Hotel Online  Special Report


How to Add a Touch of Mystery
to Your Guest Experience
By Peter McAlpine, November 2006

If you want some ideas about how to add mystery to a hotel guest experience, read on. If you’re a fan of customer satisfaction (CS), for goodness sakes, don’t read this! You’ll have a heart attack! If you’re under the thumb of a CS-orientated corporate office, then you won’t be able to do much of this anyway … unless you are courageous and daring! (Pssst! I won’t tell them.)

To me, a hotel stay should be a truly memorable, fun, creative, extremely loving, and caring experience with a touch of mystery; and definitely not the polite, staid, stiff, boring, emotionless, and terribly, terribly proper event that it often is. This goes for both 5-star city hotels and resorts. “That stuff’s only for resorts, and then only maybe. Not for city hotels. Guests only want speed and efficiency.”  Nonsense! Anyway, creating a memorable guest experience with some mystery is really very, very, very easy to achieve, but you just have to abandon a lot of the traditional ideas about how to create a guest experience and change (or throw out) those cold and emotionless SOP manuals that corporate offices send out. Below are some ideas you can use.

The guest experience should be truly memorable, not because of the smell in the Lobby, the art in the public areas, or because of the smile badges the staff are wearing, but rather because the staff touch your heart with a feeling mind, and make your legs turn to jelly by means of their eyes and smile that exude the emotional energy that comes from a “heart” strong in the core spiritual values of service, namely love, care, warmth, and empathy. I’ve talked about some ways to do this in the other 5 articles so now let’s go up a level and add some mystery to the guest experience.

One of the main changes needed in order to create a truly memorable experience (CTME) with mystery is to rewrite the SOP manuals used by hotel groups; otherwise, the hotel industry will be stuck in a Dante-esque Purgatory with CS around its neck. “What? Rewrite the SOP manuals? We couldn’t do that! We’ve been using them since the 1920s when the Group was founded. Indeed, they were written by The Right Honourable Sir Lord Cedric Peabody M.B.E., K.B.E., O.L.D., F.O.G.Y.. They have been tried and tested, engraved in stone, and even copied by every major hotel group! We couldn’t possibly change them! We have traditions to uphold, and the shareholders to think of. Think of the upheaval! It’s an outrageous thought! … Now you’ve made me drop my cigar and spill my Cognac!”  

By now hotels should already have started to wean themselves away from CS to the level of CTME. If you haven’t, in a year’s time you’ll be wishing you had. For those of you who have got going, well done! I’d now like to suggest that you start to build in mystery into the guest experience. One day, mystery will be an intrinsic element of a truly memorable guest experience. 

One of the most boring experiences in a five-star hotel can be the order taking process, especially the drinks order taking. How does it go? Oh yes … “Here’s your drinks list, sir. What would you like to drink? (The Order Taker stands waiting silently.) … I’ll have a Johnnie Walker Red on the rocks… Thank you. (The Order Taker walks away.)” You can just feel the emotion, can’t you? …Zzzzzzzzzz! 

Here is one of the ways that an Order Taker can add mystery to the drinks order taking process. The goal of the Order Taker and Barman who created it (at The Raj Palace, Jaipur, India) was to create a truly memorable experience for all their customers through love, care, and mystery. They had got bored with the usual SOP for drinks order taking and drinks presentation. They have several ways to create an experience with mystery. 

For example, the Order Taker presents the drinks list and asks the guest if he would prefer an aperitif or a cocktail before his meal. Let’s say that the guest shows interest in the non-alcoholic cocktails. The Order Taker’s face lights up and he says with enthusiasm, “We have some fabulous mocktails and smoothies, or you could just leave it to our barman to create a magical and mysterious cocktail for you.” Usually guests choose the latter. “Thank you, (name). I’ll bring a glass of magic and mystery right away.” 

In one of the several variations, he returns a few minutes later with an empty glass, and says, “Here’s a glass full of mystery.”, before walking away. The guests look at each other mystified. A few seconds afterwards, the barman arrives with his cocktail shaker, shaking a pre-shaken drink, which he pours it into the glass, while saying with a facial expression and a tone of voice that create a sense of mystery, “Here’s the magic to go with the mystery. I hope you enjoy it.” His drinks are mysterious as it seems pretty well impossible to guess what’s in them. Of course, he won’t say what is in the drink as that would spoil the fun. He will probably tell you that “it’s one of the many mysteries of The Raj Palace handed down from generation to generation of maharajas”. The guests love it and tend to order several cocktails as they try to guess the ingredients of each mysterious cocktail. 

Incidentally, the food order taking is an experience too. Each dish comes with a story attached to it; some stories relating to the Order Taker’s life, and some relating to kings, queens, and maharajas who have liked the dish. Whether the stories are true or not is not relevant. When told with a spirit of enthusiasm and with words and a tone of voice that add a touch of mystery, they make the experience of ordering food truly memorable. I have no idea whether the dish was the Order Taker’s grandmother’s favourite dish, which she used to cook for the whole family once a month over a charcoal fire in the coconut grove where she lived when she was alive. “Sadly, she’s no longer with us, but I assure you that the kitchen cooks the dish with the same delicious flavour that she used to.” Now…how can you say “no” to that? 

Let’s now look at the usual polite and proper guest arrival procedure at a hotel. I have yet to experience a welcome in any 5-star resort or city hotel where there is a focus on creating a truly memorable experience that involves co-ordination between the Airport Representative, the Driver, the Porter, and the GRO on arrival to create some surprise and mystery! Never mind what usually happens. I think we all know how ordinary the welcome usually is, and that there is no thought of creating a truly memorable experience. Rewrite the customer satisfaction SOP manuals, please! … Hotelier 1: “Never! I will not overturn our traditions!”  Hotelier 2: “Sorry! I’d love to, but the owners are only interested in making money! Hotelier 3: “Can’t be bothered! In another year I’ll be moving on anyway.” Hotelier 4: “What’s wrong with customer satisfaction anyway? It works, doesn’t it?” Sadly, these are summaries of comments I’ve received from people in big hotel groups! Oh dear! 

I’d like to say first that the kind of service provided in the guest arrival example below is not just the result of rewriting a depressing customer satisfaction SOP. It also comes from a process of touching the hearts of the staff so that they look at guests in a different way; more like walking wounded, people wounded by all the daily worries and problems that we all face, in need of love and care, even though they won’t necessarily admit it. The process includes developing a feeling mind and the capacity and desire to exude emotional energy. The result is a different spirit, and eyes, a smile, and a face that brighten the more you touch their hearts. In addition, the main guideline for the customer service is the following quotation: 

“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.” (Baha’i Writings) 

I know it’s weird, but it works and the service tends to become so loving and caring that the hotel becomes an artificial world. To me, though, wanting to operate a hotel costing over US$100 million on the customer service concept of customer satisfaction is even more weird. 

Anyway … the Airport Representative (AR) uses a warm and friendly conversational approach to find out how the guests’ journey was, how the guests feel, and what they want to do during their stay. Good intuition helps here. She observes their appearance, especially the woman’s, to get clues about what their shopping preferences might be. She finds out the name of each child and identifies the children of the same sex by their clothing. If there’s time before the limousine arrives at the curb, she chats to the children and finds out what they want to do during their stay. It’s all done in a very casual and friendly manner. The guests have no idea what she is really doing.

When the limousine arrives and the Driver gets out, she communicates some of the information to the Driver in a non-verbal code system as much as possible. She calls the hotel to tell the Front Desk the other information so that they can act on it before the guest arrives. 

In the meantime, the Limousine Driver is with the guests. He works for an outside company, but he knows the guests’ names and relevant guest history information. (Do your Drivers even know the guests’ names?) If the guest had a problem with something during their last stay, he assures them that it won’t happen again. He will use guest history information in the conversation. He might say that he “remembers” that the guest likes to do this or that, and provides relevant helpful information about the guest’s likes. (Who of us remembers the face of the Driver on our last visit?) He also says he “remembers” that the guest likes to listen to a certain song or singer, and he even has a whole CD of that singer if the guest wants to listen to it. He doesn’t ask, “How was your flight?” because the AR has told him. Instead he might say, “I have a feeling that your journey was …” If the guest asks how he knows, he’ll just refer to intuition about “these things” or to his ability to read a person’s thoughts. 

He will address each person and child by their proper name, courtesy of the AR. With young children, he will pretend playfully to read their mind to guess their name, and adapt this accordingly for teenagers and adults.  Again, using his “feelings” he will say that he thinks that the guests probably want to do this or that during their stay and provides information accordingly. The guests don’t know how he knows all this as the communication between the AR and the Driver was (mostly or all) non-verbal. It’s a mystery when done well.
The Driver will find out from the guests if they speak the local language, and gets them to practice a couple of simple words just to make sure that they don’t speak it. This is important so that he can telephone to the hotel in the local language later to pass on useful information that he finds out. 

The hotel provides 3 kinds of bathroom amenities. The Driver invites the guests, ideally the woman, to say which smell she prefers, under the pretext of making a decision for his own home. Later he will tell the hotel by phone which scent the guest prefers so that the bathroom amenities can be changed accordingly before the guest arrives. Later on during the room escort, the GRO will point out casually that the soap and shampoo are (lavender), her favourite scent. So that she doesn’t think about the limousine driver, she might say that the Room Attendant worked out her favourite scent by looking at her birth date, place of birth, and star alignments. “She never gets it wrong. We don’t know how she does it. It’s a mystery!” 

If one of the guests appears to be thirsty in the limousine, when the guests arrive at the hotel, that person will be offered an extra welcome drink because the GRO has a “feeling” that the person is thirsty. If one of the guests is hot, this will be communicated to the hotel so that the GRO can provide that guest with a second cold face towel. “I thought that you would like a second face towel.” (“How did you know?”) If one of the guests asks if a certain soft drink is available, this will be provided on arrival as the person’s welcome drink while the others get something else. 

When asking the guest if s/he would like to listen to some music, the Driver will also ask who the guest’s favourite singer is before quickly changing the topic so that the guest does not remember the question. He will communicate this to the Porter on arrival, so that the Front Desk can try to make sure that there is a CD with the singer on it for when the guest travels to the airport on departure. The Driver of that limousine can put on a CD with the guest’s favourite singer and say, “Here’s a song sung by your favourite singer, Mr. Smith.” One Driver once replied to the guest’s question of how he knew by saying. “I don’t know how your Room Attendant works it out, but she just looks at a guest’s birth date, birth place, and one or two other details, and she can work it out. Did she guess right, Mr. Smith? … I’m glad to hear that. I’ll let her know later.” The guests seem to find this fun. Whether they believe the story is another matter.

The Driver will also listen to the guests’ conversation, if any, and communicate any useful information to the Front Desk. For example, if the guests talk about buying a certain article or visiting quiet beaches, the GRO can say later on, “Am I right in saying that you would like to go to … / you would like to buy …?” If the guest asks how the GRO knows, she might say, “I have a strong sixth sense.”

When guests arrive with young children, they are given a special (and much more fun) children’s check-in away from the parents at the Reception Desk. During the special check-in, the GRO will find out what the children like to eat and drink, and this information is then passed on to the Order Takers, who then pretend playfully that they have guessed what the children like. Children don’t seem to remember that they told the GRO on arrival. 

While the new guests are still in the Lobby, someone might ever so accidentally walk past, ideally a Public Area Cleaner or a Cook because nobody expects this from a Cleaner or a Cook, and greet each guest by name as if s/he had known the guests for a week already. Mystery!

During the room escort when the GRO is introducing the restaurants, she does it in a different way. She says something like, “This is the (Lotus Restaurant). It serves … Do you like (fish)?” According to the guest’s preference, she will then say in an enthusiastic tone, “I highly recommend the (name of dish).” Ideally, she also describes it and then makes a comment about how special it is. During her introductions of the restaurants and bars, she finds out the guest’s likes in a very casual way, often including, “It’s my favourite too.”, just to add a casual element.

Later on she passes on this information to the Order Takers. When the Order Taker is taking a food order, she will ask the guest if he would like her to recommend a fish dish for the main course as she “has a strong feeling” that the guest likes fish. The facial expression and manner of asking are important here. Mystery!

The staff also observe the guests when they smell flowers. If a guest likes a flower in the garden, this is passed on to the Room Attendant, who then sprinkles some petals on the bed along with a handwritten note that says, “I hope you like the petals of this flower, Mrs. Smith. (Signed by the Room Attendant).” Mystery!

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg about how to build in a touch of mystery to create a truly memorable experience, and so much of the mystery is actually communicated by the staff’s body language and underlying spirit. I haven’t even mentioned how you can build in to the room escort stories about events that have taken place over the centuries on the hotel grounds; the mystery of the kitchen; the things the Chef does and where he goes while the guest’s food is being cooked; where the Barman disappears to when a guest orders a drink; the rumours about certain trees; the mystery of the statues on the 2nd floor; what happened when so and so stayed in this suite; the dungeons below the hotel; etc., all of which can be built in to turn an ordinary looking hotel into a place of mystery. 

A hotel experience can be fabulously fun, creative, mysterious, loving, and caring if hotels and corporate offices want it to be. Even an international hotel group city hotel! Why can’t corporate offices just let go of Customer Satisfaction? It’s a dead concept worthy only of a graveyard. CTME with a touch of mystery is really easy to create, and it’s so much more fun for everybody. You won’t have to hold workshops on how to motivate your staff anymore, and you’ll be able to create the feelings in the staff and guests that are often missing from their lives.

Sadly, though, the websites created by so many hotel corporate offices are STILL referring to how their hotels satisfy customers. Good grief! Perhaps they all ought to watch and learn from the end of “Top Gun” when Maverick finally lets go of his former co-pilot, Goose.  Perhaps even apply what Maverick does to their old-fashioned SOP manuals. One day they will have to let go of The Right Honourable Sir Lord Cedric Peabody’s legacy or else be blown aside by the winds of change. Size does not matter when the winds blow!

About the Author: 
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. 


Renaissance Consulting Ltd. 
99/192 Mubahn Place and Park
Soi 90, Tanon Pracha Uthit
Ampheur Prasamuthchedi
Samuthprakarn, Thailand
Tel/Fax: +66-2-461-5164; +66-6-595-9750 

Also See: Some Words of Encouragement to Those Who Think That Creating Service at the Level of Truly Memorable Experiences is Just a Dream / Peter McAlpine / July 2006
Think Your Hotel Has Caring Service? Read This! / Peter McAlpine / July 2006
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

To search Hotel Online data base of News and Trends Go to Hotel.Online Search

Home | Welcome! | Hospitality News | Classifieds | Catalogs & Pricing | Viewpoint Forum | Ideas/Trends
Please contact Hotel.Online with your comments and suggestions.