Hotels are fascinating. I love watching the best hotels excel in service. It’s a moving experience, just like watching an Oscar-winning film in the cinema. I just wish I knew how they do it. And I’m not the only one who finds this fascinating. Many management books draw examples from hotels. In my first job in accountancy, I saw a video on hotel service culture as part of my induction. I’ll share with you what I’ve observed from studying hotels. You may be surprised how this could affect your perspective.
Let us dispel the notion that only five-star hotels deliver excellent service. I believe the ultimate measure of service is how the customer feels. And how a customer feels is directly linked to the authenticity of the people that provide the service. I’ve been to some five-star hotels and felt a coldness from those behind the bar or a lack of attention in the restaurant. I didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t feel welcome. A hotel experience is not based upon its décor. It is based upon its people.
I’ll give a few examples based upon bed & breakfast guest houses and three-to-five-star hotels. In excellent restaurants, you cannot see the waiter, but the moment you lift your eyes, he is there. This was in a busy boutique restaurant. It happened twice, so I asked him, “How do you do it?” He stands out of the eye line of the tables he is looking after and observes to see if the customer seems to want something. If he can, he’ll anticipate what the customer may wish for. The way he smiled with his eyes and joked about the menu choices made me feel relaxed and comfortable. At another hotel, I had made a mistake with my booking. I asked reception if I could book another night. I knew the hotel was quite full. He spotted that some of my colleagues were getting ready to go out for a meal. He told me not to worry. He’ll sort it, I’ll have the same room. Just leave my key card, he’ll reprogram it and have it ready for when I return after dinner. Two things happened here: he was conscious of my colleagues, and he removed all possible anxiety from me. He didn’t look at the process; he looked at the person. And he treated the person as a friend.
The people in the background also make a difference. Like housekeeping. How they neatly arrange your possessions after they have cleaned the table. It shows that they care for your possessions. Or the human touch. On the notepad, housekeeping had left a handwritten message hoping that I was happy with the room, signed it with her name and drew a smiley face. It is about attention to detail. I walked past a room as it was being made up. I noticed the built-in mechanism that lifted the entire bed by 20 inches so that under the bed could be vacuumed.
You have many examples too. But here is the thing. How do some hotels achieve this consistently? I believe it is the tone from the top. The best leadership empowers its people to make decisions and respond to situations. I was checking out of a hotel, and it was raining slightly. The doorman gave me a good quality umbrella. I said that I'd already checked out. He said, “I know, but keep it – you’ll need it.” People are empowered to deliver a personalised experience. Equally, where there is too much emphasis on process, hotel staff visibly operate from fear. You see them folding napkins or counting out cutlery rather than focusing on the customer. But how do hotel staff understand what guests need? I’m aware that many hotels have their new staff experience the hotel as a guest. Some hotels pay for their staff to be guests at competing hotels. It is all about the tone from the top.
Many of us are in the service industry. Our infrastructure, quality and expertise are what our customers expect. This is our foundation. But regardless of our industry, how our customers feel is the ultimate test of an organisation. I would love to see the inner workings of the best hotels. Wouldn’t you?
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