Empathy is having enough towels

The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay – The only hotel to place extra towels in the room without us asking for them.

“Don’t try to tell the customer what he wants. If you want to be smart, be smart in the shower. Then get out, go to work and serve the customer! “~ Gene Buckley

When developing teams to deliver service excellence we ask them to show empathy and truly understand what the guest needs then react accordingly. It is seen as one of the core behaviours required of a hospitality professional yet often we simply do not see it in action.
It maybe because teams cannot identify with the guests needs because they have never experienced 5 star service, therefore putting themselves in that mindset is difficult for them, and who can blame them when many may not have even eaten a meal out in a restaurant or stayed in a hotel let alone 5 star. However another reason maybe that although we expect it from our teams, in many hotels the systems and processes put in place don’t allow for the flexibility needed to be truly empathetic.

I recently travelled across California on a fact finding mission for my book on teambriefs, despite the fact there were three of us, in nearly every hotel we visited, 15 in total, only one gave us enough towels and extra bathroom products without having to ask.

The rooms even those containing two double beds or advertised for three or families only had two bath towels and one set of bath products. The hotels we had to request additional bedding from did not also deliver extra towels.

This example of process over people extends to glasses, cups, water and almost everything else in the room. I understand the average room is based on two occupants and often businesses and systems are developed based on “the average guest”. But who wants to be average, we want a stand out personalised service that shows the hotel has really thought about our needs even at the most basic level.

Take the offering of fruit in the room, having a large basket of fruit on display sounds like a great example of superior service but this is not necessarily the case. Whilst staying at an iconic 5 star hotel in a Hong Kong, there was the obligatory basket of exotic fruit and tray of Jasmin tea when I entered the room. Each evening without fail a new fruit plate and knife we placed on the table ready should I want to help myself, but I didn’t want to, so as the week progressed the fruit became more wrinkled with the odd piece replaced, the smell becoming ever more pungent and still the plate and knife set up each evening when I returned. The team rigorously followed the procedure ensure the knife and plate were perfectly placed however it was simply that “a process”. I would have preferred it if they had taken the fruit away after day two or even three and replaced it with a handwritten note: We have noticed you have not touched your fruit so we have taken it away, please contact us if you would like us to bring you a fresh selection of chilled fruit”. Now that would have been impressive!

With more hotels opening every month and guests requesting an ever more personalised service, if we are to succeed and gaincompetitive advantage hoteliers should audit the ability of team members and processes to aid an empathetic service, having done that think about the following top tips:

1. Give your teams the 5 star experience, allow them to stay at your own or other hotels, possibly as a quid pro quo. This could be as part of a competition or employee recognition scheme. If they stay in another hotel ask them to complete a mystery visit report and share it with the GM.

2. Organise quest speakers monthly/bi monthly within the business to explain what 5 star service means in terms that they can relate to.

3. Review your processes and ask the simple question: If I were staying here as……. think of different categories of guest and adjust accordingly.

4. Put a plasma screen in the canteen and show some of the programs that have been running about hotels, service and excellence. For example Iconic hotels-life beyond the lobby, or Richard E Grant’s Hotel Secrets or the excellent program about The Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi. Remember if the team are working shifts they probably missed them, then ask you HOD’s to ask them what they have learnt. Create an ongoing dialogue.

5. Design and deliver a series of 10/15 minute team briefs that focus on the guest, quality service and empathy in an interactive and engaging way so that your teams are inspired and motivated to deliver personalised service.

7. Empower your teams to be able to do a little extra for the guest and give them a budget to do so, in some hotels this is 2K others £50 many none! then build in a process that is simple to account for it and that your HOD’s encourage the use of. Then set a competition for who can “go the extra mile” for little or no cost.

8. Re-evaluate your vision and values – is the guest at the heart of your culture and do the team live and breathe those values as opposed to a sign on a wall or stuck in a manual which no one has read since 1976.

9. Finally put The Guest/Customer Experience back at the top of your agenda, perhaps it has slipped as you focus on the p&l but remember;

“Profit in business comes from repeat customers; customers that boast about your product and service, and that bring friends with them. ~ W. Edwards Deming

mjinspire ltd write and run sessions for your teams, from inspiring briefs to leadership essentials and five star service. Contact MJ on hello@mjinspire.com for more details.

Ask about skillsbootcamp launching in London in January 2018. A series of 90 minute highly motivational, informative sessions that use accelerated learning to embed key messages for team members and leaders.

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