Hotel Online  Special Report

Four Obstacles Preventing Hotels from Implementing Service
at the Level of Creating Truly Memorable Experiences
By Peter McAlpine, June 2006

There are obstacles that will prevent a hotel from upgrading service to the level of creating truly memorable experiences (CTME), and here are 4 of them. The obstacles will act as lead weights to your efforts to implement this higher level of service if they are not dealt with. Therefore, I don’t recommend that you simply start the change process with, “Now we want you to create truly memorable experiences, and this is how we’d like you to do it.” 

Before I point out these 4 obstacles, I’d like to say that I believe that this change in the direction of service is not a passing fad, but a reflection of a widespread change in the way business will be conducted, and a restructuring of how value will be created in the future. There will be no return to service that aims to satisfy guests. This is relevant to investors because I don’t think people should invest in hotel companies, which do not embrace service at this level both publicly and in practice. Why risk your investment in a company that insists on adhering to a service concept that is stuck in the past and which has little to do with how a guest service experience is evolving? 

Perhaps with these thoughts in mind, the obstacles that will prevent hotels from upgrading will take on greater significance.

Obstacle 1: Old-Fashioned Job Descriptions and Department Names

You’ve probably gathered from the other 2 articles that I’m not a great fan of traditional HR departments. I believe that they are a huge obstacle in efforts to upgrade service to the level of CTME. I referred to this in the last article and here is another HR-related obstacle.

One of the problems with having a traditional (and perhaps corporate driven) HR department is that it creates a traditional limiting mindset in the staff. For example, go up to a member of staff and ask what his (sorry, ladies!) job is. He’ll reply that he’s a Waiter, or a Receptionist, a Driver, a Doorman, etc. Now that’s the problem! Without going into the details here, think about the traditional (customer satisfaction level) meaning of these job titles and how out of sync they are with a concept of service that is about creating truly memorable experiences. … Do you see what’s wrong? 

I would like staff to be told from their first day at work, or even at the interview, that they are (expected to be) Experience Creators. For example: Experience Creator – Reception or Experience Creator – Restaurant. This of course raises a question - if the purpose of every member of staff is to create experiences, do hotels still need all those dozens of job titles in guest-contact areas? Tradition says, “Yes, of course we do”. CTME says, “They are an obstacle!”

I believe that language matters. If you think of yourself as an Experience Creator and that the purpose of your job is to create experiences, then you’ll do different things and the usual things differently; especially if the Team Leader is reinforcing this every day. If you think of yourself as a Waiter, then that’s what you’ll be and do. Enough research has been done to prove this point.

If you agree to that, then what about the old-fashioned idea of dividing the hotel in pieces of territory called “departments”? Is your Executive Housekeeper, for example, there to run a department or to create a Housekeeping experience? Is your Front Office Manager there to manage the department or to create a Front Office experience? If the latter is true, then why not make this explicit in the name of the position and replace the word “department” with “experience”?  

If you do this, it certainly puts pressure on people to change and focus on creating experiences. Can you imagine introducing yourself at a guest cocktail party and saying that you responsible for the (Front Office) Experience? You’d be embarrassed to do so if you are still working at the level of satisfying customers. 

Obstacle 2: The Level of Interest the Staff Show Towards the Guests

To create the guest experience that you have in mind, your staff will have to observe and think much more about their guests than perhaps they are used to doing. They will also need to use their feelings and intuition much more. Over the coming years, I think that one of the factors of success in service at the level of CTME will be the ability of the staff to use / develop their feelings and intuition. If your Training Department is the traditional kind that focuses on developing knowledge and skills, then you will struggle with service at this level. It should branch out into capacity development.

How much information are your staff really noticing and recording about their guests and then using to create memorable experiences?  “Hey … we note down their likes and dislikes! We have a very good guest history record system!” I’ve heard this before. Be honest, please. What percentage of the priceless information that comes your staff’s way really gets recorded, passed around from department to department, and actually used to create memorable experiences? 

For example, do you tell the limousine driver who is taking Mr. & Mrs. Smith to the airport after check-out that Mrs. Smith sprained her ankle, loves Thai food, and went on a river trip, etc. during her stay? (In fact, do you even tell the driver the guests’ names?) If you told him this information, and he is focused on creating memorable experiences, he could then prepare to do or say something that would really please or delight the guests. For example, he could get some ointment for the sprain and present it perhaps with a ribbon tied around it and a handwritten note wishing Mrs. Smith a speedy recovery; give a recipe sheet from the kitchen for his (supposed) favourite Thai dish (even if he has never eaten Thai food before); or give a nice photo of the river signed with a farewell greeting by some of the staff. Have you ever had a driver do something like this? The hotel would, of course, refund any costs incurred, and ring the bells to recognize the driver! 

At the Trisara Phuket, which is a CTME resort, the F&B staff noticed that I have a passion for strawberry jam. When I checked out, the Front Office Experience Creators presented me with a jar of homemade strawberry jam nicely decorated in a hand-woven basket with a handwritten note. Somebody had taken the trouble to buy the jam and basket outside the hotel and decorate it. 

Perhaps you record such information about your VIP guests, but do you record information about all of your guests equally? For example, do you record guest history information about guests who come in groups; guests from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore as well as from the USA, UK, and Germany? In my experience the former are given much less attention and the staff consider them less important. The point here is that service at the level of CTME is for all human beings irrespective of origin, religion, and wealth. Their likes and dislikes should be recorded and used to create memorable experiences for them too. The experience should not include assigning them to the lower floors and to the rooms due for renovation!

The examples above are the easy ones to notice, but service at the level of CTME also requires a much more sophisticated attitude and interest in the guests. This is where intuition comes into it more. Do your staff observe the guests pretty well all the time, in particular their body language, to get a feeling for the feelings and wishes of the guests? Then when they get a feeling for the guest, what do they do about it? Who do they tell? 

Creating memorable experiences means that hotel staff have to observe, feel, and think much more about their guests, talk to them, and subtly find out information that can be used to create memorable experiences. It requires a different attitude to one’s job and you will have to develop this attitude as you start to implement this level of service. The staff have to want to do this too. How you develop this goes beyond this article.

For example, in a resort, you might see a lady admiring a flower, but you don’t know the guest’s name. If your English is good enough, you could casually strike up a conversation and find out her name, and then you can know her room number. If you can’t speak English, go and find someone who can or who knows her. Knowing that she likes the flower, you can ask Housekeeping to place a nice arrangement of the flower in her room. If it is a bushy plant, Housekeeping could spread some petals on the bed in a particular shape. The idea can be applied to a city hotel with a little ingenuity.

The staff also have to be looking for opportunities, like a sailor in the crow’s nest of the old sailing ships. Then when you see the opportunity, you may need to “play the game”. For example, let’s say that you are walking from A to B in a hotel, and you see Mrs. Smith. Then you see a cook. Now, cooks almost never know the names of guests and guests don’t expect them to call them by name. But what if you said to the cook, “That’s Mrs. Smith over there. Go and say hello to her.” Then the cook casually walks past and says, “Good (afternoon), Mr. Smith! Is there anything I can do for you? or: How are you this afternoon? or: Are you enjoying your stay?” Mrs. Smith would be amazed, wouldn’t she? That’s what I mean by playing the game. You’ve cleverly created a situation to amaze Mrs. Smith. But this needs a new attitude and level of interest in the guests that you have to develop. 

Obstacle 3: Prejudice Towards Certain Nationalities

“What? Our staff have prejudice? Never! We at … believe in equality of races, religions, … We treat everyone equally… What a preposterous thought! Who do you think you are?” I’m sorry to shatter your illusions about your hotel staff, but I’ve never come across a group of staff in a customer service workshop, which did not list the nationalities that they do not like so much. 

How can your staff create truly memorable experiences when they don’t believe that mankind is like the flowers of one garden, the leaves of the same tree, and the waves of one ocean? The gap between the reality and the PR talk has to be dealt with as you prepare to implement service at the level of CTME because it shows itself in the staff’s body language and willingness to create memorable experiences. 

If you do try to deal with this, try a right brain approach. It works much better in my experience than telling the staff to treat everyone equally. 

Obstacle 4: Work Ethic / Reason for Working

Obviously, we all work in order to earn money, but what deeper reasons motivate your staff to come to work and to do their jobs? The answer depends on the individual, of course, but developing service at the level of CTME can take deeper roots if each of your staff’s reason for working at your hotel is something like service to mankind; the desire to make people happy; to help people to feel better about themselves; to leave a lasting impact on people’s lives; and suchlike. This should, of course, have been discussed at the job interview as you shouldn’t really be hiring people who have a shallow reason for working in your hotel. 

The following story shows the kind of purpose an Experience Creator should have in his/her heart, and the effect that s/he should be trying to have on the hearts of the guests: 

“In the 1930s a young traveler was exploring the French Alps. He came upon a vast stretch of barren land. It was desolate. It was forbidding. It was ugly. It was the kind of place you hurry away from. 

Then, suddenly, the young traveler stopped dead in his tracks. In the middle of this vast wasteland was a bent-over old man. On his back was a sack of acorns. In his hand was a four-foot length of iron pipe. 

The man was using the iron pipe to punch holes in the ground. Then from the sack he would take an acorn and put it in the hole. Later the old man the traveler, "I've planted over 100,000 acorns. Perhaps only a tenth of them will grow." The old man's wife and son had died, and this was how he chose to spend his final years. "I want to do something useful," he said. 

Twenty-five years later the now-not-as-young traveler returned to the same desolate area. What he saw amazed him. He could not believe his own eyes. The land was covered with a beautiful forest two miles wide and five miles long. Birds were singing, animals were playing, and wild flowers perfumed the air. 

The traveler stood there recalling the desolation that once was; a beautiful oak forest stood there now - all because someone cared.” 

Isn’t it much more fun coming to work with that purpose in one’s heart? But you have to want to do this, and creating this desire in your staff is part of the foundation that you have to build before you implement service at the level of creating truly memorable experiences. The obstacles have to be removed first, and the four mentioned above are just some of them.

I’m sure some city hotel managers will be saying as they read this and the other articles, “This is all very nice, but I have a business to run. We don’t have time for all this. Besides, mine is a city hotel, not a resort.” 

If you give it a go, your hotel will become a refuge for your guests, and being a refuge will increase your revenue. Being the biggest and most luxurious hotel on the block is no longer the key to financial success. There’s no need even to be the best of the best with your standards – just be the only hotel that creates the experience that you do, and where the staff exude love, care, warmth, empathy, and a creative spirit. 

CTME is very different to service at the pervasive level of customer satisfaction. It’s not about imitation and benchmarking, but rather about passion, originality, and love. It enables you to create a far greater emotional bond with your guests. Competition amongst hotels will be based more and more on the experience you create, and the depth of the experience will depend on how well you develop the intangibles; and this in turn also depends on the extent to which you deal with the obstacles of which I have mentioned 4 in this article.  

Peter McAlpine is the Senior Consultant at Renaissance Consulting Ltd. in Bangkok. The company specializes in pre-opening 5-star city hotels and resorts at the level of creating truly memorable experiences; upgrading customer service to this level; and inspiring hotel staff. If you would like the full article, please e-mail Peter at info@renaissanceconsultingltd.Com

Renaissance Consulting Ltd.
99/192 Mubahn Place and Park
Soi 90, Tanon Pracha Uthit
Ampheur Prasamuthchedi
Samuthprakarn, Thailand
Tel/Fax: +66-2-461-5164; +66-7-054-8813

Also See: What You Must Do to Create a Hotel Experience Based on Service at the Level of Creating Truly Memorable Experiences? / Peter McAlpine / May 2006
What is Customer Service Like at the Level of Creating Memorable Experiences; How Do You Create It? What Does it Look Like? / Peter McAlpine / May 2006

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