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How to change the guest experience throughout a hotel chain
This article describes the main steps that the corporate office of a hotel chain should take to transform the nature of the guest experience that the Group's properties provide. When the global economic problems come to an end, the world will be very different. People's needs will have changed, and their expectations of hotels and of the essential nature of the guest experience will have changed too. Increasingly, people will not want the same emotionally flat guest experience because it will not meet their changing emotional and spiritual needs.
While I think that the biggest hotel chains will feel smugly that they are above the need to change and so can dismiss the contents of this article, I believe that they will be forced to change by the small to medium-sized hotel chains, which are flexible and small enough to implement change very quickly throughout their Group's properties. Those that use the next one or two years of economic doldrums to transform themselves as suggested below will definitely have a leading edge that could impact their competitors very significantly if done thoroughly.
The first step in the change process is the hardest as it involves getting all the decision makers in the corporate office to see through the veils of tradition and to notice that there is indeed a steadily widening gap between the relatively flat chain hotel guest experience provided by their various brands and what people need more and more, namely a guest experience where the spiritual energy of the staff is so strong and rejuvenating that it touches them emotionally and spiritually, and makes them wish that time would stand still. This cannot be created by material means, which is usually where the corporate focus lies.
Corporate offices would be wise not to think, "Oh, everything is fine! We have a wonderful variety of brands, we promote family values, and our share value is good. What more could you want?" The issue is not the brand concepts, but the level of the spiritual and emotional energy that their employees exude and create in the guests when serving them and creating those brands. Because of the increasingly obsolete focus of chain hotels on SOP-Customer Satisfaction, and on using left brain methods and material means to create the guest experience, the spirit of the chain hotel approach is not just a far cry from what it could be, like the light of a 25 watt bulb compared to that of a 5,000 watt light, but also it is failing more and more to create the spiritual feelings that people are needing more and more, and which hotels and resorts could and should provide. In short, everything is not fine.
Fortunately, there are some people now daring to stand up to the voices of tradition in corporate boardrooms to state that the spirit of the guest experience concept needs changing. I know of three hotel chains where there are people who are daring to suggest in corporate circles that it is time to change. I have also noticed a growing trend amongst chain General Managers who want to create a guest experience that goes far beyond the limp and watery version that their corporate offices want. Corporate offices need rebels who will walk into the hallowed corridors of power and dare to say without fear of retribution that the ship needs to change direction. Admittedly, there may not be many people willing to put their jobs on the line in this way during these troubled times.
The second step is to choose the new concept of the guest experience that you want to be known for. This would be enshrined in a revised Group mission / vision statement. Now that business is slow, the hotel chains have a golden opportunity to make a break with the present and the past. If the chains keep on doing the same things, they will just get the same results; and what is the point of doing that when there are unlimited levels of greatness beckoning? Nobody is stopping them except themselves. Their fear of leaving their comfort zone will be their downfall one day. Many a fighter pilot has died because he refused to leave the familiar environment of the cockpit of his doomed plane.
The direction that the hospitality experience is going to move in inexorably is towards increasing continuously the emotional and spiritual nature of the employee-to-guest and employee-to-employee experience; towards combining seamlessly the spa experience and the guest experience throughout the hotel; and towards using the discoveries of new science to create the feelings that guests dream about experiencing. This will require moving away from the traditional kind of corporate training programme to one that works through the heart and which creates the desire in employees to want to exude a spirit of love, compassion, and affection, and which increases continuously the vibrational energy of the human body. It is not hard to see how the chain hotel corporate offices are so far adrift in open water.
It would be foolish and arrogant to think, "We don't need to change our guest experience concept. Don't you know who we are?" Many a Goliath has fallen because of this attitude. Indeed, I saw this attitude recently in a response from the person in charge of the chemical fertilizer business of the chemical giant, BASF. She was asked whether BASF plans to move into the area of bio-fertilizers since the writing is on the wall globally for chemical fertilizers as more and more governments look for ways to eradicate chemical fertilizers. She replied that BASF has no plans to change and sees no need to do so. It seems that the bigger one becomes, the harder it is to change - unless the decision makers are changed, of course.
Once the corporate office has decided on the new guest experience concept, the third step is to decide how to transform the current guest experience concept into the new one. I will assume for now that the corporate decision makers will decide to create a guest experience that is strong energetically in the spiritual qualities of hospitality as this is the direction the industry is going in. They will have to create a completely new series of workshops using the different methodology that I have referred to. The current SOP-Customer Satisfaction guest experience is created by means of a simple, rather outmoded, rational, left brain approach whereas the future hospitality guest experience will be created by touching the heart of each employee so that they have a passionate desire to want to show love and to make people happy. The methodology is completely different and it increases the energy that employees exude.
Corporate people with a passion for replicating exactly the same guest experience throughout the Group will be wondering, "Can we replicate it around the Group?" The answer is "yes" and "no". Yes, you can make each hotel and resort in your Group extremely strong in the spiritual qualities of hospitality mentioned above, but the answer is also "no" because the spirit of each hotel will grow and change at different speeds and the staff will be inspired to do different things and to change standard operating procedures to create it. Each hotel will be similar in that it is strong in love, compassion, warmth, empathy, affection, mystery, and intuition, for example, but the service and the procedures will vary inevitably from hotel to hotel, from country to country, from culture to culture, and from religion to religion. In other words, there will not be the same kind of conformity and perfect replication that chains usually want to have.
However, the true beauty of the staff will shine through in a way that the strict conformity to the western SOP-Customer Satisfaction experience and the methodology that is used to create it do not allow. Over the years I have seen how the chain hotel approach squashes people's natural warmth. I have also seen the difference in spirit in chains hotels where one Department Head enforced the corporate philosophy while another Department Head allowed the staff to break free and be their natural selves. There are ways to use energy and vibrations to get staff to burst through the barriers that prevent them from being their natural warm and loving selves, and also to encourage them to show love and affection without limits and without asking whether they are showing too much, but these belong to a different methodology to what seems to be popular in chain hotel HR departments.
If the corporate office aspires to create a hotel group where the spirit of love is without equal amongst hotel groups, then it should divide the training programme into roughly ten one-day workshops, each of which is supported by a follow-up deepening programme. There are many more facets to a guest experience of the kind I am referring to than in the comparatively simple, left brain, SOP-Customer Satisfaction experience.
In effect, what I am talking about spells the end of the clonable chain hotel guest experience, and not simply replaces it with something better, but also enables the hotel chain to achieve levels of guest experience beyond 5-stars, and which are impossible to achieve in the chain hotel regime. This will frighten the hardcore supporters of the chain hotel experience and way of doing things, but they should understand that by letting go of it, they will be opening their doors to far greater possibilities which they cannot achieve as long as they refuse to let go of the present and the past.
The fourth step after creating the new series of workshops is to choose the right kind of people to train it to representatives of each hotel in the Group who will then roll it out in their property. There is no point asking an ardent Customer Satisfaction fanatic to train a programme that serves to touch people's hearts. The chosen trainers have to be touched and moved by the spirit of the new guest experience concept. They have to exude a passion for it when training the equally carefully chosen representatives from each hotel how to develop the guest experience in their hotels. There will probably be a need to create this passion in the corporate Trainers by having them go through the workshops on their own first.
The fifth step is that before implementing the programme throughout the Group the senior managers in each hotel should review their hotel's vision statement. Over the years I have seen many sad excuses for vision statements that have been imposed onto a Group's hotels and resorts by well-meaning corporate folks. Often they seem to have been written by people devoid of the spirit of love, who have the enthusiasm of a snail, whose idea of excitement is probably to stare at a goldfish tank, and who are without even the smallest flame of passion to achieve greatness.
When I help to open a new independent hotel or resort I tell the senior managers that I expect it to be recognized within one year for providing the most memorable guest experience in the country, and to win regional or global recognition within two years; otherwise, why bother to open the resort or hotel? This is the basis for the vision statement they write. Yet corporate offices generally seem to be happy with just having another property on their books, and the vision statement they impose reflects this. It is so sad! Their black suits are symbolic of something essentially human having died within them.
The senior managers in each hotel should be given the chance to create the vision that they want to create without being straight-jacketed. They should be allowed to create one they would be proud to tell their children that they were a part of creating. Guide them by telling them to envision a hotel where the guest experience is outrageously strong in core values such as those above, and that creates a spiritual and emotional experience which makes the guests wish that they did not have to leave; a sanctuary from the world where the spirit inspires people to believe that they can achieve their personal goals and dreams; an oasis where the guests feel transformed by the spirit of love and affection, and where they "breathe in the sweet scents of loving kindness from the garden of the heart (of the staff)"; and where the hotel fulfills their innermost dreams. Creating anything less than this is an insult to the unlimited spiritual vastness of human capacity. Yet, where is there a hotel chain that aspires to create anything remotely near this level? What is so attractive about mediocrity anyway?
Once there is a new vision in place, the sixth step is to deepen all leaders and staff about the spiritual essence and meaning of the vision statement, about how to achieve it, and about how to make it come alive throughout the hotel. This is best achieved by touching the hearts of the employees using a deepening programme. Such a deepening programme will include several different and synergistic elements that cannot be gone into here and at least 2 years of daily input because in nature, if you are not growing, then you are dieing. Nothing stays the same. If the spirit is not getting stronger day by day, then it will decline in strength each day when a deepening programme is not being used.
At the same time as the guest experience programme is rolled out, the corporate office would be well advised to run a workshop or two to improve the self-confidence of the employees. I count this as step number seven because behind the smiles of the employees there usually lies in varying degrees a lack of self-esteem, self-belief, and self-confidence. How can the staff create the world's next most memorable guest experience if they lack self-confidence? There are several very effective energy-related techniques that can deal with this lack, and which are much more effective than the common approach used by corporate HR departments.
Step number eight is to realign the organization. At the same time as the new spirit is being developed in a hotel the hotel's internal systems and organization have to be adapted and aligned to fit the new direction. With the goal posts being moved, everything and everyone have to be aligned with the new direction. The corporate office must accept that it has to allow decentralization of its systems, especially the HR systems, as each hotel's vision will be different. The systems will differ from hotel to hotel because each one has to be adapted and aligned with the direction of the vision statement in each property. The role of the corporate office will, therefore, have to change from providing fixed and unchangeable systems to providing guidance and templates that each hotel adapts to support its own vision.
There are, of course, other steps in the change process, which will enable the corporate office to transform the spirit of the guest experience provided by its brands, but the eight steps above are the big rocks. The days of the chain hotel SOP-Customer Satisfaction guest experience are numbered, and there is no point resisting the need for change. Hotel chains should initiate the transformation process now before their competition does, and at least a few are already considering doing so. Within 2 years even a group the size of Accor could transform the spirit of its guest experience, if there is the will to do so. Think of the advantage the Group will have when the economic storm subsides and the sun shines again. Of course, conversely, a hotel chain could find itself two years behind its competitors, if it decides that it is above the need for change.
It does not matter who you are nowadays, who your Founder is, how illustrious your history is, how big you are, and how wonderful your latest brand concepts are. You could be Best Western, Accor, Starwood, IHG, Mandarin Oriental, HSH, or Marriott. Nobody and no hotel company can resist the winds of change. You can pretend that the winds are not blowing, that you do not need to change, and that you are too big a Goliath to fall.
However, more and more groups will change, and you will be left behind. Your shareholders will not stay with you because of your history or Founding Fathers when the direction of hospitality changes and the flowers of financial success start to grow in another garden. In those days there will be few people listening to your cries of, "Don't you know who we are?" Those that hear you, will respond, "Don't you know who you could have been?" The choice is yours.
About the Author
Peter McAlpine is the Senior Consultant at Renaissance Consulting Ltd. in Bangkok. The company specializes in pre-opening luxury hotels and resorts and in creating a guest experience that is strong in love, compassion, affection, care, warmth, empathy, creativity, and mystery.
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