Guest Experience Management: Driven by Genetics, Environment or Both?

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slippers-239x300When my feet were hurting after three hours of delivering a workshop in Doha, Qatar in the Middle East to over 100 hospitality and concierge professionals, I asked my host, Randy Santos, the Les Clefs d’Or Chef Concierge of the InterContinental Doha, if he minded if I took my shoes off for a few moments before I went back on stage. About five minutes later, he had some hotel slippers delivered to relieve my aching feet. He sensed, even though I was working on his behalf, that there was SOMETHING he could do to relieve my pain and in turn, enhance my own guest experience taking place in his hotel. His efforts made me feel good and showed me that he cared, even during his extremely busy moments. He tuned in to my emotional need, and then surprised me with a solution. He made an empathetic connection, thought about what he could do to help and immediately took action. It’s as if he had a sixth sense that propelled him to action…an instinct that kicked into gear as he tuned in to what his guest was experiencing. slippers

Upon another occasion, when my colleague and I checked in at the Omni Hotel at CNN Center in Atlanta, Georgia, our room was not yet ready and we had to rush to a 12 noon meeting that was about to begin. We had no time to spare and were feeling a bit stressed and harried as our plane had landed late, we had jumped on two MARTA trains, Atlanta’s rapid transit system, walked a few blocks, carrying briefcases and luggage and arrived at the hotel frazzled. That’s when Lorraine Beezley, Assistant Front Office Manager stepped in and calmly came to our rescue. She saw our dismay and frustration and checked us in quickly, reassured us that our luggage would be sent to our rooms and immediately sent us on our way. Our meeting did not end until after 7pm, without time to eat lunch. We saw Lorraine on our way back, told her how intense our day had been and thanked her again for taking care of rooms so we could just go collapse. Shortly after each of us arrived in our rooms, a beautiful tray of cheese, crackers, fruit and sparkling water was delivered. On the tray was a handwritten and very personalized note from Lorraine, expressing her appreciation for our business and offering to do anything else to make our one night stay, even though short, more enjoyable.

tray-300x242In only the few moments she had met us, she sensed how hard our day had begun and ended and went out of her way to make us feel welcome, relieved and comfortable. She made a huge impression on us that day and showed true signs of service leadership. Somehow she had the instincts to know how to deliver a guest experience that we did not anticipate having at all, understood how we felt and related to that emotion with her thoughtful gesture and delivery. tray

In both of these examples, Randy and Lorraine seemed to have a sixth sense and a natural ability to relate to how the guest was feeling and then to deliver a service experience that would address those feelings. It almost seemed to be in their genes and that they knew what to do but perhaps something about their past experiences and training also made an impact. What is it that triggers that sixth sense and instinct in any hospitality employee or leader that propels them to action and knowing how to positively impact or enhance any guest experience moment? Is it in their genes automatically or can a proactive hospitality environment spark that inspiration? Can that sense and instinct be trained and if so, how? How can hoteliers sense making greater sense out of guest experience opportunities and the driving emotional factors that will lead to exceeding guest expectations and greater guest loyalty?

Providing programs and training around the world in Guest Experience Management allows my team and me to observe and evaluate service excellence touchpoints in action across all cultures and industries, on the frontline, management and executive levels, and inside and outside operations of any business that serves customers and guests. We find it fascinating and challenging to define the common thread that makes any one employee, leader or organization “good” at doing the things that make customers and guests…feel “good!” Why do some get it…and some don’t? Is that sixth sense genetic or environmental? We believe it is both combined with the emotional ability, the perception, to understand how people are feeling or what might make them feel better. And, we have found that those that really get it are those organizations that have leaders who believe their service culture is embedded in the employee experience before it even gets to the guest. It has to come from the top and leaders who understand how to role model and then orient and train their teams are the ones that we see who get it.

Leaders need to ask themselves if they are managing behaviors or experiences. There is a big difference and the answer is that they must direct both but behaviors must be directed from the experience context. And, it must be continually reinforced through the example of their own behavior. This is one of the most overlooked yet easiest ways to train and motivate consistent service oriented behavior.

When a piece of trash is on the floor of a beautiful hotel lobby, what makes 11 employees pass right by and what makes the 12th employee pick it up so that a guest does not see it and think the place is unclean or that employees don’t care? Where does that caring come from and how can it be replicated? I remember when I worked at Disneyland as an attractions hostess at the Enchanted Tiki Room in California, it was as if a magnetic force attracted me to any spot of garbage upsetting the stage of my guests’ experiences. I just had to pick it up! And, when my guests entered the waiting area, I knew my role was to engage them while they waited, not just assemble them for the show. And when it was show time, I wanted the guests to feel excited each time, even though I saw the same thing over and over again. Why was I like that and what made me do it? Why did I care so much and what made me so passionate and proactive about the guest experience? In hindsight, for me, it may be partly genetic but it was the environmental impact of how I was trained and oriented over 30 years ago that mobilized my senses. I was motivated by standards that taught me how to connect to what would delight guests and called my guest experience duty into action.

Guest Experience Management is simply taking ownership of the entire guest experience for both employees and guests. It’s about understanding, managing and directing all the touchpoints that take place before, during and after each guest experience. Whether three seconds, three minutes or three hours, each of those touchpoints has that power to impact a guest in a positive, negative or indifferent way. The experience ‘value’ is based on the cumulative result of all touchpoints in any one experience and how well hoteliers and their teams understand their role in the experience chain of events. How employees are trained to connect to, to sense and then to deliver the experience versus simply delivering guest service actions is key to the end result. That’s the environmental inspiration that is needed to make the emotional connections. Many leave Guest Experience management up to a result. They hire good people, establish rules and procedures and create amazing environments but each of those are done as separate tasks versus putting those pieces in place as a whole, from the guest perspective and desired result.

It’s like directing a movie. Each scene needs to be carefully designed and each actor completely prepared. In hospitality, each point of contact should be defined and each employee completely trained in how to anticipate, how to sense and how to deliver memorable moments. Movies that get the best reviews are those that have a well-designed plot and where the story unfolds in a meaningful way for the audience. Movies with great actors and even great concepts flop when the story is disjointed or not connected in a way that makes sense. Guest experiences suffer when links in service delivery are broken and emotional connections are not acknowledged or attempted. Each touchpoint does not flow seamlessly into the next when emotions have to be fixed from a disconnected or indifferent moment that took place earlier. The burden then falls to the next employee in the experience chain of events to rediscover or reconnect with what a guest is feeling. As in an Olympic relay, employees must understand how to receive and pass the baton of service to keep benefiting the guest.

Audiences, the guests, must continually be engaged. Hospitality leaders and employees need to be prepared to improvise and figure out what will trigger the satisfied and even better, the positive emotions. Emotions must be inspired at all levels, constantly and consistently .Reviews on hospitality industry review sites regularly reveal the disjointed moments and those that flowed seamlessly: where something in the experience went awry. According to a recent report from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, guest and consumer reviews directly impact income and occupancy. The study found “a direct link between the rise or fall of revenue per available room (RevPAR) and improvements or declines in the online reputation of a hotel, driven by ratings on sites such as Trip Advisor and Travelocity.” Getting the good reviews and comments matters so mobilizing employees on what they can do to positively impact guest moments, no matter how brief or how long, is key to Guest Experience Management success.

Hoteliers not only need to define Service Standards but Standards that speak to experiences…what it should feel like when the service is delivered and how that relates to the overall experience. The only way you can truly know how someone experiences something is to consider HOW they feel…it must relate to emotion. It’s that sixth sense that allows us to maximize the other five. It’s taking our own genetic references, tapping into emotions that we can relate to in our own environments and experiences, and figuring out how to deliver service touch points which consider the emotional impact on the guest. It’s great to have a good attitude and be fully prepared with service skills but it’s quite a bit better to understand how your guest may feel after/when service is delivered. No matter how innovative, unique, efficient, exciting and luxurious any one hospitality environment may be, unless your people, the employees, know how to make connections to other people, your guests, the resulting experiences may be less meaningful and have more potential to be less satisfying. Guest loyalty, profitability, positive reviews and referral business all may suffer from those “non-connection” moments.

Emotions are the secret ingredient in any genetics and environment formula for Guest Experience Management. Experiences, Emotions and Excellence all flow together when choreographed together and when those delivering service are trained to consider how those getting that service will feel. Employees may have great attitudes. They may be excellent performers. But unless they are oriented to understand, define and truly sense what experiences are all about and the emotional factors that influence them, they miss opportunities for the exact moments they are trying to create.

Capture the evolutionary impact of the hospitality gene and provide the opportunity to environmentally adjust and adapt to moments for each guest experience. Nurture the nature of feeling great emotions before, during and after they are delivered.