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Your Hotel May be Old, But The Way You Deliver Service
Should Not Be....Just Ask Mickey Mouse

 
by Terence Ronson, ISHC 
February 15, 2011

Like a lot of people, I enjoy staying in new hotels, mostly because I get a kick out of sampling all those new gizmos, rather than looking for higher service standards. But often is the case when you compare new Hotels to old ones, there is a noticeable difference in service levels.
 
Is it because the software [the staff] has a better interface to the hardware [the Hotel], or because they are younger, or maybe because the Management is more jazzed up by all their new surroundings?
 
Whatever it is, it’s wrong!
 
In fact, I have no problem staying in older Hotels where the hardware may be a little tired, providing the service levels are up to scratch or even above par so as to make up for the physical deficiencies and tiredness of the building. Is this how you feel also?
 
Over the last couple of months, my wife and I have stayed in two different 5-star Hotels in Manila, where much of the hardware is dated, and quite frankly in need of a good facelift. And as I look around, I truly believe some minor, and relatively inexpensive updates can be made to these properties...and they should not break the bank. So I ask myself, why are they not being done?
 
My thinking is that if your hands are tied by not being able to do any major Capex related works or even remedial stuff – then the investment of time rather than money, should be made into your software – the people who actually run the business and constantly interface with the guests.
 
For example, I don’t see any excuse for the person who checks me in to ask “Is this my first time to stay at the hotel” if that info is in the PMS right in front of them, and supposedly should appear somewhere in my file that indeed I have done so.
 
I also see no excuse for the weighing scale in the bathroom to be off balance by 4Kg – and not set at zero. I also find it hard to comprehend that the packaging of the guest amenities should look as old as the furniture [unless it’s an aesthetic thing] and to one time address me by my name, and then just moments later refer to me as “sir”. Having said all that, the fresh carrot juice on the Buffet, was almost translucent in taste, but to their credit - they did have great Smoked Salmon on the Breakfast Buffet – so all is not that bad…
 
Having our luggage arrive almost 30 minutes after Check-in [and after making two follow up calls – one of which saw us volunteering to collect ourselves], no turndown service on a couple of the four nights we stayed is definitely not a problem related to the age of the building or a hold being placed on the Capex budget of the Hotel – is it?
 
OK – they did have three small bottles of complimentary water chilling in the mini bar, a Banana in the Welcome Fruit plate along with a green Apple, a red Apple and a Mango – but the Mango never got replaced – while other fruits did. I did not care for the three truffle looking chocolates on the saran wrapped plate. And when you describe Eggs Benedict on the Executive Lounge menu as poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce on a toasted muffin – don’t deliver it on a bed of ham when the person eating it does not consume meat – and specifically chose it for that very reason – the absence of.
 
And to top it all, one of the properties had the chutzpah to charge PHP1,500 (USD33) per day for a 1.5Mbps Internet connection.
 
I’ve been in the Hospitality industry a long time – believing I know something about Service Delivery – but not so arrogant as to believe I can’t learn a new thing or two – as I did when I recently attended a two-day course at Hong Kong Disneyland -  “The Disney Approach to Quality Service”. This first time collaboration between the Disney Institute and Hong Kong PolyU made me, and 58 of my fellow participants wake up to the reality that there is an alternative way to delivering service – The Disney way.
 
In all honesty, I felt I was impulsive in signing up for the course, and after doing so, had second thoughts if this was a wise way to spend my time, and whether Mickey Mouse could teach me anything, especially about Service – how delightfully wrong I was!
 
From the moment we kicked off at the Disney Convention Center, until the Graduation ceremony [where we all dressed up in Mickey ears complete with tassel] – this was a real eye opener for me. Course delivery was well executed by the two Instructors – Rob and Tom, who were gifted in their presentation skills and extremely passionate about what they do and the brand they represent.
 
With 35 years of experience in delivering the highest quality Theme parks and a sustaining a global brand, which is synonymous with so many quality aspects, one could not help but come away with a totally different view to Service Delivery. Sure there was some goofing around, but it was well structured – and encouraged participants to interact with each other in ways I’ve not previously experienced in locally held courses.
 
Most definitely I can say that I got value for my money with great course content, excellent F&B [I loved the Soba Noodles and Raisin Scones] and two opportunities to walk round the park – first time along with an Instructor who pointed out many of their secrets and attention to detail, and the second under an observation assignment as we paired up with other Team Members.
 
Understanding how they look at the Big Picture, but actually focus on the minutiae, like what happens at the end of the day when you are tired and forget where you parked your car in a car park that may hold thousands of cars, of if your kid accidentally drops the ice cream from his [defective] cone and starts to wail – they have a service recovery procedure for that! For the most part – Disney deals with positive emotions, but when it comes to the negative ones, no matter how much goodwill you have stored up - they can kill you – and so you need to be prepared for the times when they may happen, and to deal with them effectively and efficiently. For those of you who regularly read my BLOG will see real life examples of how some Hotels handle this…
 
They [Disney] have come to realize the reality of ‘cause and effect’ – meaning if something causes a problem which may not necessarily be part of their business – such as the train to Disneyland is delayed, then the resulting effect will be some very disgruntled passengers who’s time has been eaten into – and so they will instigate a process to help speed people through the gates into the park and onto the waiting rides.
 
Cultural differences are strictly observed and it’s not all about forcing the American Way onto the public – but more of transplanting The Disney Way, which transcends all cultures.
 
VIP = Very Individual Person
They teach their Team known as Cast Members [not staff or Associates as many companies refer to their employee] to point using two fingers or the palm of the hand, and to always go that extra mile/exceed expectations when delivering service. Imagine if each person gives 1-2% more across an organization that’s HUGE and sustainable! To Disney, just a pretty smile is not enough – especially when you may interact with 60 Cast Members during a single visit to the park.
 
Another example being that as a family you may want to go to Space Mountain – and before you queue up and find Junior does not meet the minimum height restrictions, they have a tool at the beginning of the queue to help with that. The remedy being that they will issue Junior with a special pass for his/hers next visit, which speeds them to the front of the queue and quickly onto the ride. Imagine the first feeling of disappointment the kid has in knowing they can’t get onto the ride, but the good feeling in knowing that when they hit the right height they will jump to the head of the queue. If that were I – I’d put a mark on the wall and check my height daily until I reach the goal – and of course annoyingly remind the people who were taking me that the day was rapidly getting approaching...
 
To Disney – it’s about creating a series of little WOWs that you constantly experience when you are in their properties that culminate in a big WOW. Actually, to them a WOW is normal – because that is how they set their objectives. Their practice of “Guestology” is that they expect you to feel special, be treated as an individual, they respect children and most importantly, have knowledgeable Cast members. Continuous re-examination of a process and the questioning of why it’s in place as well as continually reinventing an experience or someone will eclipse you.
 
Member Get Member
Many organizations especially those which sell products and services encourage [and sometimes financially incentivize] customers to recruit others. Disney has a similar ethos by encouraging their Cast Members to recommend others for job openings. By creating a very special working environment along with perks and benefits culminating in high levels of job satisfaction, the Cast Member is proud to evangelize and at the same time be selective as to whom they recruit to join this special club like environment. This process effectively means that they perform the first level of interviewing saving the company money and time – with the actual interview process almost being a formality than a necessity.
 
Safety trumps all
When Disney set quality standards, Safety is the #1 concern and you can see that translated across the brand – no matter how you interact with it. For example, as parents, you will have no issue in taking your kids to watch a Disney movie. You know that every aspect of it will be safe, and your kid will have a great time. You know that it will be safe to take them to a Theme Park because it’s a safe place to let them run around and interact with the Cast, rides and parade. You know it’s almost obsessively clean [they have trash/recycling cans every 27 paces] and that they have a large and ever present custodial workforce dressed up in crispy white uniforms who are more than happy to point out the location of a ride or other necessary item. Disney Team Leaders are apparently mandated to spend 70% of their time on-the-ground amongst the guests.
 
I could go on and on how impressed I was about the way Disney has thought through every process and experience – some call this attention to detail – looking at it from both negative and positive sides – clearly understanding Guest behavior [psychographics] and setting measurable guidelines to ensure a constant flow of WOWs. And most especially, examining aspects of your business where you may have to say NO to a customer request. This brings a whole new meaning to QOS – Quality Of Service, and does not apply just to the Hospitality industry, but to all industries where service is delivered.
 
Sure – they get it wrong – they are human after all and not too arrogant to admit it, [even though they dress up in fantastic lifelike costumes] – but when they do, they take note, and correct it – ensuring it's a one-off thing – to preserve the “magical” guest experience.
 
Can you say your Hotel is like the Magic Kingdom and all your Cast Members have squeaky-clean personalities like Snow White and Mickey Mouse (a.k.a. The Boss)?
 
Lastly, I’d like to praise the leaders (a.k.a. Cast Members) of Hong Kong PolyU (Tony and Flora) for putting on this course, and even more significantly, to applaud the companies especially the Hotel ICON who sent their Cast Members to attend. They had the foresight to know that even if they are old dogs – they too can learn some new tricks!

©Terence Ronson ISHC

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Contact: 

Terence Ronson 
terence@pertlink.net
 

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Also See: 2010 Reflections...And a glimpse into 2011 - Guest Room Technology Focus / Terence Ronson / December 2010

The Front Desk Is Dead. Long Live the [New] Front Desk / Terence Ronson / August 2010

Fairmont Hotels Installing Self-service Kiosks in All North America Hotels; Includes Guestroom Mapping and Airline Check-In Features / June 2005

Hilton Tests New Check-In/Check-Out Self Service Kiosks at Two Flagship Properties / Sept 2003
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