People are still No. 1 key to hospitality
 
People are still No. 1 key to hospitality
16 DECEMBER 2014 7:25 AM
Accommodations and amenities account for 10% of the guest experience. The other 90%? It’s all about interactions with hotel staff. 
Even with the industry’s focus on using technology for enhancing the guest experience, in the end it is still the same fundamental principles of hospitality that create guest loyalty. 
 
Despite all of the advances in systems and automation, it is still the people that make the difference between simply meeting expectations and instead creating intense guest loyalty. Evidence for this can be found in the positive guest reviews for most any hotel sitting at the top of the list in TripAdvisor rankings for its city or destination; the number one hotel “feature” most commonly mentioned among the leaders is most often the people. 
 
One example is the Seaport Boston Hotel, which is ranked No. 1 out of 77 hotels in Boston. When you look closely at the hotel’s reviews, one common theme that runs through most of them is how wonderful the staff and/or service is. Here are some direct quotes from online reviews:
  • “The entire staff is very helpful and courteous.”
  • “The hotel staff were always more than helpful with any questions we had about the city, where to eat, and how to travel.”
  • “Always a pleasure to stay at the Seaport Hotel. Concierge, front desk personnel are extremely helpful. Both friendly and knowledgeable … their service is matched by that of the Tamo Bar and restaurant staff.”
  • “The staff is like family and so helpful …”
Having recently been a guest there I can tell you the reviewers are spot-on. Starting from the first welcome at the front door and throughout the entire cycle of service, everyone you encounter truly shows they care about you as a person. For example, my most recent visit was on a cold November night, and when I rode up in the taxi the doorman noticed I needed time to pay my bill by credit card. So instead of opening the door and letting the cold wind chill me, he waited until I was done. Although I had not been there for a whole year, he remembered me by name and seemed genuinely happy to see me. He introduced me to the reception staff, who truly seemed to care when they asked how my travels had gone that day. 
 
Having experienced weather delays for my flights, I have to say it was good therapy to share my tribulations of a long day on the road with someone with an empathetic ear. Then when my bellman escorted me to my room, noting that I was a repeat guest instead of giving a scripted tour, he simply pointed out a few important features of the hotel’s newly renovated rooms, such as the electronic privacy signs. Even my roomservice waiter remembered me as a regular, recalling that I had teenage children and asking how that was going. 
 
Unlike the Seaport Hotel, too many hotels focus on the mechanics of guest service such as using the guest’s name three times, insincerely saying scripted phrases such as, “Let me be the first to welcome you” and handing over a room key instead of sliding it across the desk. Attempts to teach hospitality as if it were merely a series of communication techniques always fall short. Guests can certainly sense when a frontline colleague genuinely cares to hear a response to questions such as, “How was your trip in this evening?” or “What did you think of your entrée?” They can also sense when such questions are being asked only because it is on the list of standards set forth by the hotel inspection company or ratings service. 
 
Emotional intelligence
For years, those of us in the customer service training business have called this having “people skills” or “being a people person.” Nowadays we have social scientists conducting extensive research in a field now known as “emotional intelligence.” Studies are showing that some of us have a unique talent to truly relate to others—to be able to imagine what it must be like to be on the other side of the front desk, the other end of the phone line or the other side of that guestroom door.
 
According to experts in the field, one key component of emotional intelligence is empathy. As Daniel Goleman, who has authored a number of books on the subject, said in his booked titled “Emotional Intelligence,” “the root of altruism lies in empathy, the ability to read emotions in others; lacking a sense of another’s need or despair there is no caring.” 
 
In my own view, it is certainly possible to some extent to look for the traits of emotional intelligence during the recruitment and selection process. Many hotels use pre-employment screening tests that attempt to identify personality traits associated with emotional intelligence. A quick Google search will turn up at least a half-dozen such options, although interestingly enough there are just as many online resources that show up such as: “how to pass a personality test.” Beyond testing, you can always look for signs on resumes such as volunteerism at non-profits, school PTAs and parent booster clubs and religious institutions. 
 
Yet, it is also possible to nurture these talents in the staff we already have. To help build empathy, make sure your hospitality training helps frontline colleagues understand the real-world experiences your guests are living out every day. For many frontline colleagues travel seems glamorous, exciting and something they personally would look forward to. Yet, when you look closer, many guests are on the road away from friends, family and loved ones more than they would prefer. Business travelers might report that they find travel to be mundane, monotonous and even wearisome. While many transient guests might be in town for a wedding or anniversary, others might be there for a funeral or medical procedure. Even leisure guests might be experiencing frustrations of travel especially on the first day of their vacation. 
 
By training your team that behind every guest there is a “story” to be told, and by helping them imagine all of the many circumstances, situations and quandaries that guests experience, it will foster empathy and a better understanding of guests’ experiences. They will come to realize it is their job to bring out the best in a guest’s personality and to find ways to make genuine, authentic connections. 
 
As I often say in my hospitality workshops, a positive hotel experience is maybe 10% about the accommodation and amenities and 90% about the interactions with the colleagues who truly make guests stay again by making a guest’s stay special this time. 
 
Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades. Since 1996, Doug’s monthly hotel industry training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hotel industry training writers. Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly.  
 
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