Personal, thoughtful and emotional service is the very height of excellence when it comes to pleasing guests, says Giles Gordon-Smith
It’s rare to find a hotel mission statement that doesn’t mention guest expectations and a desire to exceed them. This is a logical goal, but it is not as simple a concept as it sounds. Here are some points to consider when you want to exceed expectations.
The little touches
I remember being more than a little impressed when I received my first set of ‘Giles Gordon-Smith – In Residence’ business cards on check-in at a hotel in Milan. Similarly, it was a pleasant surprise to return to my turned-down room in Doha to see a hotel bookmark on top of my novel and a lens cloth and spray placed next to my sunglasses. I wouldn’t ever advise a hotel to cease such practices, but the limitation is with replicable offerings – they are copied, they cost money and the impact is fleeting.
Customer relationship management systems do their bit in helping hotels to understand their guests’ preferences, but their scope is limited to the realm of meeting, rather than exceeding expectations, and due to data privacy (even in sharing customer information within a brand), will never make that transition.
Remember too, that however quickly one can access a guest’s profile and preference information, that will never be as instantaneous as real-time human emotions and responses from the employee.
What are your guests’ expectations?
It’s likely that you don’t know. In a recent study in the Harvard Business Review, entitled ‘An emotional connection matters more than customer satisfaction’, the evidence strongly supported the notion that, when asked what was most important about a given experience, consumers frequently misreported their answers.
So where a guest may state that a great bed or food choice is most important, the data reflects another story: that an emotional connection creates a greater impact. After all, what good is a sumptuous super-king bed with the finest Egyptian cotton if you are made to feel unwelcome? Does Michelin-standard cuisine matter if you get the distinct impression your waiter would rather be at home?
Exceeding emotional expectations
We’re not talking about great individual service success stories, but the subtle, nuanced behaviours and emotional responses that occur thousands of times every day. For example, observing that a guest is in a hurry at check out, picking up your page and bypassing the offer to enrol them in your loyalty programme.
It’s worth knowing that having one’s emotional expectations met literally releases dopamine in the brain – imagine what happens when those expectations are exceeded. Once your employees learn the required competencies and skills to do this, the benefits are many-fold: your people will be happier, more fulfilled and stay longer, and your guests will feel so comfortable that they simply wouldn’t consider going elsewhere. Oh, and you’ll spend less time resolving complaints, too.
Empathy, adaptability, care and intuition
Your employees are the only assets you have in your armoury that are capable of the empathy, adaptability, care and intuition to consistently pre-empt your guests’ needs.
Once these traits and behaviours begin to occur naturally and consistently, those constant human interactions taking place in your business will change from being planned and scripted to thoughtful and personalised.
The cascade effect
One cannot expect this shift to occur until senior management buy into the principles. They must be willing to invest in the culture of emotional engagement; giving managers and heads of departments the inspiration, tools and resources to change the way they engage with their teams. Once this cascade effect is in flow, you will start to see the benefits of emotional contagion. From here, you can begin to equip employees with the skills and tools to start understanding those emotional expectations and reading their guests. Then, and only then can they reach service nirvana.
Giles Gordon-Smith is a founder and consultant at Penshee