An open letter to hoteliers

8 July 2014 05:50 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Dear hotel friends,
Why don’t you appreciate me more than you do when I show up at your doorstep? Have you lost sight of the fact, that, as your guest, I am at the centre of the hospitality industry and in an ever expanding circle; you need to always be ahead of my needs.

You try to communicate with me, spending money to make me remember your name, to sell your brand or to lure me to your ‘home away from home’, and, for all intents and purposes you seem be courting me, but I know you like to ‘play the field’. I often question your commitment towards me. You deal with me largely on a statistical basis, while I often introduce emotion into the equation, trying to imagine what I will experience walking in your front door and up in my room when head hits pillow.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the success or failure of your hotel depends upon the level of guest service you provide. Service is and will be a big influence factor. In my point of view the key to success in this industry is how to surprise me – i.e. pleasantly surprise me. If I am satisfied, I may recommend you to two or three people, if disgruntled I can log on to social media and steer several people away from doing business with you. Remember, satisfying me, may just not be enough. Because being satisfied – doesn’t necessarily ensure that I will return to you.      

I may shop around for better deals. After all, satisfaction in the hospitality industry is a moving target. Should you ask me to fill in your guest questionnaire, I must not endure a mental ‘tug-a-war’ on whether to rate your performance as ‘satisfactory’ or be less charitable, (forget the higher ratings). I am also saddened when you set ‘satisfied’ as your highest metric for success. Some might argue that this is indeed a ‘competitive bar’, but the reality is that the majority of you struggle to get beyond ‘satisfaction’, which is but only the lowest base camp on the climb towards peak ‘excellence’.

I’ve always considered satisfactory as average.  Who wants to be ‘average’?  If that’s acceptable to you fine, but being stuck in the middle of the pack isn’t exactly going to change the world... any world, even your own. Leonard L. Berry, Ph.D., Texas A. & M. University Professor of Marketing defined ten domains of satisfaction, which are: quality, value, timeliness, efficiency, ease of access, environment, inter-departmental teamwork, front-line service behaviors, commitment to the customer, and innovation.

Are you monitoring your domains of satisfaction to obtain feedback about what those domains mean to each functional area of the organization? In the spirit of future cooperation, let me equate Berry’s domains of satisfaction with relevance to the hospitality business and elaborate on some steps you can take to improve on these ten domains:-


Quality

Quality is in the eye of the beholder and is directly influenced by perception. I.e. it is I, as your guest, who can decide if you have satisfied me or not.
My satisfaction is dependent on many factors, such as the quality of the tangible facilities you offer; the responsiveness and empathy of your staff to my needs and requests; the consistency of service quality provided; the accuracy of information given; the location of your hotel; and the price you charge me for accommodation.
If there is ‘no gap’ between my expectations and the performance delivered by you – then I am highly satisfied. In reality, most of you stumble and leave an indelibly ‘large gap’ – due to your unwillingness to invest wisely on tangible facilities such as guest rooms, public areas, and technology and in the equal investment and development of human capital. Think about it.



Value
My perception of value when I stay in your hotel, is broadly based upon ten items I measure on a ‘better than/worse than expected’ scenario, namely; speed and efficiency of my check-in, how knowledgeable your employees are, cleanliness of your lobby, public areas and washrooms, How clean is the guestroom  you provide me? Comfort level of the bed, bedding and linen, guestroom items in working order and properly replenished, do I hear any sounds from the air-conditioner, corridor or adjoining guestroom (i.e. the quietness in my room), friendliness of your staff, safety and security and the food & beverage ‘choices’ your hotel offers including any ‘value additions’.



Timeliness
Whilst I appreciate friendly and helpful employees, educate your staff that timeliness in service delivery should be a key goal in your business.
When your reservations attendant promises to send my room confirmation and has to be reminded two days later or when I receive my wake call 10 minutes after my requested time or the when the soup I ordered in your fancy restaurant is served lukewarm after a 35 minute wait  – you have lamentably failed me. Understandably, my assessment of your hotel will be significantly downgraded.



Efficiency
Many of you opt for leaner staff as a strategic decision or a financial necessity. What you fail to do is to adapt to the staffing realities by updating procedures and creating new efficiencies.

Properly managed, a reduction in manpower need not compromise service. However, provide your staff with the proper procedural tools, equipment and empowerment to deliver attentive and responsive service.

Having a single printer for a 150 roomed hotel delays me and leads to frustration during my morning check-out. Don’t keep a high-spending repeat guest waiting for over 15 minutes until your housekeeping staff check out the mini-bar in the room I just vacated. Bottom-line: get out of your ‘doing it cheaper and constant fire fighting’ mindset and pursue a ‘doing things better’ culture.



Ease of access
Do I find it easy to reach the front desk or table staff if I need assistance? Envision a hotel stay where you didn’t have to wait in long check-in lines. In fact, think about a hotel lobby with no front desk. Yet, today’s innovations all embody a common theme: Less is more.

Touch-less, contact-less, wire-less, and ultimately bringing less – while experiencing more. Today’s traveler is accustomed to having technology at their finger tips and is constantly connected through the use of smartphones, tablets and computers.

Truth be told, in some parts of the planet, we have now entered a hospitality world where the front desk has fallen into obsolescence, a result of nearly eight in 10 hotel guests choosing to check in and out of hotels from mobile devices.

I’m not saying you need to go that far…all I ask is that you allow me to get in or out of my room as swiftly as you can. By the way, Wi-Fi is another concern of access – 24/7 user friendliness must underpin all technology offerings.



Environment
I am rather skeptical when I see your bathroom sign asking me to help save the environment by reusing my towels - especially when the thread count in them is near non-existent.

Appealing to my green conscience is hardly the most effective way of convincing me how best to dry off. Savvy travelers realize that hotels save on laundry bills if guests reuse their towels, so environmental appeals could appear deceitful.

Promising to donate money in exchange for towel reuse will not work well either – unless you tell me how much you donated last year! Perhaps then, I may be obliged to be greener. Before looking outside, look around you inside too.

When I observe disengaged employees I truly believe you need to bring in some positivism to the work environment. Don’t get environmentally ‘blindsided’.
Inter-departmental teamwork

You must understand your role as a leader who must foster collaboration and have your staff working toward common goals.

Don’t be ignorant that departmental boundaries exist and I don’t appreciate your individual departments working in ‘silos’, because in a hotel, teamwork is the backbone of my guest experience.

Without proper interdepartmental execution I am exposed to incidents, where the triple-bedded room I booked upon check-in turns out to be a double-bedded room or when my room service order is incorrectly delivered. If one department is out of touch, your service image takes the hit. Can you afford to permit any department to sabotage your commitment to deliver proper guest care? I seriously doubt it!



Front-line service behaviors
 As a guest, I wish to be served by front-line employees who are both ‘willing’ (engaged) and ‘able’ (confident in their ability). Delivery of quality guest service is tarnished if the majority of your staff fails to meet the two aforementioned criteria.

I would also consider the service climate (organisation’s environment factor) in your hotel to be weak – because this third factor inhibits the staff’s moods, feelings and attitudes towards you as the employer and your frontline staff is more likely to leave. If more of your frontline staff are leaving it is quite possible that your guests, like me, are also anxious to quickly get out of your hotel.



Commitment to the customer
So what’s the lesson here? First and foremost, do not toss out the traditional ‘customer first’ business model in favour of only serving the owner’s internal intention for life. As your guest I want your staff to give me their full attention and concentration, and I don’t want to be interrupted or compete for service.

It is not uncommon to see front desk staff in the middle of a check-in or other transaction, stop everything, to take a long-winding phone call from a colleague. This angers me. If I need to find the location of your restaurant I don’t need someone to just gesture in the general direction: I want your staff to take an interest and guide me to where it is located. Teach your staff to accept responsibility and not to make excuses when they make a mistake.



Innovation
For most of you being innovative is all about expensive technology – not really. Innovation need not be costly at all! As much as I love it when a hotel has a good bed and a farm-to-table room dining menu, I love it even more when it takes a big step out of the box to give me something unexpected. Don’t just follow the crowd by copying what someone is already doing – instead invent your own trends. I guess I may be expecting too much.



In conclusion:
For those of you who run a hotel that succeeds in delivering positive ratings in all of the above ten domains of satisfaction, I promise you that I will be there for you through thick and thin. For those of you who don’t – be advised…I will constantly look to go elsewhere! Here’s wishing you well.    

(Shafeek Wahab has an extensive background in Hospitality Management spanning over 30 years. He has held key managerial responsibilities in internationally renowned hotel chains, both locally and abroad. Now focusing on corporate education, training, consulting and coaching he can be contacted on shafeekwahab@in2ition.biz. Website: www.in2ition.biz)

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