It’s called hospitality for a reason

We all get it. We have to have outstanding service to have a highly satisfied customer. And we know that a satisfied customer is six times more likely to buy again. Yet most organizations don’t think strategically about their service, or even think about it enough to incorporate hospitality all the way to the front lines where your guests feel it first.

There are a few myths when it comes to service:

Myth 1: If we hire people who are “nice, hospitable people,” they will do a good job.
Of course you need to start with people who are hospitable. Beyond that, people need to know what the service experience is supposed to look, sound, taste, feel and look like—and what role they play in delivering it. You can take a nice, hospitable human being and transform them into a mean, disconnected person in no time if they find themselves not knowing how to do their specific job in a way that makes them successful. At any level of an organization, most people want to feel competent, capable and valued. Incompetence doesn’t just upset your customer! It is embarrassing to your associate.

Myth 2: Service is a training program.
Service is a culture. Your service demonstrates your brand promise and the unique guest experience your hotel or brand (regardless of size) has to offer. Culture is the heart and soul of your business and service experience. And no different than the heart of the body, culture needs to be protected and strengthened to survive long-term. Training is a tool that helps your associates bring your service culture to life. It gives your service strategy direction and application so that your associates can understand their roles and deliver on your promise. When your associates provide an exceptional service experience, they engage. Engagement drives pride, enthusiasm and positivity, which is the fuel of productivity.

Myth 3: If we handle objections, our customers will be happy.
In my decades of travel, I've had the pleasure to visit hotels that have service standards and approaches that are customer-centric, proactive, and experiential. Then (more times than I'd like to count), I've encountered those that wait for the storm to arrive before acting (A.K.A. reactive organizations). As a company, Aspire is asked frequently to teach “handling service objections,” which is an important reactive skill. And when we ask our clients, "How are you correcting this problem so it does not recur?" the answer tends to be: one customer at a time. This is not resolution; it is a short-term solution. Working to identify and understand the core problem behind recurring negative interactions will allow your leaders to solve it so that your associates are not stuck dealing with it. Then they can focus more on creating positive experiences than containing bad ones.

Here are a few strategies to live by when it comes to service:

1.    Regardless of size, your brand will be defined by your guest experience. You can have the best rooms in the market and more bells and whistles than your competitors, and if your associates don’t know how to deliver on your brand promise, you are sunk long-term. Loyalty points will not save you. You will spend millions on marketing to find new customers and lose them after the first visit. Eventually, your social media will catch up and you'll have trouble getting anyone to bite.

2.    Operationalizing your brand promise requires real operations people in the loop. As a strategist, I have to tell you that when my old boss (prior to my founding Aspire 20 years ago) said, "It's time for you to learn to execute these great strategies,” it was a humbling and—more importantly—empowering experience. To anyone I ever presented a strategy to without engaging them to execute it: please accept my apology. In the end, the strategy won’t matter if it can’t be operationalized. 

3.    Your line associates have to “get” the brand promise. I’m not talking about handing out a wallet card with your vision, mission, values and brand promise on it (though such tools can be helpful for reinforcement); it has to constantly be front-of-mind. Your associates have to feel it. When we feel something, we understand it. We know how we fit in. We take pride in knowing, and we show it. 

4.    The guest has to experience your brand promise or it doesn’t really exist. It is important to identify unique customer touch points that show your customer your brand promise—without saying it. Moments that let associates know when, where and how to connect with a guest. I was recently at a hotel that offered free continental breakfast before a certain time. I was late and it was closed. The associate said, “How about I whip up a couple slices of toast and get you some fruit?” He knew to do that because he was empowered by leaders who showed him: “we help guests get what they need. That is who we are.” It was a small thing, and in this case… not so small. I remembered and I told my friends. 

5.    Service culture and its evolution are vital when you are repositioning your hotel or brand. Most organizations focus on the physical plant and what the new marketing messages will be. Millions are spent in these areas, and yet what do most people write about—good or bad—on social media? The service experience. “They spent millions on the lobby and the view was extraordinary, but our stay was disappointing because their service was so ordinary.” When going through a repositioning or updating of your brand or physical plant, be sure to first take time to explore how your service will also get that million dollar upgrade. What will you do differently to stand out from the mediocre service that so many others provide? How will you use your service to set yourself apart and make it a key driver of ROI and asset value growth?

Today more than ever, what your customers say is your brand promise. Customers solidify whether your brand promise is true or not. Redefining and redesigning your service culture, experience and standards with the same intensity, focus and clarity that you make when determining what your physical plant and capital changes should be is the difference between getting a full return on your money and the risk of not. The only question left is: are you ready to take your service to the next level?

Sign up to receive our upcoming report on "Three Legs to Successful Repositioning: Redesigning Capital, Messaging and Your Service Experience," including never-before published research on the ROI of updating service standards as an integral part of your repositioning. Learn how to deliver outstanding guest experiences that customers remember—and talk about—long after their stay.