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Improving the guest experience through service standards
August 16 2011

Providing a good guest experience is kind of like cooking gumbo. If you don’t start with a solid base, chances are you’ll wind up serving guests a hot mess.

Highlights
  • Standards relay the expectations of management and the outcomes of performance.
  • Procedures are “how to” components. They explain how to complete a task.
  • Training should be conducted on an ongoing basis.
By Patrick O’Bryan
HNN columnist

Providing a good guest experience is kind of like cooking gumbo: You’ve got to start with a well-developed roux—or, when it comes to hospitality, well-developed service standards. If you don’t, no matter what other ingredients or solutions you throw into the mix, chances are you’ll wind up serving your guests a hot mess.

Fortunately, there is no need to create your service standards from scratch. Performance manuals and other tools out there in the market can provide you with generic but solid standards that you can adapt and customize according to the demands of your particular brand and/or property. 

As you develop your service standards, take into consideration your job descriptions in order to make sure the two are in alignment. Like service standards, generic job descriptions are also available in the market and can give you a solid base from which to work.  While it may be tempting to tell yourself you know your brand and the needs of your particular property better than anyone else—which may very well be true—trying to develop your service standards and job descriptions on your own would be a mistake. It is much less time-consuming and much less paining to use proven standards and descriptions that have been developed independently over time, and then simply fine tune them.

Standards + Procedures = Success
Performance standards from hotel to hotel tend to be more or less the same. Whether they are being used by a 4-diamond hotel or any other property, standards relay the expectations of management and the outcomes of performance. For example, standards for cleaning a bathtub might be:

  1. Cleaned daily.
  2. Bathtub is free of:
       A. Soap residue
       B. Scum
       C. Hair
       D. Mildew
  3. Fixtures are shiny and spot-free.
  4. Drain is left open.
  5. Water runs clearly through drain.

The kind of question I hear again and again is: If everyone uses similar standards for cleaning a bathtub, why do some hotels do a better job than others of keeping their bathtubs clean? One reason is that while hotels may have similar standards, the procedures staff members use to try to achieve those standards can be very different or, in some cases, nonexistent. Delivering not just standards but clearly laid out procedures is what empowers staff members to meet your standards every time.  

Procedures are “how to” components. They explain how to complete a task and should be presented sequentially in an order that makes sense. Procedures for cleaning a bathtub might be:

1. Select the correct chemical equipment.
2. Remove all hair and debris from tub and drain.
3. Remove stopper and scrub thoroughly.
4. Scrub the inside of the tub with cleaner and sponge, beginning at high point and working down the sides to the drain.
5. Scrub down the exterior and the plumbing fixtures.
6. Rinse thoroughly with hot water.
7. Dry all surfaces with a clean rag.
8. Polish all fixtures with a dry, clean cloth.
9. Leave drain stopper open.

The reality is that you can’t effectively train much less measure the performance of your staff if you have not given them the procedures they need to complete in order to meet your standards. Any standards of performance manuals you might be using to develop your standards should include the procedures as well.

In fact, before you approach a third party or purchase any standards of performance development tool, you should first confirm that you will be given access to procedural information. If standards + procedures = success, standards - procedures = failure. Imagine a trainer telling staff members to be sure to greet guests politely but then neglecting to tell them how to greet guests politely. It would be like telling someone they need to add rice to the gumbo without specifying that it needs to be cooked first. It is just as important to explain how tasks need to be performed as it is to clearly define your standards or desired outcomes.

Training to meet standards and improve the guest experience
When you have solid service standards in place, training becomes a much less daunting task. Once your staff knows what you expect and how to fulfill your expectations, the only thing left for you to do is put your words into action by providing the initial and ongoing training that will ensure your standards are put into practice. As you do so, and once you are able to measure your team’s overall progress during the course of several months or more, you should find that you are providing a more consistent level of service to your guests, and as a result, are seeing more customer loyalty.

Often, when training programs fail, they fail because they begin with initial training workshops that are full of zip and vigor and are inspiring for the short term but don’t provide much information that applies to the actual job that staff members are or will be performing. 

To create the guest experience you are hoping to provide, training needs to occur not just in a training room during initial sessions but on the job on an ongoing basis. Upper and middle management should be trained to provide information to front-line employees on a weekly or even daily basis. There is no need for them to hold lengthy staff meetings in order to do this; they can work the training into their existing schedule. For example, a manager might opt to provide reinforcement training as employees clock in at a new shift. Delivering small pieces of information to employees at various touch points not only allows managers to practice good time management, but to perform training in a natural way that allows them to offer follow-up pointers and suggestions or to engage in corrective dialog as they observe employees on the floor.     

Service standards can and will fall flat if they are not properly reinforced. Effective training that does not end when the workshop ends is what will create a consistent guest experience that your guests can come to rely on and expect. When guests get the same high-level, quality service from check in to check out, everyone wins.

Just as I go back to my favorite restaurant in New Orleans because I know no matter how long I’ve been away I’ll be able order the gumbo and get it the same way every time, your guests will come back because they’ll know they’ll be able to get a consistent level of service that will make their experience in your hotel as good as it was the last time they selected your property over a competing one.

If you need outside help to develop your standards and institute training, get it. Your initial investment will pay off when you see both your guest comments and revenues improve.

Patrick O'Bryan is chief operating officer at FreemanGroup (http://www.freemangroupsolutions.com/), a customer service solutions provider that serves premier hospitality and tourism organizations around the world. Clients range from government and tourist boards to hotels, casinos, cruise ships, and airlines.  In addition to offering a number of proprietary training workshops and follow-up training programs, FreemanGroup offers instructor certification programs and workshops specifically designed for human resource departments, leadership, and supervisors. 

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HotelNewsNow.com or its parent company, Smith Travel Research and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

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