Engaging Guests In 'Emotionally Valuable Moments'.
By Doug Kennedy
Friday, 14th March 2014
Hotel marketing professionals recognize that today's consumers are increasingly looking for genuine and  authentic  interactions with those they do business with. 

That is why smart companies from all service industries recognize that we have entered the era of "hyper-personalization."  When it comes to marketing, the evidence is everywhere.  Just look inside your snail-mail inbox. 

Instead of receiving promotional letters and postcards that read "Dear Valued Client" or "Dear Honda Owner," if you are like me you are probably receiving mailings starting with "Dear Doug."  Just recently I received a mailing from Jiffy Lube, almost to the day I was thinking it was getting time to change my oil.  The postcard not only read "Dear Doug," but also specifically referenced my 2013 Honda Odyssey Minivan being in need service. 

Evidence also abounds when we turn on the television; some of today's top advertising campaigns speak to "you" the consumer.  One such example is the commercial series for TD Bank, which uses the tagline "It's time to bank human again" in a series of hilarious commercials that juxtaposition the dehumanized, impersonal service experiences that "big box" banks are known for against the friendly, customer-focused TD Banks offer. 

Other examples include the Discover Card campaign using the phrase "We treat you like you'd treat you," and showing distressed credit card holders phoning in with a problem and reaching an empathetic customer service agent who turns out to be another version of themselves, another version of themselves. 

Then there's my personal favorite hotel industry commercial, which is for Shangri La Hotels & Resorts, using the phrase "There's no greater act of hospitality than to embrace a stranger as one's own."  (All of these commercial campaigns are posted for public viewing on YouTube.)

There is also evidence that the hotel industry is starting to adapt to these personalization-seeking consumers, perhaps being nudged forward by hotel inspection companies.  Traditionally hotel inspectors focused mostly on the mechanics of interactions, such as if the front desk receptionist used your name a total of three times, or if they handed you your key card instead of sliding it across the desk. 

Now most seem to have added a criteria along the lines of "Overall, did you feel welcomed upon arrival?" Many of my own prospective hotel training clients are asking our KTN team for training that helps the frontline colleagues deliver what we refer to as "Emotionally Valuable Moments." 

However based on my own experiences as a frequent business traveler, most hotels are not addressing this topic nor providing their frontline colleagues with the tools they need to deliver this experience. 

Here are some examples:
  • As a conference speaker, I arrived at a large hotel in Dallas flying the flag of one of the top four hotel chains.  Although plenty of staff were there at the door – all wearing finely appointed uniforms – the doorman was engaged in a personal call on his cell phone when he opened my door, and continued the conversation when he got my luggage out of the trunk of my taxi.  He only interrupted the call long enough to say "Hold on…  ‘Sir, did you need help with your bags from here?' as he was obviously soliciting a gratuity.
  • At another stop along the speaking tour for the same series, all of which were held at hotels that were part of major brands, I tried to strike-up a conversation with my room service waiter as he set-up my dinner.  When I asked, "Didn't this used to be a (name of another brand) hotel?  I think I stayed here before…" he responded gruffly, "It might have been, but that was a long time ago.  Is your tray okay sir?" quickly ending the conversation and making me feel old. 
  • While staying at a large, remote four star resort as part of a difference conference I found myself with a unique need for assistance.  As many writers do, I prefer to use the "old school" instrument of a freshly sharpened pencil to formulate my initial ideas into outline form before typing.  Having finished doing this upon landing at the airport I hurriedly placed the pencil in my pants pocket, then later inadvertently stabbed myself, lodging the pencil tip into the center of my right-hand index finger.  Have you ever tried to remove a splinter from your own (dominate) hand?  After several attempts with my left hand, I went down to ask the guest services staff if someone could please assist.  They then called their safety officer (security), and reported back that they could not assist as it was an insurance liability issue and suggested that I visit an E.R. for my splinter.  Now I'm not a hospitality law expert, but I could not see why their safety officer could not put on some latex gloves and simply pluck the splinter out with tweezers, as it was very near the surface.  I cannot imagine this simple first aid request ending up in front of a jury especially since I had provided "Expressed Consent."   
There are many more such examples of times where I feel like I have interacted with a robot not a person.  I don't think I am alone, either.  How many times have you been greeted by a service provider who says "May I help the next customer in line?" when you are the only customer in sight?  How often have you been served a meal that did not taste good so you did not eat much, and then have a food server who says "How was everything, good?" with a nod, and you just nod back and say "Yes, it was good" intending never to return?

Yet this is not always the case.  Oftentimes I do receive authentic, genuine service as I have frequently written about too. 

So the question then becomes "What can we do to help our team provide personalized, authentic guest service experiences?"  Many hotel companies focus on the mechanics, such as the scripting and communications techniques.  Yet we can have a service provider say all of the right things but still come across as being impersonal .  This is why we have to train guest service in a new way – to  teach our staff to understand what it is like to be on the other side of the front desk, the other end of the phone line, or the other side of that guest room door. 

Here are some training tips
  • Talk about the demographics of the guests you are hosting.  What are some of the main reasons why guests stay at your hotel?
  • Are you near a major medical center where they might be going for treatments or to visit family? Discuss how this might cause stress or create special needs.
  • Are you near a university or college?  What might it be like for a parent who is traveling with their high school senior who is thinking of relocating to the area?
  • Do you host business travelers?  What are their experiences like?  What pressures do they encounter to perform while on the road?
  • Do you host leisure guests?  Families?  What events might happen to these gets while on their way that could cause them to be feeling stress, especially upon arrival?
The more we talk about guest experiences with our frontline colleagues, the more they will understand what guests are going through.  From there it will be much easier for them to provide a more personalized style of service that will bring out the best in others they encounter. 

Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry's conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades.
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