and satisfactory handling of any guest concerns, but in a property experience that meets rigorous quality standards.
Aligning the interests of on-property service providers with those of customers can be achieved in a number of ways. At La Quinta and Baymont hotels, quality scores are evaluated regularly, and a series of incentives are in place for superior performance at each hotel. These range from informal rewards for staff who make excellent quality scores possible, to bonuses paid to inn managers for hitting pre-established guest satisfaction goals, to cash rebates for franchised properties that score at the very top of our system’s quality ranking.
Our CEO, Butch Cash, speaks frequently about the importance of guest service for the success of our brands overall - which has created a corporate culture of true caring about the needs of our guests.
Our property-level training programs are oriented not only to the objective of creating productive employees, but toward the ultimate goal of attaining complete guest satisfaction.
Finally, we recently installed the Medallia Alerts program, a quick-response mechanism that triggers an immediate alert to a general manager when a guest complaint or evaluation rises to a certain level – and then allows our regional and corporate management to quickly record the resolution of the problem for tracking and evaluation purposes.
Should the GM fail to act promptly to close the issue, within three days, the system automatically escalates the complaint to the level of regional vice president, franchise service director or corporate guest assistance for remediation.
Through the system, we are allowed to gather information that draws a real parallel between problems and satisfaction. In fact, research shows that a guest who has a problem that is resolved to his satisfaction is as a guest who does not experience any problems. This process also allows guests to see and feel a problem being resolved, communicating the brand’s strong interest in aligning the customer’s satisfaction with our company’s actions and policies.
It is one way we aim to provide “five star” service in a selective service hotel setting.
Getting “Corporate” into the Act
Establishing a corporate culture of service must extend beyond the property level, and La Quinta is unique for having a program that holds corporate employees accountable to the same type of service standards when dealing with property managers and employees, as managers are accountable for, when dealing with guests.
This assures that the individuals that are the closest to the customer are always personally dealt with in a manner consistent with the way we want them dealing with our customers. The goal is to create a culture in which the corporate office serves the needs of our managers and employees in the field.
We are proud that our programs resulted in more than a dozen consecutive quarters of improved guest satisfaction. This included improvements in “satisfied intent to return”; reductions in complaints per one thousand rooms sold, and increases in compliments– and, not coincidentally, a decrease in property staff turnover.
When the system works well and qualified people are providing exemplary service, everyone benefits. In fact, many of our general managers have moved on to assume regional or corporate responsibilities and many more are currently being groomed for additional responsibility.
Bringing it All Together
“Nothing succeeds like success,” goes the old saw – and at La Quinta, we have been fortunate to begin to see the fruits of a sustained multi-year effort to align our company’s interests with the needs and expectations of our ultimate customer, the guest.
At the same time, we realize there is more to be done. The bottom line is, we don’t want satisfied customers, we want loyal customers. Loyalty is created not by meeting expectations, but by “WOWING” customers and exceeding their expectations.
We will not stop until the Baymont and La Quinta brands, resting comfortably in the selective service segment, are every bit as much associated with outstanding guest service as our peers in the five-star and luxury categories.
|Also See:||People, Product, Service: An Operator’s “Back to the Basics” Manual for Success / Wayne Goldberg, Senior Vice President, La Quinta Corporation / February 2004|