There’s nothing like warmth, when it comes to hospitality, that blanket of welcome that surrounds a guest or customer when caring and proactive efforts cause greater comfort to happen while making frigid moments forgotten. As guests contemplate their seasonal choices for leisure and business travel in the new year, global warming may be a genuine environmental concern but global warming takes on new meaning when through the eyes of hospitality and a meaningful service emphasis. In this case, warming the hearts of guests and customers is a weather proof strategy for all seasons in the arena of Guest Experience Management.
Earlier last year, a February visit to Montreal, during some very chilly days, yielded some delightfully warm experiences due to two very special places in the old city. First EVO, a unique residential experience for students attending local universities and colleges, presents a well-located and well-designed environment but it is the warmth of the staff that makes this space especially inviting and rewarding for all who stay there.
Our visit began with Dominick who gave us a tour to orient us to the EVO experience before we arrived at our room. Her enthusiasm and sincere interest in our first impressions as she showed us each well -thought out area set the stage for a very positive and informed visit. Even though the temperature outside was 18 degrees Fahrenheit (negative 7.7 Celsius) and the ground covered in snow and ice, Dominick’s thoughtful communication warmed us up before even getting to our room and truly made us feel welcome. That warmth continued in the design and setting of our rooms, making it seem more like we had walked into a friend’s home than a lodging provider. We had handwritten notes of welcome from the Sales and Operations team and in an increasingly impersonal world, even their online chat team when we needed help, especially Support Agent Melana Noory, continued that feeling of warmth in words and effort. It was as if the team in charge determined ‘warmth’ was a service standard and priority throughout each facet of the guest (in this case student) experience. With that focus, they explored how to incorporate that standard into operational, physical and especially emotional areas of the EVO experience at all points of contact.
One moment during our stay especially captured this focus of warmth and caring. We needed a hair dryer but most residents bring their own based on longer stays. Since the freezing weather would have led to ‘icicle hair’ without drying, we were desperate to find some ‘hot air’. Luckily, front desk representative Alejandra came to the rescue, tracking down her own personal dryer for us to use along with her favorite hair gel for cold weather. Her gestures, her resourcefulness and especially her thoughtfulness warmed our hearts along with our heads. We were delighted that
we discovered EVO’s hospitality warmth during this very cold February winter and can only imagine how the EVO team delights their student residents all year long.
When we left EVO, we wandered through the very icy and cold streets of old Montreal to come upon another delightfully soul warming experience. Le Magasin General is a charming boutique and bistro near the port in the old city featuring eclectic and unusual art, accessories, gifts and treasures of all kinds. The décor, selection and display of merchandise are delightful from the first step, as if discovering a secret closet with extraordinary jewels and magical products. And yet, the best part of all is the authentic warmth and ambiance inspired and role modeled by founder and owner Nicole Madore.
I’ll never forget my first visit when Nicole walked up to me as I was perusing some beautiful scarves. She focused on me and not my potential purchases and asked if she could help me warm up with a cup of coffee while I shopped. Her caring interest caused me to pause and notice a place that sincerely appreciated me enjoying my time there, whether I made a purchase or not. During my next visit, the ambiance was filled with live music from a charming piano player in the Bistro. When I asked Nicole about this wonderful addition she noted that it made the ambiance nicer for her employees as well as her customers and that is what motivated her. She noted that it was important for her to make sure her employees felt as warm and engaged by their place of work as the customers and places great value and priority on the employee experience. She noticed their mood and spirits were enhanced by the music which in turn generated more positive energy for the customer experience. Warming the hearts of employees is a powerful service strategy in any season and showing employees as much or more care than customers is a weatherproof forecast for success.
On the other hand, chilly moments can happen even in hot weather. During an early fall visit to the Florida Keys, we had a craving for oysters and sought out a very popular seafood restaurant where we could sit outside. We only had 30 minutes before needing to leave but the thought of this seaside appetizer as our final Keys moment was too irresistible to pass up. We saw several empty tables and were confident as we walked up to the hostess. Little did we know that the service temperature was about to drop quickly. With barely a greeting, she noted that all the open tables were for groups; there were only two of us and she said they needed to save those tables for groups. We were surprised as nobody else was waiting, the tables were not reserved and our visit would be short. We told her we would be quick in and out and could even move if they had a large group that needed a table before our 30 minutes were up. She said “No” once again and offered a dark inside table. We made one last plea, hoping our enthusiasm for their setting and final Keys moment would warm her heart but the forecast remained to ‘stay indoors.” We still had a ray of hope when we summoned the manager, thinking the value of two new customers, positive reviews and some quick, easy income would change the forecast but we were put on ice. There was no interest in our business, chilling first and last impressions and not one bit of empathy.
During the 10 minutes this lasted, the tables remained empty and the invisible groups did not show. This cold, short sighted approach left harsh impressions for a long time to come. Even if they truly could not accommodate us, there were so many other ways to show empathy, warmth and caring. Training for this restaurant focused on filling seats, not the people who fill or can refer those seats: policies and procedures, not possibilities and a personal connection; and facts not feelings. Sending guests or potential guests away with gloomy experiences without even having the experience reflects poorly on the area as well and is a ‘fair-weathered’ tourism strategy that will not instill loyalty or positive reviews.
In another hospitality moment, the service forecast started out with wonderful warmth and ended with an unexpected storm. It is critical for hospitality leaders to inspire and train their teams in the power of BOTH first and last impressions. Many are trained and even prepared for the welcome and the excitement of the new or returning guest. This happened for business travelers in a small boutique hotel in the Midwest. The Innkeeper warmly greeted them, spent time orienting them to the property’s history and unique charm, personally escorted them to their rooms and showed them all the amenities in detail. Each time the guests left and returned, she greeted them and asked about their day and ensured all was going well for their stay. When it was time to check out, they were running late from a meeting and called to ask for a one hour later checkout to finish their meeting and get their items out of the room. At this point, that same warm Innkeeper became cold, adamant and impersonal, stating she had new guests waiting and would have to start cleaning the rooms. They rushed back to find the rooms wide open, the cleaning teams in progress with all their personal items in full display.
Her focus was on the new income, not the income that had already been paid. Her initial warmth now appeared to be a façade and was now only directed to the new guests. The current guests appeared to have lost their value when their time was up and no courtesies were extended nor privacy respected. For this Inn, gracious welcomes are a priority. Gracious farewells are not. The gracious welcome promoted as part of the Inn’s philosophy now seemed to be a façade and temporary until whomever is ‘next’ shows up.
Global warming is a strategy which is effective and important throughout every touchpoint of an experience. Engaging guests on an emotional level to inspire good, positive feelings during each interaction they have before, during and after their experience is essential.
Consider the following weatherproof strategies for a sunny forecast:
- Define what kind of ‘warmth’ you desire in your hospitality environment and how you want guests to feel. Do you want it to be intimate? Do you want to make people feel ‘at home?” Do you want them to feel excited? Do you want them to feel comfortable? When you define the feelings, you hope guests will have, it then becomes easier to map out ways to inspire those feelings.
- Remember behaviors cause warmth more than environment. A warm environment can become cold quickly if employee behaviors cause chilling reactions. Make sure employees are oriented to the desired ‘warmth’ strategy and more importantly, ensure they are inspired to deliver it. To inspire it, they must themselves be inspired (think of Nicole at Le Magasin General and the piano player).
- Focus on all the places feelings can be triggered in guests and figure out how to ‘warm’ their hearts up through each point of contact. Consider in person interactions and how body language is the most powerful communication impact. What signals warmth in person? Consider phone interactions and how voice tone is the most powerful communication impact. What conveys warmth in the tone of one’s voice? Consider online interactions and how important the words and tones of written messages can be when body language and voice options are not available (remember EVO’s online chat team). What kinds of phrases and vocabulary showing caring, concern and interest?
- Think about the operational, physical and emotional part of any experience where ‘warmth’ applies. Little things, even like providing a hair dryer, provide more than just physical warmth. Consider the gestures, the amenities, the procedures, the policies that will support each guest feeling good.
- And, when clouds are on the horizon, when problems come up, remember that every cloud has a silver lining: in this case warmth. When hospitality leaders and employees show warmth through empathy, even when problems pop up or experiences go awry, guests will respond in much more favorable ways. Listening to a guest’s concern, challenge or problem with the silver lining of ‘warmth’ and genuine understanding will work wonders in the forecast.
The bottom line is that exceptional service does not have a season and global warming service strategies work come rain or shine. Don’t let cold behaviors and aloof indifference steal the thunder of great guest experiences. Be the global warming source that melts guests’ hearts and float them up to Cloud Nine. Make it a beautiful day.