Why do some hotels find intuitive service so hard?

When working with hotels and restaurants I often hear the same goals; repeat business, move up the trip advisor rankings, increased sales and engaged employees whether the hotel is five star or no star, yet when you stay in them many do not deliver the wow service that would make them stand out. This does not mean the service is bad (though in some cases it is!) It means they are delivering the same as everyone else with different branding.

Be intuitive – Make it personal

Guests are increasingly asking for a more intuitive and personalised service, the ‘Amazon effect’ a digital shopping experience which is fast, intuitive and responsive has filtered down to hospitality. If Amazon can suggest products that are just right for us and deliver it quickly, making to easier to send back if wrong or replace it why can’t hotels, restaurants and airlines do the same.

Forrester in their yearly customer service trends report investigate what today’s customers want from services, online companies and call centres. From enjoyable, easy and meeting their needs in 2014, the findings have evolved to pain free, proactive, personalised and productive in 2015, then ease, effectiveness and emotional connection in 2016 to smaller, smarter and strategic with greater team empowerment in 2017. However the same thread holds them together; make my experience as easy, personalised and engage me albeit with the latter years focusing on the use of digital tools to aid the process.

Your guests can be your biggest advocate – The good and bad news is you have nowhere to hide.

Hotels have the power to turn their guests into advocates if they truly focus on creating a wow experience. According to a Facebook survey in 2012 we will on average tell 140 people about our service experience whether good or bad, in turn those that see the post may share the information creating an avalanche of good or bad reviews. Hotels need to be smarter about engaging the guest so they become their best form of advertising. Use the information they gain at the booking stage intelligently and ensure the team are guest focused, looking for clues, actively seeking out ways to ‘make the guest’s day’, share the information and are empowered to deliver a service based on it. By doing this hotels can deliver the intuitive service required to give them competitive advantage.

I have been travelling through California researching a book for hospitality which will involve staying at numerous hotels. They have been purposely chosen to include privately owned boutique properties to the big boys Ritz Carlton, Hilton and Intercontinental. The level of service so far has ranged from I cannot believe they did this so badly to ‘wow’ when can I stay again and I must tell the world. On each occasion once you have gotten past the fixtures and furnishings which have been fantastic the only differentiator has been the service delivered by the team.

At a five star airstream park in Sonoma (yes they exist!) which was extraordinary, reception on overhearing my telling another guest about a game called banagrams came over explained they over heard us whilst walking around and the game will be delivered tomorrow for the guest to play and an extra set to take home. The cost $12.99. Although I am an out of towner, the other guest lived in San Fran, it was their first time and they booked another stay before they left!

Look for the clues – they are there

Contrast this with the hotel I am currently staying in it’s brand new, a small chain, absolutely stunning and on the beach so it should be perfect. Some of the touches are great, the butler service to the beach, with chairs, towels and umbrella is fantastic, but they keep missing the mark, turning what should be an extraordinary stay into an OK one, each time they miss a trick I am getting more disappointed. Let me explain:-

We have room for three people two queen beds, yet it has the smallest balcony of any of the rooms and not big enough for three people to sit on. There are plenty of rooms with the same category that have larger balconies with two guests in. Having checked in as three the front of house should have taken that into account, he kept extolling the virtues of the room, the free flip flops, bottle of white wine ( I don’t drink it so he sent up rose which was very sweet so they can get it right), south facing so gets the sun in the morning except in California there is always mist in the morning which he obviously knew and we did not but he did not tell us. So we have a small balcony with no sun.

We have complimentary flip flops as part of the resort fee! But they only offer two pairs even if there are three of you. Why? Also why not check the booking if it says male, female and child ensure the size of the flip flops match the guest not just put pairs extra large in the room without thinking so the guest has to change for a smaller pair. I could give more examples from pool policy, to shops not having products. I realise these are small details but they add up and it is having an attention to detail that engages the guest. We have seen so often how once a customer or guest experiences a niggle! Possibly it’s only a small inconvenience but they start looking for more until they become increasingly disillusioned with their visit and lose sight of all the great stuff.

A few days ago whilst booking surf lessons I told the concierge we had a very special event coming up, as I would get my degree results after 6 years of study. Her reply oh that’s nice! That is a big clue, this morning I went to see them again to ask if we could keep our beach chairs beyond the 8pm curfew as we want to celebrate my special event on the beach next to an open fire pit and watch the sun go down particularly as their roof top bar does not allow under 21 year olds and we were not told last night until we had already waited for half hour, the balcony is too small of us all to sit out on and therefore our only option to to go down to the beach, her answer oh well.. I will check, I am not sure. Eventually they have us until 8.30pm.

I have to admit I am intrigued to see if she picks up the clues I suspect she won’t and a wonderful opportunity will be missed. I did however manage to catch the GM he was approachable, open and freely admitted his aim as a new GM is to focus on the guest and took my feedback onboard and said he would use it to help develop the team. With him at the helm I suspect the hotel will go from strength to strength.

Although the US hotels we have stayed in the smiles have been bright and we have been told to “have a nice day” and “let us know how can we help” the smiles have not always reached the team’s eyes and as they say it they have already moved on to the next person thus giving the impression that they do not really mean it. This was particularly true of a hotel near Yosemite where despite being 4 star we felt we were on a guest conveyer belt and the service was as fake as the plastic trees and plants in the lobby.

We have seen some examples where a team member obviously cared and went out of their way to be helpful, when they did you noticed how they gave you their complete attention and you felt they cared. In fact the housekeeping team here are an excellent example also the team at The Line in LA were exemplary.

Although we are yet to stay at The ritz Carlton I often use the following article to illustrate their commitment to the guest when training teams to be truly intuitive.


It is an international issue

They say the service in America is so much better than the UK but I think in all countries it’s a mixed bag and is dependant on the philosophy, values and culture of the company/management running the hotel.

Many years ago I stayed at The George in Stamford, it was only 3 star yet it was glorious, why? it was the small touches that made it special, the book shelf in my room contained a variety of books every one of which I would read. When I sought out the head of housekeeping and explained how impressed I was they told me they change them daily according to the guest profile and showed me a huge bookshelf split into categories of guest that they choose from, so simple yet effective. Contrast that with the next stop one of the best 5 star golfing hotels in the world and every magasine was either finance, golf or for the Japanese market. Their famous spa was closed for a private event and it transpired I was the only guest staying that was not part of a conference, yet no one told me until I checked out. I will never stay there again.

Whilst staying at an iconic 5 star hotel in Hong Kong, although the processes were excellent and the hotel was technically perfect, it lacked warmth and that personal touch you crave whilst away on business for a week working 14 hour days. So even in Asia they do not always get it right.

Principal Hotels in the UK have put intuitive service and generosity at the heart of their culture by adding it to their values and work very hard to make it come alive, which is the same as The Trafalgar St James who actively encourage creating a wondrous place in people lives and reward their team when they achieve it. Chewton Glen have an inventive and exceptional reward scheme The Golden Duck, which explains why their service is one of the best I have experienced.

Top tips for ensuring an intuitive service 

So how can hotel be intuitive, truly create a memorable experience for the guest and ensure the hotel goals are met.

1. Look for the clues and act on them, ask your teams to be aware, listen and look for ways in which they can wow their guest.

2. Make it part of your culture and remind them through training, stories and team briefs/lineups

3. Develop a framework for success that gives your team the parameters within which they can work but allows them the freedom to make a difference.

4. Get the basics right, think about your guest profile, match the room allocation and amenities accordingly.

5. Build guest focus into your reward and recognition scheme, one hotel chain offers a crisp new £50 note to all team members whose name is used in a trip advisor review alongside one of the values and how they delivered it well.

6. Above all encourage your team to care, ask them what they would want if they were staying and empower them to deliver it.

My next stops are The Ace in Palm Springs, The Aria in Vegas, The Fess in Santa Barbera, The Clermont in Monterey, The Ritz Carlton in Half ~Moon and the Union Square Hilton in San Francisco. All of these are iconic hotels it will be interesting to see the level of service and I’ll let you know.

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