By Roberta Nedry

Dark, dismal and dirty stairwells. Parking garages that are Gross! Elevators that are extremely eerie! Well, it is almost Halloween, so these may seem appropriate and in season, BUT these are not amusement park novelties. They are actually part of your hotels, your businesses and your environments all year long-YUCK!

I am constantly amazed by the experiences in beautiful hotel lobbies, impeccable office buildings and delicious restaurants that come to a screeching halt when you enter one of these backstage areas for the same high-class setting. Why, oh why are these areas relegated to be the stepchildren of the establishment, the neglected experiences, the ones begging and needing attention? And yet, guests, your customers, go into these areas ALL THE TIME.

Slimy stairs, grimy corners encrusted with dirt, filthy walls and untouchable railings…REALLY?

Consider the stairs in any hotel or building. You start in the lobby or exquisite hallway, open the beautiful clean door and then SCREECH!! You are in a cement encrusted vacuum with filthy stairs, railings that probably hold more germs than you can imagine, failing fluorescent lighting, walls with strange stains on them and more…. CREEPY! And yet, your guests use the stairs often if they want more exercise, have a fire drill, want an elevator alternative or just need another way out. Why would we care so much about their experience INSIDE our hospitality settings and not care about this one extension and appendage of the property? And what about employees who often take the stairs? Are they not worth a clean and pleasant walking experience as they go to and fro? What does this say about the true essence of the building and philosophy of the management team? “We care about everywhere you go EXCEPT if you go up or down the stairs…then you are on your own!!”

One poignant memory is being with my son’s science team at a major South-eastern conference hotel with beautiful gardens, landscape and lobbies. One of the team projects was to solve detective like scenarios and analyze substances that might be at the scene of a crime. In preparation for their competition, they went around the hotel to analyze undefined materials. They ended up in the stairwell and found splatter spots of some type of liquid on the walls. They analyzed it and for ratings purposes, I cannot state the result, but I leave your imaginations to consider what it might have been… A rather sobering result for some young teenagers to discover and ponder…in a stairwell. EEK! Creepy! How could no one be checking for this….and cleaning it at the very least? After all, this is a top property with guests from all over the world. Is this the impression and impact they want to make? Check out the action in the stairwells??

A scary and not so scary example. A drive through with trash in smelling distance of each driver and a thoughtful, clean backstage trash receptacle.

What about parking garages? Why must the elevator to level “P” be Poor, Pathetic and possibly Paranormal in any way? Once again, notice how the shadows and low lighting become more ominous. Areas of neglect seem more apparent whether it’s lighting, trash cans, signage or cigarette ashtrays. Doorknobs seem spooky. And, if there is a barrier that must raise on the way out, a ticket retrieval machine or an actual parking valet, are they appealing and clean looking in any way or inspiring a desire for a quick getaway from the filth?

Could the bar that raises up and down look better, be cleaner or even be painted in an interesting way? Safety is important but making guests feel good in their last impression moments is also important. What about the machine where you push a button and submit your ticket? Must you submit to germs as well? Could a nice thank you message be posted as you do? Could the machine reflect the design and personality of the hotel or business and especially be polished clean at all times? Think about Walt Disney’s example…every single trashcan and sign were assigned to the art department to ensure the theme of magic and engagement was EVERYWHERE and at every touchpoint. Custodial teams were always on duty to ensure cleanliness at every touchpoint and understand WHY that’s important in the guest experience journey.

And what if there is a parking booth and attendant? Is the parking attendant a valued and appreciated role with training and ‘last impression’ empowerment or the ones that are last on the list and lowest in seniority? Do they have understanding and accountability for that final impression or are they just in a box processing tickets? Once again, I am often amazed by the ‘aloofness’ of the parking attendant at rental car exits, convention center exits, hotel garages and office buildings. They just seem to be there, filling a space, doing what they must to get the cash or validation and rarely inject any type of engagement or personality. Why not? They are the final impression in most cases. One memorable moment upon exiting was the attendant eating Cheetos who stopped crunching for a few moments with orange finger tips to hand me my ticket. I felt like I was interrupting her and her snack with my business. Once again…. EWW!!!

And what about those behind the scenes elevators? Why are the ones that are for baggage and freight designed like bunkers in a war? Why are employees assigned to the grungy, dirty up and down spaces? Granted they may not be as special or prioritized as the mirror enclosed, wood paneled guest elevators in the front but do they have to look like an escape pod to another planet? What message does that give to the employees doing the hard work and responsibilities to ensure guest service delivery?

Dirty, fingerprinted doors and walls, left over cigarette butts, rusted signs = unwelcome, scary feeling!

Why must the bellmen who deliver baggage be almost treated like the baggage in priority? Don’t they deserve a little inspiration as they prepare to deliver the goods to the guests? Could something be on the elevator walls like in the ‘real’ elevators that provide inspiration or appreciation? Recently in a Southern California restaurant, we had to take an elevator to the second floor because we had a wheelchair. Most guests took the elegant winding stairway, but the only elevator was near the kitchen behind employee doors. Our beautiful seaside restaurant became an instant scrunched up space to squeeze into to get to the second floor. We took turns with employees and their trays of dirty dishes to make our journey as the space was small and not so nice. We understood instantly why Chef Gordon Ramsey has so much to say when he goes behind the scenes in restaurants! Kitchen nightmares indeed!

And don’t forget the trash areas too. Yes, they are trash, but do they have to look so trashy?

All these examples are part of the Service touchpoint continuum and need to be examined closely with guest experience lenses; maintained and enhanced as touchpoints in the guest experience. Exceptional Service includes exceptional cleanliness, focus and commitment at EVERY point of contact and impact during the guest AND employee’s journey. It does not include selective attention to only the ‘prettiest’ or frontline areas because guests go behind the lines a lot! And employees deserve to work, serve and deliver in areas that are clean at the very minimum.

Consider the following tips to avoid having Halloween all year long in your property or business:

1. Do your own detective work. Walk the property and especially all the areas noted above. Bring some employees along with you. Ask everyone to evaluate and analyze these areas:

  • Cleanliness
  • Guest Impact
  • Employee Role and which employees impact that area
  • Role in the Guest Experience
  • Ways to fix, enhance or improve those areas

2. Orient and Train ALL employees on why the areas noted above are important as part of the Guest and Customer experience. For those employees directly involved, instill responsibility and accountability for their roles and empower them to do something about it if it’s impacting the guest experience in a negative way. Encourage constant idea flow on how to make it better. Recognize those that do!

3. Add greater responsibility and job roles to those that might handle these areas. Perhaps housekeeping or maintenance be responsible for the stairwells once or twice a week. Develop a checklist that covers all areas to be cleaned, enhanced or maintained with the Guest Experience focus.

4. Consider appointing a different employee each week to look at the backstage areas and make sure they are appealing and nice for employees as well. Empower them to fix or enlist support to clean areas that need it. Encourage them to come up with ideas that will positively make a difference.

5. Include focus on these areas in all department meetings and make sure the entire organization is aware of these ‘appendage’ areas as part of the service touchpoint continuum and emphasize that EVERYBODY has a role in ensure that touchpoint is wonderful and positive.

These areas don’t have to be scary. You don’t want to scare guests off or leave them with questionable impressions. Focus on the beautiful impact…not the BOO-tiful one! Enjoy exceptional guest experience and seamless service continuity for all seasons. Make sure the treats guest receive are plentiful on the Guest Service scale. Enjoy the treats of their loyalty, dollars, reviews and referrals as they experience delight and surprise in these formerly neglected areas.

Make Halloween Happy for the right reasons and make service Happy for all seasons! Happy Halloween!

Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from