It’s rare to find a hotel mission statement which doesn’t mention guest expectations, and a desire to exceed them. This is a logical goal to pursue and will add value when it is achieved but it is not, however, as simple a concept as it sounds. If it is something that you endeavour to do, I invite you to consider the following:
How do you aim to exceed your guests’ expectations?
With your product?
The modern luxury traveler increasingly cocoons him or herself in things of exceptional quality - cars, beds, cinema rooms, clothes, gadgets and even their diets. The more accustomed that they become to such comfort, style, and quality at home, the higher their bar of expectation when they travel, and the harder it is to impress them. Given this, it’s fair to say that consistently exceeding expectations with your product is a tough ask.
With those little touches?
Maybe then, there are some ‘little touches’ that will leave that lasting mark on your guests? 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 soon got copied, they cost money and the impact is fleeting.
I’d be presenting an incomplete argument if I didn’t mention customer relationship management programs, and they do their bit in helping hotels to understand their guests’ preferences. However, I fear that the scope of CRM 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 the time human emotions and responses from the employee that can make or break the emotional journey of the guest.
We don’t seem to be getting anywhere, let’s backtrack a little…
Do you know what your guests’ expectations really are?
I will hazard a guess that the answer is ‘no’. This is not to doubt your efforts, but rather the guests’ own self-awareness. In a recent study in the Harvard Business Review (‘An Emotional Connection Matters More Than Customer Satisfaction’), 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 and quality is most important to them, the data reflects another story; that an emotional connection creates a greater impact on their experience and future decisions. After all, what good is a sumptuous super king bed with the finest Egyptian cotton if you walk through the lobby and you are made to feel unwelcome, or Michelin standard cuisine if you get the distinct impression that your waiter would rather be at home?
Exceeding Emotional Expectations
This, I suggest, is where true service excellence lies. I am not talking about great individual service success stories but the subtle, nuanced behaviours and emotional responses that occur thousands of times every day in your organisations. Noticing a guest’s indifference in their tone when they say that their scallops were ‘fine’ and choosing not to smile and say ‘wonderful’. It might be in observing that a guest is agitated or in a hurry at check out, picking up your pace and perhaps bypassing the offer to enrol them in your loyalty program. Maybe a guest has polished off the olives and smoked almonds, but left the salted crisps alone - what will the waitress do when she replaces them?
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 manyfold. Your people will be happier, more fulfilled and stay longer and your guests will feel so comfortable and understood from arrival to departure that they simply wouldn’t consider going elsewhere. Oh, and you’ll spend less time resolving complaints too.
If you really want to exceed your guests’ expectations, start focusing on the real bricks and mortar of your hotel. Your employees are the only assets that you have in your armoury that are capable of the empathy, adaptability, care and intuition to consistently understand your guests and preempt their needs. Once these traits and behaviours begin to occur naturally and consistently in your team, 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 emotional shift to occur until senior management buy into the principles of the endeavour. You cannot ask (or wor
se, tell) staff to understand your guests, if you do not first understand your staff. Senior management must be willing to invest in the culture of emotional engagement; giving managers and HODs the inspiration, tools and resources to change the way that 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 - TRULY exceeding the expectations of your guests.
An abridged version of this article is available at The Caterer Online - https://www.thecaterer.com/articles/493921/how-to-exceed-your-guests-expectations
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