As the summer season kicks into gear in many places in the world, hotel pools will become magnets of opportunity for memorable guest experiences. And while the aqua blue colors, refreshing water temperatures and lushly landscaped environments are appealing; moments of service excellence in the pool environment will make the most splash of all. Understanding how to be “Cool at the Pool” at every touchpoint and being able to recognize those touchpoints will make them even more relaxing.
What can hoteliers and their teams do to make any pool environment more special and more memorable than just water and lounge chairs?
Even in the most simple of jobs, each employee involved in the “pool experience” can make positive, negative or indifferent connections with guests. Jeff Lehman, General Manager of The Betsy-South Beach, a Four Star hotel in Miami Beach, Florida and the 2012 Boutique Hotel of the Year, began his first job in the hotel industry as a Pool Attendant at the Royal Lahaina Resort in Kaanapali Beach, Maui, Hawaii. He understood, even at the young age of 17 that engaging the guest, even in his humble role, was key to a meaningful hospitality experience. “I found my job enjoyable because interacting with such different people, from places I had never even heard of, was so eye-opening and cool to me, ” said Jeff. ” It came natural to me to find out more. The pool experience defined hospitality: You never worked so hard, but little is as rewarding as THIS job done well.”
It was and is that philosophy that inspires Jeff to this day as he leads his employees in that same style of engagement with and interest in guests. By showing that he cared about guests then and cares about both employees and guests now, he leads by example. He understood the importance of making an emotional connection with guests and he has carried that through to his award winning property today. Hotel leaders need to orient their pool teams to understand they are also part of the overall guest experience and that engaging the guest and making that emotional connection is key.
That key for any employee who interacts with guests at or around the pool is to “INTERACT” with them. This could be a simple as a smile while picking up towels or caring for the landscape to those serving drinks and leading pool activities for children.
There are many little and big opportunities to make a difference for guests who are poolside. At the Hotel Victor South Beach, soon to be the Thompson Ocean Drive, my husband and I were delighted with a special beverage prepared by the pool bartender during our stay. While preparing our drinks, she also showed interest in us, asked us questions, shared anecdotes and took note of our pleasure in what she prepared. As we were checking out the next day, she ran up to us with a small sample of that special beverage to remind us of those happy moments and anchor even more with her thoughtful and proactive gesture. She was engaging when we met her and she engaged us until the moment we left. She took the simple ordinary service delivery moment of preparing a drink and made it an extraordinary moment of delivering a memory.
On the other hand, what happens when those who don’t care or who seem indifferent drown those service moments? At another large brand hotel, with a magnificent pool and outdoor setting, some special child activities had been arranged for families that were guests of the hotel.
The activities director that day organized a float relay race for the children. As she began the game, it became obvious that she was performing a task and not really interested in the children’s enjoyment. Her explanation to the kids was quick and she just told them to go.
She seemed to just want to get it done and did not pay attention to the dynamics of the children’s interactions and whether they understood the rules and goal of the game. Without her guidance and caring involvement, the children began to disagree over the game rules and who really won. Instead of a fun and fair experience for all, no matter who won, she left the children and in turn their parents with a frustrating and indifferent memory. She added more stress to the parents who had to calm their kids down instead of creating the break and happy child moments the parents had hoped to have. This activities director did not have empathy or interest in her role and she did not understand how her negative emotions turned everyone’s emotions negative. Hotel leaders need to better define, recognize and hold accountable employees who are in these pool positions.
Towels represent another huge opportunity including how guests find them, who gives them out, what they feel like and how guests retrieve them. In another boutique hotel pool experience, guests went to pool area at 10:15 am. No attendant was on duty and there was no signage on how to get towels. Some guests said they had been waiting for 30 plus minutes with no sight of anyone. Guests starting sharing frustration with each other and the negative perceptions of the hotel’s service swelled over this simple task as guests commiserated with each other. When one of those guests walked to the front desk to inquire, the front desk had to radio housekeeping for assistance. The guest thought at that point he would go back to the pool and wait for the towels to be delivered. Because there was no attendant and to the guest’s dismay, the front desk agent told the guest to wait for the towels in the lobby since there was not an attendant to deliver them. When the housekeeper arrived with the towels, she seemed harried and annoyed by this additional step in her day, handed the towels to the front desk, not the waiting guest and then reminded the front desk agent that the guests would need to “sign out” for the towels before they could be released. Now the guest was made to feel untrustworthy in addition to the complete inconvenience. One might wonder why this property would even have a pool with so little thought and effort placed on how guests would be able to actually experience the pool and the simple act of drying off!!!
The guest reaction to the above experience was they thought that hotel promoted their pool as part of a great boutique experience. Yet, getting towels was confusing and a huge inconvenience to guest. On top of that, the staff seemed impatient with guest requests and did not value or understand the impact of this simple touchpoint of the towel.
This was a missed opportunity. Guests have little time to relax and should not have to spend their time searching and waiting for towels. With no attendant on duty, housekeeping could have added extra effort and warmth to come to the rescue. They needed better training and understanding of their role in the guest experience at the pool as well as their other responsibilities.
Pool Power can be delivered in many refreshing ways and can enhance any guest experience with a little more thought. Consider the following ways to be more “cool at the pool” and have all pool attendants truly “attend” to service:
- Define all the touchpoints that will impact the guest experience on the way to the pool, at the pool and when leaving the pool. Then, define who and what will impact those touchpoints and find ways to make them positive.
- Empower all employees involved in the pool experience to be part of that experience. Engineers, gardeners, housekeepers and others who may not seem like the active pool employees are still visible and noticed by guests. Inspire them to be active, even if only with a smile eye contact and body language.
- Guests like clean pools and especially the pristine cleanliness that a hotel pool environment offers. Remember the famous scene in the movie Caddy Shack with the Baby Ruth chocolate bar? Make sure pool teams are constantly monitoring the water for floating objects that don’t belong, such as fallen leaves, unwelcome insects, band aids and whatever else might impact that pristine feeling.
- In today’s sun sensitive world, recognize the increasing value of shade and that creative ways to provide it to guests may be necessary. Many times guests have to get to the pool early to “claim” the best spots for shade because there are too few options. Be prepared for more so guests leave bronzed and not burnt.
- Lined up lounge chairs look so wonderful and organized but guests will rearrange the furniture at times. That’s okay but when they leave, have attendants line them up again so that same wonderful organization appeals to next guests. Pick up old, wet and scrunched up towels so new arriving guests don’t have to. Guests love hotels because they don’t have to do laundry. Don’t give them THAT touch of home and do give them the touch of the clean environment they have paid to experience.
- When weather interrupts any pool experience, have options for guests to get comfortable or safe quickly and orient employees to guide guests right away. If it is pouring rain, where should they go and how can they dry off? If the wind is excessive, are there less windy spots or extra chairs need in a wind proof area? If lightning is a danger, how are guests alerted quickly and where should they go until a storm passes? If a beach is near the pool area, be aware of sand and that more attention to sweeping/cleaning that up more frequently may be required.
- Be sensitive to sound and music. If music is provided by hotel, make sure it is not too loud and disruptive to the environment. It should enhance the mood, not agitate. If guests bring their own music, monitor their volume as well and make sure all guests benefit by any new notes in the air.
- Don’t forget about the bathrooms! Lots of wet bodies go in and out so floors are extra slippery. Schedule more frequent housekeeping checks so guests don’t slip and slide.
- Guests love the extras that can make or distinguish a pool experience, especially in really hot weather such as misters, tanning butlers, lemon infused washcloths, and little samples of sorbet. Consider what might add to the pool personality and enhance and build on the hotel’s personality. Invite all the employees involved in the pool experience to offer their ideas and get everyone’s brain constantly swimming with ideas!
Provide a framework for employees to create amazing pool experiences and beyond. Take the plunge into service excellence and discover the refreshing reactions of guests who want to jump in again and again!