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Is Your Hotel As Good As You Think It Is? Part 3
By feature writer Brett Patten
When it comes to creating a memorable guest experience, what has the ability to achieve a high level of customer loyalty conversion?
I'd like to take you through our anniversary dinner experience with the resort’s fine dining restaurant. The quality of the food was exceptional first of all as were the physical aspects of the dining facility. Everything from the decor to the tabletop was of very nice quality. The resort, as a whole, had a beautiful array of different food and beverage outlets to choose from, and we found the food to be excellent. My wife and I utilized all the different outlets that the resort had to offer, but here again there was a gap.
When my wife and I went to dinner to celebrate our anniversary, we had finally received that all-elusive acknowledgment we had been so longing to hear from the resort. It came from the restaurant hostess after I had given her our name. She welcomed us to the restaurant and wished us a happy anniversary with a very heartfelt congratulations! We were pleasantly surprised and were very excited about having a really nice dining experience on our anniversary. I believe the main reason our anniversary was acknowledged was due to the fact that at the time I was making the hotel reservations they transferred me to the restaurant to make my dinner reservation, in which I informed them that my wife and I would be celebrating our 25-year anniversary with them that night. Unfortunately, the hostess did not pass this information along to our waiter, the manager, the bartender or the kitchen because no one else in the restaurant for the rest of the evening acknowledged the fact that we were celebrating an anniversary in any way shape or form. Not even a traditional free dessert.
We asked our waiter to take a picture of us at the end of the night, and informed him that we were celebrating our 25-year anniversary. What surprised me most was his level of reaction to this information. There was no level of concern or surprise of not being aware of this situation. He did acknowledge us and wished us a happy anniversary, but no real feeling of a missed opportunity to create a magical guest experience at a very opportune time. It was almost like here today and gone tomorrow cultural focus of the resort, to the point that I started to feel like I was in an overpriced tourist trap and not a well-established and prestigious four-star resort.
Let's start at the beginning of the evening
We had arrived to the restaurant 15 minutes before our reservation, and there was no table available at that time. So, we decided to go to the bar and order a glass of wine while we were waiting. The bartender was more interested in talking with the waiters than taking our order or making any suggestions in an attempt to connect with us. At that time we were the only ones at the bar.
Our table ended up not being available until 20 minutes past are initial reservation time. We then waited over 15 minutes for the waiter to come to our table and greet us as well as initiate service, other than the back waiter pouring us water. Our waiter seemed to be more interested in practicing his standup comedy skit with us than providing us with a nice dining experience. Our wineglasses constantly ran empty. There were huge gaps in our service throughout our dining experience. We waited over 20 minutes for the check, and the waiter turned sheet white when he found out that we were guests at the hotel. This had not been conveyed to him as well, not that it should make a difference.
The front of the house staff of the restaurant seemed to be lacking a certain level of maturity and professionalism. The manager of the restaurant, if there was one, never came to our table and I didn't notice a management presence on the floor. This same theme of detached involvement by the management and staff seemed to be very prevalent in every area of the resort as well. For a management company that is so proud of their new ownership and management position, they seemed to be really lacking in presence and in commitment to delivering a great guest experience and establishing a high level of service excellence.
Now I'd like to give you an example of a customer experience designed approach for delivering a special anniversary dinner.
It first starts with having a customer experience design strategy throughout your entire hospitality enterprise that helps support the service excellence initiatives and aligns to the service values structure as well as the foundational core principles of the business, i.e. the mission and vision statements, etc, of the company. Our evening’s experience should actually have started when I booked my hotel reservation. We should have been put into a special category of guest celebrating an anniversary with the hotel. Especially when everything you purchase is tied to your room number. It would be very easy for the staff to track a VIP level stay. It's a well-known fact that couples celebrating milestone anniversaries tend to spend on average 20% more than couples just on a vacation or on a getaway. With a properly designed guest experience strategy, that percentage can go up significantly. Because you can create opportunities in your business to up sell these guest.
It's safe to say that the service excellence initiatives in this resort were absent, as well as the service values structure was very weak. They obviously don't utilize lineups to communicate the service excellence initiatives for the day or designate opportunities for creating exceptional guest experience for the folk staying at the hotel. It’s Important to create a culture of service excellence around delivering a great guest experience, in utilizing those moments of truth by creating a culture that communicates the service values and their importance for adding customer value so to add to the company value as well. It should become a part of the business’s DNA makeup.
When we arrived at the restaurant, the hostess could have handed us a personally signed letter or verbal communication from the general manager on behalf of the entire hotel acknowledging our anniversary and wanting to create a special evening for us, maybe buying us a glass of champagne or possibly a desert. This would indicate that they were strategically anticipating our arrival and properly managing our expectations. Your customers want to be validated for being customers, and when they are celebrating a special moment in their life, they want to be validated that much more, especially when they're paying you to do so.
It's always a great idea to involve the chef in the experience delivery. Food ignites the senses and goes to the pleasure and memory centers of the brain. The kitchen could have created a special complementary appetizer as part of the experience, as well as create a magic moment for us, by possibly talking about some of the menu items or the culture of the restaurant and its cuisine. Entrées could've been delivered by the chef or the restaurant manager, or they could have checked to see how we liked our dinner, and how our evening was going. The waiter never came by and checked to see how we liked our entrées. Just for the record, this was a Tuesday night not a Friday or Saturday when hospitality operations can be maxed.
The dinner menus or dessert menus could've been personalized with our names and anniversary date on them and signed by the restaurant manager and chef or the entire restaurant staff wishing us a happy anniversary, and please come celebrate with us next year.(Can you say powerful!) That's not cheesy, that's impactful and memorable as well as achieves customer advocacy.
The restaurant manager could have personally taken responsibility for the table and introduced the menu and made some wine suggestions for us, as well as tell us a special story about the history of the resort, or anything interesting about the dining room to add to the value of our experience. It's all about the guest experience narrative you want to create. Is it a book filled with blank pages, or are you the author of the guest experience? Are you the chief editor of the service excellence success stories that go in it that supports the competitive advantages you want to create for your business that has the ability to differentiate your hospitality offering over your competition and to your customers?
Let's get into the nuts and bolts.
Creating a culture around customer service success stories is a great way to keep the importance of the guest experience and the service excellence in place and to better position the integrity, accountability, and the organizational acknowledgment mechanisms that are vital to maintaining these standards and initiatives. I would rather have had a waiter that was down-to-earth and really cared about the experience my wife and I were having that evening, than a waiter or an organization who relies on their prestige and the high quality product offerings of the hotel to do the work for them for achieving a positive and memorable experience.
For that to take place, the organization would have to be committed to developing the roles and the behavior of the business culture and their employees on an individual basis. It's not so much about the customer service training aspects, as it is in understanding those roles and the behavior of those roles for achieving that level of customer connectedness and the emotions you want to invoke in your hospitality experience. It would also have to permeate all the HR personnel systems, from recruiting on through to talent management and etc.
You want to create a culture that says to your customers that your heart is in the right place, even though at times you may stub your toe or drop the ball. Many times I've been in very nice restaurants or hotels where one of the staff members didn't have very good skill set competencies, but their ability to care so much and personalize themselves to the guest created the existence of vulnerability that generated a very trusting and authentic connection in the guest experience and to the business. You can always train skill set, but I find it very difficult to train the ability for someone to care and be personable toward customers.
I want to state for the record that I'm not a diva type person, by no means. I came up through the ranks of humble beginnings. I'm very empathetic to the hospitality industry. I have walked a mile in your shoes and I'm extremely understanding and patient, knowing the challenges that you all have to contend with on a day-to-day basis. But this was just one of four less than desirable experiences that my wife and I received from the resort’s different food and beverage outlets throughout our stay. It wasn't for lack of quality in the facility or the food and beverage offerings. It was a lack of ability to connect, to nurture and be personable in delivering the offering. I talk about this a lot with my work as a customer experience design specialist for the hospitality and tourism industry. There are hospitality businesses that do hospitality, and then there are hospitality businesses that strategically design every aspect of their business, so that they create the opportunity for being their brand of hospitality excellence.
If you don't think providing an adequate customer experience doesn't affect the ability for the resort to generate revenue and be profitable, then just consider this for a moment, my wife and I decided to cancel our day at the spa, in which we had booked a couples half-day spa package out of the fact we just didn't think the organization would provide us a positive and memorable experience for our time and money. We also stopped eating in the resort restaurants. We just weren't feeling it anymore. I just didn't feel that the resort could deliver on their value and brand promise of the business, so why should we keep giving the business our money and time if they don't care if we have a good time or are happy.
Managing your customer experience.
Not strategically designing the guest experience of your business and leaving it up to chance, hoping that it will work itself out, can generate a high probability of negative guest experience occurring, in which it can move your customer into a strong logical mindset position about the value they put on everything in your business, i.e. how much things cost and the value in return. It's not the direction you want to move your customers into. You want to create a place where they feel connected and cared for by your business’s ability to manage their expectations and anticipate their needs. You want to enroll them in the guest experience of your business and not try to sell them solely on the quality position of your product offerings.
This comes by having a clear understanding of the guest experience design core competencies of your business that allows you to create an emotional connection with your customers. This has the ability to enhance every aspect of your business, because you're more focused on the customer’s emotional response and not your internal needs as a business. You end up taking better care of your people, and your people become more engaged in taking care of your customers and ensuring that they're happy. When all the core competencies of a guest experience excellence program are implemented and immersed into your entire business enterprise, service excellence, customer loyalty and other important factors for your business success become more organic in nature from those commitments and efforts in this business strategy approach.
The hotel industry has to get out of the mindset that their product and service offerings are going to carry their brand to the Promised Land when it comes to creating happy and loyal guest results. That's just not the case anymore. Hotel customers want the total experience for their contributions to your business, and they want to know that you care about their time and their experience with your business. Hotels can possess the nicest food, amenities, products and facilities, etc., but if your staff is not engaged in creating an emotional connection with your customers and intuitively clued in on how to manage and exceed the guest’s expectations, then eventually it will have diminishing returns on your business investment.
Thank you for continuing to read this article series. Look for part four: The Departure.
About the author
For over thirty years, Brett Patten has worked in the hospitality industry. He spent those years accumulating invaluable insight, knowledge and experience through his various positions, and studies, from when he starting out has a front line employee at the age of 15, with a four-star hotel in the 1980s', to recently completing his education as an executive leadership and engagement coach. Brett's unique management style consistently transformed his work environments by focusing on his people and customers for creating a engaging hospitality experience which generated strong sales and operational performance results. In 2007, Brett launched Fire and Vine of Virginia Beach, a new world wood fire cuisine restaurant built on a hospitality business strategy process that he trademarked and now calls "five-star customer experience design." Within the first two years under Brett's strategic business approach, Fire and Vine was recognized nationally for its hospitality management, design elements, employee development, customer service excellence, culinary cuisine, and wine program.
Today, after spending the last 15 years researching, studying and developing customer experience design best practices and strategy implementation for the hospitality and tourism industries. Brett has created an innovative Hospitality Business leadership and management Program. Which aligns all the business disciplines and strategies through a customer experience design approach, for creating a customer driven brand connection, as well as elevating the engagement dynamics of the business culture for establishing positive customer loyalty and sustainable financial performance results through the generating of exceptional and memorable brand and customer experiences.
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