News for the Hospitality Executive
This research article written by Patrik Hellstrand, Managing Director & Hospitality Consultant of SQInsight Hospitality Consulting discusses the impact culture and demographics have on guest satisfaction in the hospitality world. Though measuring guest satisfaction may appear as a straightforward process using leading survey tools; it's often far from the truth. Even when relying on survey methodologies which measure guest’s expectations and opinions, it is difficult to fully understand guest’s true opinions and behavioral intentions without taking culture and demographic into consideration. This article will discuss how cultural and demographic elements and employee-guest interpersonal relationships are all directly correlated to guest’s overall satisfaction of a product or service in the hospitality world.
Culture and Demographic
Culture and demographic is worth paying attention to when looking at various variables that have an effect on satisfaction. It is commonly thought within the hospitality industry that various nationalities rate services differently, e.g. an American may rate a very good service experience as ‘5’ out of ‘5’, whereas a European may rate the same service experience ‘4’ out of ‘5’. The argument in this case is often that Europeans are more sensitive to the notion that perfection does not exist and feel ‘4’ represents ‘excellent’, where on the other hand an American may feel that ‘4’ represents ‘very good’. There is no right or wrong here, simply different opinions of service quality based on culture. This however presents hospitality providers with the challenge of talking into account culture and demographic when setting up surveys and analyzing guest satisfaction results. Mattila and Cho (2006) for example found there were major differences in satisfaction results and price perceptions between Korean and American hotel guests (Cited in Matzler et al., 2006, p. 182).
Most hospitality professionals understand that there are differences between distinct cultures. Some may however not realize that the dissimilarities do not just appear between distinct geographical regions such as between Asia and North America, but also within regions with very similar cultures. A study by Hofstede revealed significant cultural differences between Germany and Austria, though the counties are in general thought of as similar (Cited in Matzler et al., 2006, p. 182). These cultural differences suggest that individuals from different cultures experience various emotions when exposed to service. This could be because various nationalities have a wide array of cultural practises which they live out in their daily lives. These behavioral aspects occur because of individual’s biological needs and social motives which they need to address to adapt their behaviors to the context in which they live (Matsumoto, 2006, p. 35). This context can often be different from a hospitality experience in a foreign country; therefore the different behavioral and expectation elements which can be displayed by guests. It is important to understand that these cultural practises act as past experiences which organize and guide individuals and help the actual processing of social experiences (Matsumoto, 2006, p. 35), which can consequentially impact satisfaction levels depending on if expectations are met or not.
Further, it is proven that an older demographic is typically more discerning towards service standards than a younger demographic (Williams et al., 2003, p. 64). The older counterpart also expects more value for their money (Ibid), which contributes further to the difficulty of understanding individual guest expectations.
A logical transition from discussions on culture and demographic is to look at the interpersonal relationships between guests and employees. It is not necessary to examine the employee-guest relationship model to understand there is a close relationship between guest satisfaction and employee behavior. This relationship of course exists because employees are physically the individuals delivering the service, and is therefore responsible for the quality of the service. It is not surprising that a study by Presbury (2005) showed that the interpersonal relationship that is created between guests and employees play a major role in guest satisfaction and loyalty. To guests, this relationship is what validates the product they were promised is indeed delivered (Presbury et al., 2005, p. 361), not the physical attributes of the property. The emotions guests experience because of the relationships established with employees therefore heavily impact guest’s overall satisfaction.
The Market Metrix Hospitality Index (MMHI), which base hotel performance on guest evaluations, has made some interesting findings on the role emotions play on satisfaction and loyalty. The Market Metrix study shows that emotions play a significant role on satisfaction and even loyalty (Barsky et al., 2003, p. 175). Studies show that individuals are willing to pay more for hospitality products and services that simply promise experiences that will induce certain emotions (Ibid). It's easy to grasp that comfort, and the associated emotions of comfort, is one of the emotions guests in general wish to experience from a hospitality product. Interestingly enough, simply receiving value for price paid for a service or product is something which makes guests feel comfortable with their hospitality experience (Barsky et al., 2003, p. 176). A study by McDougall and Levesque (2000) on guest’s expectations, quality, product delivery, value and value perceptions, confirms the value guests see in a product or service have a statistical significant effect on overall satisfaction (Cited in Gilbert et al., 2006, p. 300).
In conclusion, it is difficult to fully understand guest satisfaction without taking culture and demographics into consideration. When interpreting results, hospitality professionals must look at dissimilarities between different regions of the world, between different countries in the same region, and even states within the same country. The differences in expectations and perceptions of service, quality and value are often caused by the individual needs and social motives of guests, which relate to the cultural practises of guest’s daily lives. There are also behavioral and expectation related differences between an older and young guest demographic. Besides cultural and demographic considerations that need to be made when measuring satisfaction, the interpersonal relationships that are established between employees and guests need to be understood. Last but not least, the emotions guest’s experience in relation to the service, product and value must be captured to complete a true picture of guest’s opinions.
About the Author:
Patrik Hellstrand is a recognized hospitality consultant, and is the Managing Director at SQInsight Hospitality Consulting, a firm that provides hospitality consulting services to the hotel and cruise industry.
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