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A Guest Experience That Cannot be Copied or Cloned
Some Implications for the Hotel Industry

Does nobody see anything obsolete about the tendency of hotels to copy each other’s guest experience, while the chains clone theirs throughout the hotel group? It’s high time to move on from this practice. I would like hotels to understand that they can create a far more loving and caring guest experience that cannot be copied; one that increases the happiness and well-being of the staff and guests; and which puts the pervasive SOP/Customer Satisfaction (SOP/CS) guest experience in the shadows. This article explains why it is superior and why it cannot be replicated.

There are, however, some major implications for the hotel industry that the SOP/CS culture diehards and hotel groups that clone their SOP/CS guest experience will not like. Although they may not realize it yet, the time will come when the hotels and hotel groups that learn how to create it will reap the benefits over those that prefer to stick stubbornly to the well-worn path.

The scenario nowadays is basically this. When a new independent hotel opens, it uses many of the P&Ps, systems, and operational manuals “borrowed” from the chain hotel groups. Similarly, when a chain hotel group opens or takes over another hotel, the corporate office fills it with basically the same P&Ps, systems and operating manuals used in all of the other hundreds of properties in the brand or Group. The result is a guest experience that is so similar wherever you go, especially in chain hotels where standardization and uniformity are treasured. This may be “normal”, but does nobody realize that the thinking behind it is now obsolete and that it merely confines you within the town limits of Normalville where every hotel’s guest experience is basically the same?

Worse still, to facilitate the guest experience cloning process, the new hotels also install the same old Human Resources Department concept, which defies all pesticides and witches’ cauldrons, and refuses to die. With the HR Department comes the service training, courtesy of the same Wonder Care customer satisfaction programme that has been doing the rounds in the Group for years with the occasional update. Cloneable customer satisfaction continues to “rule, OK!”, even if nobody dares to use these words anymore.

This approach has been great for the shareholders and financiers, but very uninspiring for the guests and staff as the guest experience basically stays the same. On the one hand, it enables the chains to open many new hotels each day or week very quickly and efficiently. But as long as the concept of service remains embedded in the SOP/CS culture mentality (100% efficiency in the SOPs), a hotel’s service concept can be copied very easily by any hotel anywhere. 

It must have occurred to people that with this cloneable concept of service, you eventually hit the ceiling of progress. Once every employee is performing the SOPs at 100% efficiency, how do you improve the guest experience except by focusing on the material aspects of a guest’s stay. You can only become a maximum of 100% efficient, and you cannot use the same old concept to move to a higher level of guest experience. You cannot reach the stars on rocket fuel technology. 

You can, however, change all this by creating a higher level of guest experience that cannot be reached by the SOP/CS culture hotels and which cannot be copied. The way to create a guest experience that cannot be copied is to completely change the focus and balance of the guest experience. You cannot create it with current thinking, which is very limiting. 

Instead of basing the guest experience on performing the SOPs as close to 100% efficiency as you can, flavoured with a few dollops of that Wonder Care programme, hotels should base the experience on the main spiritual values and elements of service, namely, love, warmth, care (from the heart and not the SOP/CS kind), empathy, intuition, creativity, and mystery. When the focus is on creating a guest experience infused with these spiritual values and elements, you actually create something that cannot be copied or cloned, unlike the SOP/CS guest experience. 

You have to change the emphasis from 100% focus on the standards to creating a guest experience in which the standards are saturated with love, warmth, care, empathy, intuition, creativity, and mystery. The more you saturate it with each one, the more the guest experience evolves. I find that these 7 create the synergy to take the service continuously to higher levels of guest experience. There is no ceiling unlike in the SOP/CS service culture, and this is one part of the beauty of it. The whole guest experience changes and can change in many ways.

This will sound laughable and idealistic in an industry where left-brain thinking still predominates, but the catalyst of this new guest experience is love. Assuming that you know how to do it correctly, the more you deepen the employees in this core value alone, the greater becomes the desire to want to show love to the guests; and as this spirit increases, the manner in which it is shown changes, and the guest experience changes. The spirit impacts the whole guest experience. 

This is not theory. I have observed it happen several times. I started off in the hotel industry copying the SOP/CS guest experience like seemingly everyone else, but I always felt that something was missing. Eventually, I worked out that it is the spiritual element that is missing. Then I found a way to work through the heart to infuse the SOP/CS guest experience with love, care, warmth, and empathy to start off with before moving beyond this. I observed how the guest experience changed, and it even changed differently in different departments. People applied the spirit of love in a different way when creating the guest experience, and the synergy of the employees in one department created a different guest experience than in another department. 

Then I observed how the same kind of guest experience differed greatly not just in different hotels, but also in different countries because of cultural influences. The SOPs were the same, but even with the same workshop content and the same extensive follow-up deepening programme in the 7 core values & elements, the guest experience turned out differently. By “differently” I mean that the guest experience was stronger in certain core values and elements and so the staff did things differently. The emotional level also varied. Sometimes the guest experience was incredibly strong in love, care, and warmth, and sometimes less, but stronger in creativity, empathy, or mystery, for example. It could not be replicated because the spirit of love was at a different level. The spirit created affected everything. 

So far I have just mentioned the effect of developing one core value, namely, love. Let’s now add empathy. When you develop empathy, you change the guest experience further, and distance it even further from the SOP/CS guest experience, which in comparison becomes the relation everyone is embarrassed to talk about. 

Empathy is an important quality to develop in the employees because the guest experience of tomorrow will require employees to be able to read and understand the guests intuitively, and to show that they are in-tune with them. In regard to the guest experience, empathy is a feeling an employee has of a guest’s true emotions to a point where the employee can relate to that guest by sensing true feelings that run deeper than those portrayed on the surface. People often hide their true feelings with a mask, but an employee strong in empathy can sense the truth behind the mask and will act compassionately to help them express themselves, thus making them feel at ease and not so desperately alone. It is as though the employee truly understands, and indeed may do through personal firsthand experience. 

When you develop empathy in the employees so that they are highly sensitive to the emotions and feelings of the guests and then act compassionately, considerately, and with understanding, the guest experience becomes truly wonderful – especially when you develop empathy by touching the heart and in combination with certain other core values and music.

The guest experience changes according to the development of empathy in the employees. The deepening programme will help the employees to increase their susceptibility to the emotion, as well as their desire to show it, but every employee will develop differently and practise it to a different degree. While the emotional level of empathy in the hotel will increase with the deepening programme, the intensity will differ between hotels, thereby resulting in more differences in the guest experience.

You can change the guest experience even more by developing the power of intuition of the employees. Why hotels don’t develop this in the employees is a mystery to me. Everyone is born with intuition. Intuition enables us to have those moments of insight when we see a situation clearly and know precisely what to do. It creates those ‘gut feelings’ about a person or situation that turn out to be true. Unfortunately, many of us have been conditioned to distrust or ignore these direct experiences of clarity and insight, and to look at the facts instead.

Developing the intuition of the employees supports the development of empathy, and is a very important part of service at the level of creating truly memorable experiences and beyond because it increases the employee’s feeling about the guests, and enables them to know what they should do to make each guest happy. By developing their intuition and by encouraging employees to use it, to act upon their feelings, and to show empathy with compassion, they will create more varied memorable experiences. 

To summarize this, you can change the guest experience by the way you develop each of the 7 spiritual values and elements of the guest experience. When you develop one core value, it impacts the others, and this in turn creates a different guest experience. They are all interrelated. For example, the more you develop the intuition of the employees, the more it will impact the way they show empathy and the degree to which they want to show empathy. The more you develop love, the greater the effect you will have on the way empathy is shown and intuition is used. And so on.

When you add the element of mystery, the guest experience becomes even more impossible to clone. Mystery is an element that is seemingly little known in the hotel industry, but one day I am sure that it will be a normal feature. In short, mystery is when you leave even first-time guests asking themselves, “How did she know … that this is my favourite drink / fruit / food / music / etc. / or that I wanted to buy a Gucci handbag / that I want to go on a desert safari?” I haven’t told her or anyone yet.” (There are ways!)

Mystery is something chain hotels will find very hard to create because you cannot make an SOP for it, and as soon as you try to standardize it, the mystery vanishes. The same actually applies to the other 6 core values and elements once you try to standardize them with SOPs and P&Ps. This point should not be taken lightly. Some of the current ways to create a guest experience will not work at the higher levels.

The level of mystery depends to a large extent on how the employees are deepened in the other core values because those other core values create the spirit and desire in the employees to want to create a guest experience filled with mystery. You can hand a hotel a list of 10 ways to create mystery, but the level of mystery created will depend on the synergy of all the core values being developed, and the level each individual employee has reached as a result of the deepening programme. Again, love is the catalyst that creates a truly memorable guest experience with mystery. 

Let’s add another of the core values, namely, care (genuine care from the heart as opposed to SOP/CS care), and the guest experience becomes even more impossible to copy or clone. In the SOP/CS culture caring service is mainly about providing guests with what they want and need in a material sense. Most hotels focus on ways to care for the guests and they have numerous manuals on how to do this; even going to the extent in one hotel group of having an SOP on how to smile. Generally, these manuals are full of procedures and standards that are written in a cold and emotionless language, seemingly by people from whose heart the spirit of loving and caring hospitality had been banished long ago. 

In contrast, caring service at the level of creating a truly memorable guest experience is much deeper and closely linked to love. Truly caring service stems from love for fellow human beings and a genuine desire from the heart to make other people happy. How to develop this spirit of love goes beyond the article, but the spirit is very different from SOP/CS culture caring service where caring service usually feels like it is being provided because it is a duty to do so. 

The more this core value is developed in the employees, the greater the impact it will have on the guest experience. The spiritual level of care in the guest experience is directly related to the degree to which the employees are deepened in love and empathy, and definitely not by training or techniques that increase or redefine efficiency. In turn, the more each of these core values is developed, the more they will impact the creativity and mystery in the guest experience because the more they are developed, the greater becomes the desire to be creative and to create mystery. 

Everyone develops at a different speed. Some employees are so moved by the spirit and deepening programme that they are soon creating a guest experience that is infused with love, care, warmth, empathy, intuition, creativity and mystery. Others develop more slowly. Different departments develop at different speeds as well. Hotels as a whole follow the same pattern.

The guest experience cannot be copied because to a large extent it is created by the spirit of love, and this will vary from hotel to hotel. As the spirit grows, the experience will change. With deepening, the levels of love, care, warmth, empathy, intuition, creativity, and mystery increase, and as they increase the staff do different things for the guests, which they did not do before. The increase in emotion can be compared to turning up a dimmer switch to make a light brighter. Unlike in the SOP/CS culture, there is no limit to how far the dimmer switch can be turned.

This is what makes the guest experience grow and change in different ways. It is no longer restricted by the SOP manuals. With the gradual development of the core values and elements, the guest experience not only feels different, but new and different things also happen. Once a guest experiences it, s/he will never be happy again with an SOP/CS culture hotel.

Apart from the obvious financial benefits of moving on from the cloneable SOP/CS culture, there is another enormous benefit of creating such a guest experience, namely the health benefits of a truly memorable guest experience that is infused with love, care, warmth, empathy, intuition, creativity, and mystery. 

Heart research over the years has proved that health starts with love, and that love can reduce stress. Research also shows that emotions work much faster and are more powerful for our well-being than thoughts; and also that the heart is much more important than the brain to overall health and well-being. The heart’s dominance inside the body is now clearly demonstrated. Thinking clearly with your brain is useful, but feeling positively from your heart provides an amazing boost to health and creativity. 

Showing and experiencing love, or briefly re-experiencing a cherished memory, creates synchronization in your heart rhythm in mere seconds. This increases the release of healthy, energizing hormones, while at the same time decreasing levels of damaging stress hormones. At the same time your immune system is strengthened, blood pressure decreases, and health and focus increase. 
Feelings of compassion, love, care, and appreciation produce a smoothly rolling coherent heart rhythm. A different heart rhythm leads to other chemical and electrical – even neurological - reactions in the body. 

When people experience love, they not only feel happy and joyful, but they also produce, for example, the hormone that prevents aging, and which gives us feelings of youthful vitality. Also, a loving body absorbs less cholesterol, thereby preventing arteries from clogging, and blood pressure stabilizes. Positive feelings, like love, generate health. Creating a truly memorable guest experience infused with the spirit of love is not only going to make hotels more money, but it will improve the health of the employees and guests. Surely the Sales and Marketing people can make use of this.

But there’s more. Studies show that the electromagnetic field of the heart can be measured from between two and three metres from the body. If someone has a coherent heart rhythm, it has a demonstrably positive effect on other people in close proximity to him or her. 
The implications of this for the hotel industry are very big, I feel. For a start, it makes completely obsolete the chain hotel approach to creating an essentially similar and uniform guest experience throughout a brand or the group. Why would anyone want to continue doing this? 

It would be a great shame if the owners of the huge land and underwater hotel projects in the UAE, for example, spent a fortune creating a unique design and a multitude of facilities for their projects, and then installed an SOP/CS culture. What a waste of money and loss of revenue that would be, especially if a competitor group decided to break its traditional ties with Normalville!

In this concept of guest experience there is really no chance for uniformity and standardization anymore. Even with the same SOPs, the guest experience will be different in warmth and appearance in every hotel – sometimes with the comparative warmth of a 500 watt bulb, sometimes 3,000 watts, and sometimes even 10,000 watts or more. There is no limit either. The disturbing point for traditionalists is that if you try to create it by shackling the 7 core values and elements with the SOP/CS structure, the more you will discover that you cannot create the experience. The winds of change can indeed be frightening!

The area of competition for hotels will become the spiritual aspect of the guest experience; not the material grandeur of a property. The hotels and hotel groups that will become preferred will be those which have the more effective approach to developing the core spiritual values in the employees and guest experience; which have the more effective deepening programme; and which are willing to align all of the hotel’s systems and procedures with the nature of the new guest experience. The traditional Human Resources Department will have to succumb to the witches’ cauldrons, of course. 

The SOP/CS culture will surely die at the 4-star and 5-star level because more and more hotels will try to create an alternative guest experience based on the experience described above. Independent hotels and small luxury resort groups will adopt it, and then the chain hotels will become undesirable in comparison. Why on earth would anyone want to stay at a hotel with an SOP/CS culture when you can stay at a hotel where the staff create a personalized memorable experience infused with love, care, warmth, and empathy, with intuition, creativity, and mystery, and where the warmth is so great and can be increased continuously? Incidentally, other spiritual values are actually developed too, such as compassion, but I cannot go into those here.

The ability to create such a guest experience will also surely become a major factor for choosing a management company. This kind of experience cannot be created in the key card manner of the SOP/CS culture. Hotels and hotel groups will have to experiment and this will take time. I have been doing this for over two years and I am still learning and discovering new ideas and ways. 

A year from now hotels will wish they had started now. The speed at which they learn will be directly related to their willingness to break away from ideas and approaches that have become synonymous with organizational development and staff training & development in the age of the SOP/CS culture. 

Hotels and hotel groups that don’t like change will like irrelevance even less as the hotel industry changes direction and their shareholder value declines. I believe that in the future people will choose a hotel, especially at the 4-star and 5-star levels, according to the infusion in the hotel’s guest experience of the 7 spiritual values and elements above. This will be where the money will be made. Meanwhile, … the SOP/CS culture diehards will do just that. 

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 the guest experience to this level; and showing hotels how to create this guest experience by themselves. Seven other articles on this topic by the author can be found in the Newsletter Archive.


Renaissance Consulting Ltd. 
99/192 Mubahn Place and Park, 
Soi 90, Tanon Pracha Uthit, 
Ampheur Prasamuthchedi, 
Samuthprakarn 10290, Thailand 
Tel/Fax: +66-2-461-5164; +66-84-943-3033


Also See: What a Resort Experience Can Become When You Have a Daring Mission and Vision Statement / Peter McAlpine / February 2007
How to Add a Touch of Mystery to Your Guest Experience / Peter McAlpine / November 2006
Think Your Hotel Has Caring Service? Read This! / Peter McAlpine / July 2006

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