By Frank Pitsikalis

A smart observer once noted the difference between “service” and “hospitality” is the difference between being “well run” and being “well loved.”

While it is a fine accomplishment to earn a guest’s, “They always do a nice job” endorsement, it is far better to inspire an effusive, “I absolutely LOVE that property – their team understands us and always provides just the right touch at the right time.”

Excellent service requires well-defined and reliably followed protocols. Hospitality adds empathy, personal connections and teams empowered to act outside of protocols when warranted.

Service elevates to hospitality when, while interacting, you change for the better how guests feel. Instead of executing transactions, you form relationships. Guests feel understood and valued.

Actionable data – and systems that reveal it – enable practitioners to transform remarkable service into memorable hospitality. Robust guest profiles, smart property management systems that can access guest preferences across locations and amenities, and analysis systems that coalesce guests’ behaviors with financial returns can inform employees’ actions in real time to guide them in providing “just the right touch at the right time.”

Imagine a couple celebrating their 50th anniversary with you. They’ve reserved their favorite window table at your fine-dining restaurant. Known for impeccable service, your protocol honors reservations no longer than 10 minutes past the booking, in the interest of serving everyone. Your host answers a call and hears a frantic list of obstacles delaying this couple by 20 minutes. Your information system reveals a robust and profitable guest profile along with the special occasion attached to this reservation. Instead of politely sharing the 10-minute limit, your host assures it will be his pleasure to honor the reservation.

Upon arrival, the couple is astonished to see the popular window table remains theirs. A server arrives with wine. They exclaim, “Oh, that’s not ours!” Your server says, “You’ve had a stressful day and it’s your 50th anniversary. Congratulations! This is your favorite wine and it’s on us!” Although protocol dictates presenting menus when seating guests, she adds, “Unless you prefer otherwise, why don’t you relax and enjoy your wine before I bring menus and review specials? Although I will share now that we are serving the lamb you enjoyed on your last visit.”

The couple’s tension visibly diffuses. Your team has gone beyond remarkable service to create a memorable hospitality moment this couple will post in reviews and repeat every time they recount their 50th-anniversary story.

Empowering Employees to Deliver Beyond Service

Rules certainly have reasons – especially when it comes to a property’s safety and operational efficiency – but there are times when hotel employees should be able to create experiences beyond those dictated by typical service protocols.

When hotel employees are equipped with robust guest profiles and real-time systems, they can confidently spot “hospitality moments” perfect for creating memorable experiences, plus they have the discernment to understand when adding “something extra” will benefit both guests and the property. Guests who are likely to become enthusiastic champions appreciate the hotel team for anticipating their preferences when there isn’t a problem, and if difficulties arise, they are eager to share satisfactory resolutions with others. When employees can make “hospitality interventions” without waiting for approval or asking a manager to step in, they put your property on a path to being “well loved.”

Equipping employees with technology that delivers guest insights is a first step in empowering autonomous decisions that benefit guests while also ensuring financial and loyalty returns for the property. Without such systems, your team is left only with standard protocols to guide decisions. They might not realize that late-arriving guests have a profile your property is courting, nor that the reservation was in response to a highly targeted promotional offer to celebrate an important occasion. The special front-end courtship created by profile-driven marketing can be shattered by a not-so-special arrival experience in which niceties expected aren’t delivered.

Employees following typical protocols for late arrivals will not have technically done anything incorrectly. But lacking insight, they will have failed to deliver the promise of your promotion. Instead, consider a scenario informed by modern hospitality systems.

Your guests arrive late due to travel delays, but your hotel’s property management system has flagged them as responders to a promotional campaign and has brought this information to the staff’s attention. They access the guests’ profiles and see they are celebrating a very special occasion and anticipate they will be exhausted and frustrated upon arrival. The team holds their suite, arranges for fresh flowers and a bottle of champagne (the same vintage they enjoyed on their 20th anniversary at a sister property) to be waiting in their room – all at no charge. The restaurant booking system and team are notified that the couple will be delayed, and flags their table to remain reserved along with the special chef’s tasting they booked.

Upon arrival, the exhausted couple is greeted with a smile in the lobby, where a staff member checks them in on a mobile device while explaining how the hotel’s digital keys operate and offering them a warm towel and a welcome beverage (selected based on stored preferences). The guests receive a text from the restaurant assuring them that their table will be ready when they have had a chance to freshen up and make their way to the restaurant.

They receive genuine, warm wishes for their special occasion from the restaurant team, enjoy a table-side visit from the chef, and relish an amazing dinner followed by a personalized signature dessert. They receive a far better experience than they expected after multiple delays and a late arrival – and they look forward to what the next day will bring from this incredible resort team who absolutely turned their day around.

Information Plus Culture Is the Key

Even when modern information systems are in place, without a culture that supports distributed decision-making, teams are not empowered to deliver true hospitality. “Depending on who’s managing what, even if the person wants to do something for you, their hands may be tied,” said Mehmet Erdem, an associate professor of hospitality at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “There are limitations because they can not go above corporate rules.”

The most successful properties provide employees with the tools they need to effectively do their jobs, elevate their job satisfaction, and deliver “hospitality moments” beyond service protocols. When properties empower their team members to elevate guest experiences without having to wait for approval or notify a manager, they create confident employees equipped to ensure each guest has a memorable time.

Making employee empowerment a cultural cornerstone is one highly effective way to encourage your teams to find ways to elevate service to hospitality. As one global brand notes on its Leadership Center website“If you trust your employees to care for your clients, guests and patients, they really will.”

A winning strategy is to combine a culture that attracts the strongest talent with property technology that enables them to know their guests better and anticipate opportunities to delight them.

The well-known hospitality management school, École hotelière de Lausanne (EHL) noted with respect to creating unique guest experiences“It takes a sort of insider knowledge of what opportunities can be created, how to set them up, and how the experience can be upgraded to reflect the guest’s personal preferences and style. For example, a guest in Hawaii might want to learn to surf. There are many qualified surf instructors, but only a talented hotel manager can put together a sunrise surf expedition followed by a traditional Hawaiian lunch on a remote offshore island: an unforgettable experience.”

“By adding in as many personal touches as possible and using the network that you have worked hard to create, you can take something as simple as a request for a surfing lesson and give it the power to have a true impact on guests’ memories. When you do this consistently, with all types of requests, you truly set your hotel apart in terms of the luxury experience delivered.”

For your property to stand out, you must provide consistent, elevated experiences. Doing so requires dedicated, empowered employees who enjoy their jobs, have the ability to connect with their guests, and have information at their fingertips to anticipate and exceed guest expectations.

The right technology is one crucial element required to empower employees to understand and connect with their guests. A culture that trusts employees to autonomously elevate service to hospitality through personalized experiences is just as essential as you evolve from being “well run” to “well loved.”

Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from

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