Ms. Abel-Lanier

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Why Employee Engagement is Essential for Hospitality

By Kimberly Abel-Lanier, Vice President & General Manager Workforce Solutions, Maritz Motivation Solutions

In the hospitality industry, it's no surprise that the guest experience is a top priority. Yet customers today are looking for more memorable and dynamic experiences - ones that make them feel their business is appreciated. Whether it's altering a menu item to accommodate individual preferences or extending a room check out time, these above-and-beyond actions are what guests have come to value in their experiences. While organizations place an importance on this need to please customers, many fail to realize that their employees play a pivotal role in creating these guest experiences. The reality is that employee satisfaction and employee loyalty have a direct link to customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.

Unfortunately, many organizations have a skewed view of the experiences their employees are delivering day in and day out. A recent study conducted by Bain & Company, a global management consulting firm, investigated the gap between actual and perceived customer satisfaction. The study found that 80% of firms surveyed believed they deliver a "superior experience" to their customers, while only 8% of their customers reported receiving "superior" service.

That disconnect should not be ignored. When 81% of satisfied consumers are more likely to give a company repeat business, you can be sure that disengaged employees delivering subpar guest experiences are impacting your bottom line.

Look Internally for a Competitive Advantage

Hotels used to be able to compete on price, location and amenities alone, but the growing demands of consumers in the "Customer is King" landscape mean that great service has never mattered more. While the era of Amazon.com has some consumers favoring convenience and price above all, you can't win the hearts and minds of customers without great service. Your associates and managers often leave the first and most lasting impression on guests - and their dedication to customer service relies on their engagement with the company. Walmart founder Sam Walton wrote in his autobiography: "The way management treats the associates is exactly the way associates will then treat the customer. And if the associates treat the customers well, they will return again and again."

This quote embodies this revolutionary idea that engagement is not a simply a transactional relationship between employer and employee, but rather a translational relationship between an organization, its employees and the customer. If organizations in the hospitality industry wish to remain competitive, they must meet their customer's service needs by first meeting the engagement needs of their employees. When guests arrive at your hotel and expect great service, you can bet that an engaged hotel associate is going to be the one more willing to work to find solutions for the guest. In addition, an engaged employee will help spread positive word of mouth to their friends and family and ultimately will be a driving force in a guest's decision for repeat visits.

Five Ways You Can Increase Employee Engagement in Hospitality

Consumers want to be courted. They want brands to vie for their hearts and minds. But as we see with most likeable brands - consumer and employer brands alike (think of Zappos, who aren't even so much known for shoes as they are for great service provided by employees that love where they work) - they are liked not only by consumers, but also their employees. This is why engaged employees place organizations at a great advantage in hospitality. While a comprehensive program is the best way to significantly impact engagement for the long-term, here are five quick fixes to consider implementing right now.

1. Give Each Day an Infusion of Fun

People today experience sincere emotional attachment to brands. Think of the memories brands have created in your life. The same can be said for employees. There are movies with scenes depicting the company cultures of the Googles and the Facebooks of the world. Many employees just want to love where they work. And they want their work to inspire and fulfill them. Bring your employees together by infusing some fun into the work day and they may find a higher sense of purpose. Fun and purpose together will make the world a better place to work- not to mention make for a less stressful work environment. If you're curious what "fun" ideas would work for your company, reach out to the people within your organization. Invite feedback from managers and employees on what that could look like in practice for your organization.

2. Issue Daily Challenges or Contests

Before you go thinking of implementing "spur-of-the-moment" contests or challenges for your associates, read this: Company-wide or branch-level challenges and contests can be incredibly engaging if they're fun, easy to participate in and not transparently sales oriented. Think more about ideas like video submission contests for the most "extra mile" service event or a photo contest for the person that captures the essence of customer happiness in internal online communities rather than directly incentivizing sales for the greater impact on engagement. These contests will not only help engage your associates in the important goals of your organization, they also provide opportunities to recognize the outstanding performance of your employees and teams.

3. Recognize Associates with Sincerity

Genuine recognition is the right thing for the business, the employee, and the customer. But companies often make the mistake of thinking any form of appreciation is effective. When recognition is given without sincerity, it can actually have a negative impact on an individual's engagement. Disengaged associates won't deliver experiences that drive customer loyalty. Whether you have truly acknowledged this fact or not, engaged hospitality employees make and break even the most prominent of chains. A sincere recognition of their work, their time and their loyalty will go a long way with your employees. Many managers mean well and most actually think they deliver more recognition than they do. One way to infuse recognition into your daily calendar is to schedule it. Intentionally setting aside 15 minutes per day and the physical act of putting it on your calendar will ensure that your actions live up to your intentions. And when you do deliver praise and recognition, remember to make sure the message you share is authentic and sincere.

4. Link Great Service to a Higher Purpose by Creating Contests That Donate to Those in Need

Idea! Encourage customer feedback and employee engagement with a contest that offers a set amount for each completed satisfaction survey to be donated to a non-profit organization your brand supports. Think of it as feedback that keeps on giving. Send an email to your customers letting them know the dates the campaign will run and print a short message on receipts. In addition to the charitable donations, locations and/or employees with the highest percentage of completion rates could also receive a reward, which might be a celebratory team event in their honor, for example.

5. Speak Out In Appreciation of Your Associates

You know your associates are often your first, and sometimes last, line of defense. And they're good to you - they work long hours and tell their family and friends about you, whether they are vocal promoters or detractors. Show your appreciation for the impact their work has on your customers through public recognition. Talk about the quality of your employees in a press release, share their social media posts when they talk about loving their jobs, or send an email to your list highlighting a couple of rock stars and asking for stories of great service in your locations from customers. Other simple examples of visible, public recognition are counter or behind-the-counter displays that highlight associate accomplishments and service. One innovative concept involved sending customers links to gather satisfaction data via their mobile phone and then giving them the opportunity to opt into recognizing the associate who gave them a great guest experience. No matter how you choose to honor your peoples' contributions, make sure that you always find ways to do so. Your people's above-and-beyond contributions take effort - so be sure to make an effort to appreciate them when they deserve recognition.

The Hearts and Minds of Guests are Available to be WonOn average, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first visit. Want loyal guests? The answer isn't a simple one, but it starts with boosting employee engagement.

Each one of your guests - whether new or returning -presents opportunities to create "customers for life" through positive experiences. Guests can often be stressed from the pressure of traveling. Or perhaps their stay is a highly anticipated vacation and they have high expectations for service. Regardless of the circumstance, it's important to remember that each interaction between employees and guests is a key touch point in the guest experience. All of these touch points combine to form the total guest experience. Don't leave the total guest experience up to chance. Work toward winning the hearts and minds of your employees by supporting engagement. If you look internally first and put strategies and tactics in place to encourage engagement, great delivery, great experiences, and stronger loyalty will follow.

Kimberly Abel-Lanier is Vice President and General Manager of Workforce Solutions for Maritz Motivation Solutions. Ms. Abel-Lanier leads the strategy and development of the company’s employee recognition solution, CultureNext. Ms. Abel-Lanier is passionate about helping companies create a culture of engagement and purpose. She has over 20 years of experience in employee engagement strategies and has worked with many F500 global brands. Previously Ms. Abel-Lanier was Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at Inspirus. Before Inspirus, she was the Co-Founder and President of Prosperiti, a privately held company focused on providing enterprise performance technologies to Fortune 1000 companies. Ms. Abel-Lanier can be contacted at 817-507-7386 or kimberly.abel@maritz.com Please visit http://www.maritz.com/culturenext for more information. Extended Bio...

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