Hotel Online  Special Report

Think Your Hotel Has "Caring" Service? 
Read This!
Service at the Level of Creating Truly Memorable Experiences Requires
a Completely New Definition and Spirit of Caring Service

By Peter McAlpine, July 2006

This article is about a subject that never seems to be questioned, namely, the depth of caring service that a hotel provides or should be providing, and I think it’s time to do so. It seems that any level of service is labeled caring service nowadays, even if it’s not very caring, and as a result the description “caring service” is losing its credibility. I see that even a pizza company and a stray dogs home are saying that they provide “caring service”!

I think that hotels seriously need to evaluate how caring their service is, and also their understanding of what truly caring service really entails, and what it looks like and feels like because a hotel’s definition of caring service affects in a major way the experience that they create for guests. I find that many 5-star hotels have implemented in their service a very watered down definition of care, and as a result, they will find it very hard to create a high level of truly memorable experiences. This is why I think the subject needs consideration.

Perhaps you think that this isn’t relevant to your hotel or hotel group because “our service is already very caring, just as our PR machine says it is”. I beg to disagree. Care is a spiritual value, and so there is no limit to the level or depth of care that your staff can provide. Care is like an immensely deep ocean. You can choose to dive down a few feet or up to a few kilometers. I think that the level of care in hotels is far less caring that it could be and should be, and it is time that hotels review their understanding of what caring service could be so that they can provide a much deeper level of caring service. It’s a shame that hotels seem to have satisfied themselves with the relatively low level that they have reached. 

To quote Michelangelo:

The biggest problem is not that we reach too high and fail to
achieve our goal, but rather that we reach too low and achieve it.

I think hotels have “satisfied” themselves with a level of care that is ordinary and far less that what it could be.

First of all, the kind of caring service which I think hotels should be aspiring to is definitely not the normal level of care that one experiences when the staff provide service that follows the operational procedures. Yes, the staff will be friendly to you and may provide you with everything you ask for or need. There’s nothing wrong with this, but why be satisfied with this level of care, which is equivalent to diving down just a few feet in the analogy above? 

Hotels should be in the business of creating truly memorable experiences (CTME) that are not only creative, but which are also like a cloth dripping with love, care, warmth and empathy. I rarely experience a dripping cloth when I stay in hotels. Damp, yes, but hardly ever dripping with these core values of service. The spirit of care is at a much lower level than the staff are capable of.

There are many reasons why this I so, but one reason is, I believe, that Corporate Offices and management teams generally don’t have a feeling for the depths (or heights) that truly caring service can reach, which is a great shame. (Perhaps they are embarrassed to discuss such a subject or dismiss it because it’s hard to measure. “I’m sorry, my dear. I can’t show you more love and care because I can’t measure the results properly.”) They will therefore never reach the level of service that CTME will evolve into, namely fulfilling guests’ dreams until they do. 

I imagine that some CEOs, Brand Managers, and VPs of HR are reading this with shocked horror and snarling with displeasure, but there’s no point pretending that everything is fine and that the hotel industry can continue with its current definitions of caring service. Of all the obstacles to developing service at the level of CTME, this is the biggest obstacle of them all, in my opinion.

I think that hotel groups that upgrade themselves to a higher definition and spirit of care will end up buying out hotel groups which are simply expanding at breakneck speed for the sake of profit because the nature of the guest experience (which includes the depth of the caring service) will become the battleground of competition, and the occupancy rates of the behemoths will fall in the face of smaller brands that focus on a higher definition of caring service. 

Caring service is a combination of several spiritual values (or qualities if you feel more comfortable with this word). It includes compassion, love, warmth, and empathy amongst others. It is far more that just taking care of, anticipating, or meeting a guest’s needs. 

Think about the following for a moment. The Dalai Lama once said that compassion is the "wish that others be free of suffering. . . cherishing the well-being of others. . . .True compassion has the intensity and spontaneity of a loving mother caring for her suffering baby. Throughout the day, such a mother's concern for her child affects all her thoughts and actions. This is the attitude we are working to cultivate toward each and every being." [An Open Heart, p. 91-2 and 105] I think that this is the attitude and kind of care that hotels should be cultivating in their staff, and definitely not the operational procedure kind of caring service.

“He’s crazy! This is impossible to achieve in a hotel. It can’t be done!”, I hear people say. It certainly can’t be achieved if you have a Training Department that is focusing on knowledge and skills and not on developing capacity as well. That’s why I’d like to see hotels reorienting their Training Departments to become something like learning, inspiration, and capacity development centres. Besides, why bother with a level of care lower than in the Dalai Lama’s quotation when his standard is achievable? I hope you’re not thinking that it’s unachievable. … Remember Michelangelo! You just have to change the way you do things. That’s all!

“In any case, it’s not our function to provide that depth of caring service. We’re just hotels!” What??? Just hotels?? First of all, the times are changing and people need and want that depth of caring service. To stay in business and not be taken over, I recommend that you provide it. Secondly, hospitality is all about love, care, warmth, and empathy – the more the better. It’s not just about providing good food, drinks, and a nice room. I think that many hotels / hotel groups have got so used to thinking in terms of customer satisfaction or have become so focused on profit and acquisition that they have strayed from the essential meaning, spirit and feeling of genuine hospitality.

The level of caring service that has the same kind of goal as the Dalai Lama is perfectly achievable, but it requires a shift in one’s thinking and in the way that hotels operate. I think that the large hotel groups will find it hard to provide service at this level of care throughout the group because they are just so big and because they impose “one size fits all” programmes throughout their group’s hotels. Perhaps they should create small regional experimental brands that focus on providing service at the level of truly memorable experiences and on applying this spirit of care to their service, and expand from there. It would, of course, require a new set of standards and procedures, and there would be a need to replace the HR Department (Ahh! Those dreaded words!) with an inspirational, experience creation, learning and capacity development centre or network. 

Every human being has a great and often unknown gift to care, to be compassionate, to become present to the other, to listen, to hear and to receive. If that gift were developed much more than is normal, set free and made available to the guests in greater and deeper abundance, hotels would transform their guest experience to levels not normally reached by hotels. I would like to see Training Departments revamped and reoriented so that they focus so much more on developing and setting free this gift that we all have, and which is often hidden or suppressed by operational procedures or uninspiring leaders.

If one applies the spirit in the Dalai Lama’s quotation to staff development and to normal hotel service, what might it look like? Firstly, you would see it in the eyes and smiles of the staff; a common area of weakness in the caring service of even top 5-star hotels. The following story shows what I mean.

“The story is about an old man who stood on a Virginia river bank many years ago. He was waiting to cross the river and, since it was bitterly cold and there were no bridges, he would have to "catch a ride" to the other side. After a lengthy wait he spotted a group of horsemen approaching. He let the first one pass, then the second, third, fourth, and fifth.  One rider remained. As he drew abreast, the old man looked him in the eye and said, "Sir, would you give me a ride across the river?"

The rider immediately replied, "Certainly." Once across the river, the old man slid to the ground. "Sir," the rider said before leaving. "I could not help but notice that you permitted all the other men to pass without asking for a ride. Then, when I drew abreast, you immediately asked me to carry you across. I am curious as to why you didn't ask them and you did ask me."

The old man quietly responded, "I looked into their eyes and could see no love and knew in my own heart it would be useless to ask for a ride. But, when I looked into your eyes, I saw compassion, love and the willingness to help. I knew you would be glad to give me a ride across the river."

The rider was touched. "I'm grateful for what you are saying," he said. 

"I appreciate it very much." With that, he turned and rode off.”

Our eyes are the windows of our hearts. If you (or any of your staff) had been the last rider, would the old man have asked you for a ride? If your recruitment system is focusing on recruiting staff with the desired qualities of love, care, warmth, and empathy, then you can increase this warmth in the eyes and smile of your staff and their service. 

I’d like to see this spirit and emotional energy in the eyes of all guest-contact staff. It’s not impossible to achieve, but you have to want to achieve this. Think of how you could change your web site’s text!  

I realize that it is not normal to say this, but the spirit of your caring service should be like in the following quotations: 

“Shed the light of boundless love on every human being whom you meet.”

“Welcome all with the light of oneness. Do not be content with showing friendliness in words alone. Let your heart burn with loving-kindness for all who may cross your path.”  

Achievable? Perfectly! So why be satisfied with caring service as stated in the operational manuals written by people who know nothing better than service at the level of customer satisfaction? Human beings are capable of far higher levels of greatness.

When you consider this, doesn’t it make you feel embarrassed now if you are a hotel or hotel group that includes “customer satisfaction” in its vision statement? (I saw a major hotel group recently announcing its levels of customer satisfaction. How embarrassing!... Sorry!)

Staff can’t get a feeling for what the deeper levels of caring service are if one simply tells them what procedures to follow in order to provide caring service. You know … the 10 steps to success style of training. That’s old-fashioned training. Almost Pavlovian! (Oops! I’ve trodden on some toes there, I think.) Hotels should spend much more time in the area of developing capacity, which involves touching the hearts of the staff with stories relating to the core values and other right brain methods. You know when you’ve touched a group of staff’s hearts when you see tears in their eyes. Then you know you’re on the path to creating a new level of caring service.

Certain kinds of quotations help to convey the true spirit of care. Whether you like this or not, I think that the best ones are found in spiritual writings. There is a big difference in the effect between using lists of things you must do to provide caring service and using spiritual quotations. Human beings are essentially spiritual beings and given the chance and encouragement, we respond to them positively. Here’s one you could use after a day of touching your staff’s hearts. Each line has many levels of meaning and can be applied to guest service. Combine the discussion with music, such as by Pachabel (works cross-culturally) for greater effect, and then have them create role plays that reflect the spirit and meaning of the quotation. You may be surprised by what you see.

“Be kind to all peoples; care for every person; do all ye can to purify the hearts and minds of men; strive ye to gladden every soul. To every meadow be a shower of grace, to every tree the water of life; be as sweet musk to the sense of humankind, and to the ailing be a fresh, restoring breeze. Be pleasing waters to all those who thirst, a careful guide to all who have lost their way; be father and mother to the orphan, be loving sons and daughters to the old, be an abundant treasure to the poor.” 

One day this depth of caring service will be common in hotels, so why wait until it is before implementing it? If you provide service like this on a continuous basis; if your leaders exemplify the spirit of service and inspire and motivate their teams like a basketball coach does before a game so that they go out “walking on water”; and if you adapt all those time-honoured HR (Ahhh!) systems appropriately, you will be able to implement a much deeper definition of caring service and leave a legacy that is also service to mankind.

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