This is the first in a series of five train-the-trainer articles contributed by Doug Kennedy
Most hoteliers I speak with clearly understand that hospitality and guest service excellence are more important than ever before in the history of the lodging industry. Everyone knows that “word of click” has long since replaced “word of mouth” and that the old adage that “an unhappy guest will tell 9 or 10 others” has turned into 900, 9,000, 90,000 or even more. Yet for the most part, the impact of hospitality on profits has been anecdotal.
However, a recent survey caught my eye that provides empirical evidence to validate what everyone seems to know instinctually. The Big Decision: Guest Ratings Outshine Brand Selection In Hotel Selection: A whitepaper by Abhijit Pal, Head of Research, Lodging Partner Services, Expedia Group in conjunction with a study they conducted with Unabashed Research.
According to this study, “There is a 72% chance that a traveler would pay more for a hotel with higher guest ratings, versus solely selecting a hotel by brand.”
Although everyone understands its importance, the path to improving guest service is unclear these days. When reading the daily headlines in lodging industry trade publications, one often sees titles about “How to improve personalization” or “Provide customized guest experiences.” Yet when you click on these posts, oftentimes the authors turn out to be from some tech company pushing guest automation apps or data mining as the core solution, focusing on process over people.
Smart hoteliers know that the optimal path forward is to provide the perfect blend of tech and touch. Personally, I love tech solutions and consider myself to be an early adopter, but the key is to use tech in a way to enhance human engagement, not replace it entirely.
This series will speak to the “touch” part of both hospitality and guest service excellence, but let’s first explore the difference.
To me, “guest service excellence” is more about systems, efficiency, response times, and the “quality” of the physical product, whereas “hospitality” is a philosophy for daily living. As my mentor and friend Howard Feiertag, who had the Virginia Tech School of Hospitality re-named in his honor, said at his acceptance speech, “Hospitality is simply making people feel good.” Perhaps Conrad Hilton, the iconic founder of Hilton Worldwide, said it more formally: “It has been, and continues to be, our responsibility to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality.”
Alternatively, too many hotel training programs obsess on teaching hospitality as if it was merely a series of communications techniques. Perhaps this is because rating services such as Forbes, AAA, and others put so much weight on specific, scripted phrases to the point that many staff are so nervous about such using rigid, standardized phrases that they sound insincere.
Surely, superior politeness is a plus for all hotels and we certainly cover that in our other KTN programs as you should too. I fully understand that luxury hotels yearn for those stars or diamonds for marketing purposes, but when you only teach politeness and obsess too much on rigid scripting of guest conversations, the end result is fake, disingenuous service.
Therefore, hotel leaders need a model for training through the heart and not only just the head. Start by reminding staff of the impact their daily guest interactions have on a hotel’s reputation and thus profits. In E.P.I.C. Hospitality™, then ask them to forget all about that and to instead seek a higher sense of purpose in their work-life. Here are some train-the-trainer tips based on E.P.I.C. Hospitality.
- Share the aforementioned survey results with your frontline staff and ask them to consider just how important their daily interactions are to this hotel’s reputation. Discuss how hotel profits and occupancy provides job security for co-workers and colleagues, especially for departments such as housekeeping where hours are immediately adjusted downward when occupancy dips.
- Ask participants to truly think about the fact that they spend at least half of their discretionary time every week here at work. Ask them to calculate along as you lead, starting with 24 hour days, 7 day weeks, then deducting time for sleeping, eating, commuting, caring for children (or elderly parents), and other mandatory tasks. Chances are they will readily see that a 40 hour workweek is at least half of their “free” time. Then ask “Unless you win the lottery, we all have to be here anyway, so why NOT make the best of it?”
- Discuss how bringing out the best side of guest’s personalities brings out the best in our own personalities. In other words, when we create a culture of hospitality we all have a lot more fun at work.
- Working with a partner, ask them to – in their own words – define the difference between hospitality and guest service.