Mr. Albarran

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Delivering the Customer Service Management System's Promise to Your Target Market

By Marco Albarran, Managing Director, Remarkable Hospitality, Inc.

The hospitality industry welcomes and needs to be creative and innovative to continue its survival, more so with its talent. Hospitality and customer service is very important to seeing a brand experience become efficient in the market. We do need to do our best to improve and keep retention rates of employees as high as possible. If not we risk not hitting realistic figures in our financial statements, because if there is inconsistency, in the workplace and day to day operations, then the guest will ultimately have to pay the ultimate price.

Let's briefly understand the upcoming panorama of the industry before getting started. This will have a lot to do with our topic for this article. The industry is slated to improve as of 2014, and continuously improving towards near the end of the decade, as we do see positive factors overall economic growth. STR predicted at the end of last year that approximately 1.1 % growth in hotel supply will be experience in 2014, with a 2.4% in demand growth, which will help occupancy to increase approximately 1.3%, and ADR and RevPAR increasing over 4.5% and approximately 6.0% respectively. As far as the economy is concerned, we do see unemployment slightly decreasing, housing stabilizing, positive news on manufacturing and better lending overall. We see that the overall happening in North Dakota, in terms of fracking to release/expand natural gas, will lead to a great opportunity for the US to be energy dependent for at least the next century.

All of this said, we do see, as hospitality businesses, that there is a lot to truly be hopeful for. However, are you ready to welcome the growth? Is your brand ready to deliver what it has positioned itself to promise the end user? Most importantly, is your staff ready and trained to handle all of this? Are they motivated, in continuous training, and pumped up to deliver in a continuous manner, a steady and standard service that represents your brand, whether you are a flag or an independent property? Keep in mind that the latest news is that 99% of all positions have recovered, and it will exceed what it was at peak last decade, so this is very concerning and great at the same time.

First we do need to see a larger sense of the picture as to where the industry is heading towards. Naturally we do focus on main generations: Baby boomers, Gen X and Gen Y. All will naturally spend and travel more with improved economical conditions. We are seeing, however, a large percentage of baby boomers as the main target market for hotels overall, since they have the most spending power out of all three. They are very focused on lifestyle and also maintaining young at all times. That said, this tells us that the focus on service (interaction with the employee, if you will, in a moment of truth manner) is most important for them. This goes similarly with Gen X, although somewhat focused on the technological aspect of things. Gen Y still is looking to interact and mingle, more so in the lobby or a lounge of a hotel (for example). This generation tends to have a sense of belonging and socializing but in their own way, not necessarily inside of their guest rooms. So again, the focus of personalized, or person to person, customer service from employees will continue to be critical regardless of technological innovation being introduced into the industry.

Now, when we look at the brand perspective, we do see that many new brands are being launched into the market. Initially, this seems confusing for the guest/traveler, so there needs to be communication that will describe and connect well with its intended target market. Existing and traditional brands do also need to adopt these new ways of engagement. We do see that social media is always a way to relate the message, however, we also need strong websites that do experience the sort of facility that each major brand is launching and to what target market it is intended to. For example (and there are many), we recently learned via the media that Facebook is mostly used by Baby Boomers and Gen X. Gen Y is not wanting to go and use this social media as much, given that they feel that this is social media for their parents, it you fill. They are looking to connect via other, hipper, sites about their experiences. They are also not very forgiving when they see that the promise that they were given by a brand is met, so they are more likely to sue social media tools to express this. This said, we are now seeing the power of the brand, the communication and engagement that needs to be done from a macro perspective. Individual locations, being represented by brands or flags, will have to ensure that they invest in talent management to engage the guest, show care and anticipate the needs that they have. This is all fundamentals in service, which need to be continuously communicated and trained to your staff. The engagement that is produced by the individuals of each establishment, with the guest, will be the way to truly listen to the guest concern.

The opportunity can be done when the guest is in-house and also via social media. When in-house, a lot of traditional hospitality practices need to be implemented. The 10/5 rule for example can still work. We can always lead the moments of truth by starting and ending the conversation with the guest, with solutions provided and challenges or concerns resolved. I also liked a traditional approach I saw in one particular Holiday Inn. They had a blown out example of a guest service comment card, and strategically placed by the door. It simply asked the guest to tell the hotel staff why they could not give a "10" on each of the categories. This truly captured an increased amount of attention, where guests addressed this while in-house, and scores improved, since employees were busier and more empowered to handle these concerns, so they naturally felt valuable as they were contributing to the success of the facility. We would also recommend placing the following initiative and train personnel with access to computers. Front desk agents and sales departments, for example, can take certain time in their shifts to log in social media sites that are used by each facility and connect with guests that have shared feedback as well. I like this opportunity as a way to empower the employee to become a true hospitality professional, by being designated as a problem solver, or solution provider. This also gives them value as an employee. This in turn creates happier employees, wanting to engage more and want to become part of an elite service team established by each location, for instance. Having helped many establishments develop this sort of idea and elite service teams have helped guest service satisfaction scores increase by at most 5%. This is because the initiatives above have created a service culture and approach that is guest satisfaction focused. Employees will not tell you all the time, but they look for this in a workplace, and the cost is minimal to implement. It does not take time away from productivity, it actually enhances it.

With all of this said, to mix tradition with innovation is to document opportunities that employees do encounter. Front desk, servers, sales and catering, for example are front of house departments that can use some time to perhaps place a practice where they can log a particular case or situational (positive and/or negative), as if we wrote in a journal, to create a list of situations that have occurred in the facility, and can be then used as training for the rest o the staff. Have each employee in these sectors just create one per day or per shift. This should not take more than 10 minutes, and done during a down time of their shift), and it gives them a chance to do something innovative that can also reflect on their hospitality career. You can use database systems to log this into the registered guest's history, for example, as well. I like this idea because if this is documented, if the guest travels to the same brand somewhere else, perhaps sister brands can review this as part of their historical, and have the chance to recreate either a positive experience, or prevent a terrible one to occur. As far as back of the house employees are concerned, if they are to experience anything like this, they can always ask access, or have their supervisors assist in creating a similar chance for documenting such information.

These examples of innovate strategies have shown a positive result. We notice that employees have become much unchallenged and bored with their roles in the industry We know that pay is not always the best. However, if the brand and individual establishment focus on career and talent growth, by implementing such ideas like these, they can truly increase the opportunity of not going that 30% +- turnover rate and also, the chance to increase revenue by applying enhanced service practices such as these will impact positively overall your bottom line.

Marco Albarran is the founder and president of Remarkable Hospitality, Inc., an international consulting, training and educational firm that specializes in assisting hospitality companies to perform successfully by developing and continuously improving service standards. He also serves as a hospitality instructor and subject matter expert for various universities. Before launching Remarkable Hospitality, Inc., Mr. Albarran was with HVS International, working on national and international consulting projects, including market and feasibility studies for proposed and existing lodging facilities. Mr. Albarran can be contacted at 561-542-6326 or malbarran@remarkablehospitality.com Extended Bio...

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