|By William Lazer, Ph.D., and Roger Layton, A.M. / April 1999
Delivering quality service will be one of the major challenges facing hospitality managers in the opening years of the next millennium. It will be an essential condition for success in the emerging, keenly competitive, global hospitality markets. While the future importance of delivering quality hospitality service is easy to discern and to agree on, doing so presents some difficult and intriguing management issues.
Since the delivery of hospitality service always involves people, these issues center on the management of people, and in particular on the interactions between guests and staff, interactions that are called service encounters. In the eyes of our guests, our hospitality businesses will succeed or fail depending on the cumulative impact of the service encounters in which they have participated.
It is easy to check the importance of managing these service encounters. Think back to the last time you visited a hotel or restaurant. How did you feel about the quality of the experience? Was it one that you would recommend to others? What were the specific interactions that made a difference? If you can’t remember, is this something that should matter to the hospitality business concerned? Surely something should have gone especially well?
Service encounters are the building blocks of quality hospitality service.
How can hospitality businesses manage them more effectively? We suggest
a two step process in the evaluation of a service chain.
Let’s see how that would work in realistic situations.
While the first step may seem obvious, it is important to identify a service chain and then to break it down into the component encounters. Just how much detail is needed? Too much detail takes time and resources, and may confuse rather than clarify. Too little and we may miss important problems. The process is iterative, with more detail needed in some areas and less in others, and with an overriding consideration that the chain is assessed not just from the point of view of a manager but also from that of a guest.
Which are the encounters that really matter? Those that add significant value to the guest, those that cost in time or money, those that help to differentiate the business from its competitors, and those where significant innovation is possible or occurring.
Hospitality service encounters run the gamut from those that are very trivial to those that are highly critical. They vary greatly in their nature and may be simple or complex, standard or custom, low tech or high tech, remote or friendly, low or high skill, frequent or occasional, and so on. They can be instrumental dealing with the performance of necessary utilitarian activities or can involve emotion-laden hospitality events.
An initial management task is to understand a service encounter by discerning and dealing with those attributes that are most important to guests. In doing so, pertinent questions must be raised about the specific service encounter(s) under consideration. With respect to a particular service encounter, hospitality managers might raise many questions like the following:
All this is part of the second step. With the information at hand hospitality managers can organize, and analyze the data and it is here that the 6S approach can help. These are:
The starting point for hospitality service encounter analysis is specifying clearly the overall service strategy and what it is designed to achieve. Is the purpose cost or service quality leadership? Is it to provide unique service values, customized or standardized, complex or simple, frequent or occasional? Is it to provide service at any reasonable cost? Is service limited to a luxury package, or does it include budget travellers?
Which staff members are involved in providing the service? What skills do they need? What training has been provided? How committed are they to service goals? Is team cooperation or individual empowerment required? What attitudes are appropriate-- friendly, open, helpful, warm service, or efficient, unobtrusive, uninvolving, unthreatening service? What staff members deal with guests? How close are the 'backroom' staff to guests? Are staff presentations and appearances appropriate?
To what extent are guests involved in the provision of service? What skill, knowledge, information, or experience do guests need to fulfill their roles? What are likely guest expectations? What communication occurred between guest and service provider? Did the dynamics of the exchange proceed smoothly? Do any language and cultural barriers exist?
Where will the service encounter occur? Is the space appropriately designed to facilitate the service encounter? Is there adequate space to handle each of the activities such as waiting, completing forms, storing or handling luggage, assembling tours? Is signage appropriate? Is the decor attractive to guests and supportive of activities that have to be carried out?
Are the necessary systems to support the encounter in place? Is the information necessary to respond effectively to guests' needs readily available? Is the appropriate technology being fully used? Are the interfaces between different functions such as housekeeping and front office, sales and front office, fully operational? What measurements of quality, or performance, are in use? Are they the most helpful for both service providers and managers? Are the criteria for success clearly defined? Is everyone involved aware of guest needs and concerns?
Are the service providers given the facilities and financial and human support needed to do the job? Is the technology appropriate? Have employees been given the training needed? Are incentive and reward systems geared to the tasks to be performed? Is supervision supportive? Does organization structure help or hinder performance?Are the suggested procedures appropriate?
How should the service encounter be conducted, given the enterprise culture? Is the management style, and marketing orientation, appropriate for the tasks? Do service providers have the appropriate attitudes? Is the right emphasis being placed on service quality?
When hospitality managers have carried out this two step process they will be in an excellent position to make decisions that will both improve the quality of hospitality services provided and guest perceptions of them. Zeroing in on hospitality service quality in this manner will help hospitality businesses meet the service challenges of the millennium, enhance their market positions, and reap the associated profit rewards.
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