Perceptual Sense Essential to Guest Service in 2015

Virginia Casale

Virginia Casale

Understanding how to anticipate, interpret and deliver guest needs and desires in an ever more complex world of choices and communication channels will require humans who can subjectively jump in to any situation to deliver and exceed expectations.

And, while guests may want to skip many of the transactional steps like check in and reservations in favor of doing it themselves or using new technology, they will not want to skip getting their needs met or even figured out which well-trained humans can do.

The human touch will always prevail in luxury service because true luxury cannot take place without personalized service. Personalized service involves actions and efforts that lead to emotions like pleasure, happiness, delight and even simple satisfaction. Personalized service means being able to relate to the PERSON on an individual level and determine exactly what they want. Employees who are able to perceive what it will take to deliver that personalized service whether it is face to face, by phone, online, by mail or through social media channels, will be those that create the most memorable experiences and the most loyal guests.

So, what will it take to get that perceptual sense and how do hoteliers find the right employees who have it or how do they train their teams to get it and deliver it in meaningful ways beyond all the wonderful new technologies, products and systems that support and enhance today’s hospitality industry?

In a recent conversation with Benedict Cummins, Publisher of HotelExecutive, my colleague Roberta Nedry and I discussed what “humans” are doing to maximize Guest Service impact as well as some of the upcoming trends we are seeing with our work both in and out of the hospitality industry.

Benedict Cummins

Benedict Cummins

Benedict: Virginia, you recently joined the Hospitality Excellence team after 30 years of hotel concierge and guest service roles and having recently served as the International President of Les Clefs d’Or, the leading association of the world’s top hotel concierges. What is the most important lesson you learned in Guest Service from your career?

Virginia: The most important lesson that hotels need to recognize is that you truly need to be willing to help others connect to an experience that will create lifelong memories! People want authenticity. They want to be able to speak to a person that “Google”, “Bing”, “Yahoo” and other search engines will never replace. Today guests have every type of information at their fingertips. However validation that only a human can give will potentially elevate any one result to an experience, which will change the journey. We can all get the service and the information but an experience that is personal and makes an emotional connection is on another level. That thought is the greatest professional and personal lesson my hospitality career has given me so far.

Benedict: You mention the emotional connection. How do employees know how to make that connection and can they be trained if they do not know?

Virginia: One of the most powerful areas I am addressing in my new role is creating awareness and education for that exact point! The essence of what we do is about how people FEEL based on any one interaction or touchpoint. Emotions are the differentiating reactions that will cause a positive, negative or indifferent experience no matter what situation, location or product. We begin all of our efforts with that foundation and first make the connection with what triggers emotions in any one moment. Orienting hospitality leaders and their teams with that focus is key. That includes making sure they understand that the employee experience is as critical as the guest experience.

Roberta: American Express did a Service Study in September 2013 which revealed that when 1,620 consumers were tested under laboratory conditions, 63% said they felt their heart rate increase when they thought about receiving great customer service. The study also showed that for 53% of those tested; receiving great service triggered the same cerebral reactions as feeling loved.

We love seeing studies like these as they reinforce what we see with our clients, the employees they lead, and the guests they serve. Great customer service is triggered by feelings and we work from the “inside out” to stimulate understanding for how that translates in the work environment and the behaviors to create and support experiences that are memorable.

Benedict: You make an interesting point, especially with all the new technology, social media and brand developments being introduced. How will that impact today’s current workforce and what trends are you seeing in Guest Service?

Roberta: We are truly seeing both collision and collaboration with the points you noted as it relates to Guest Service. There are so many exciting innovations in technology, which truly benefit the processes and efficiencies of Guest Service and guests’ changing preferences. However, the personal side of service may be missing a step without the coordination, training and role definition for employees in those innovations. In other words, those innovations may help parts of the experience but they may not take into consideration all the opportunities to still make an emotional connection and deliver a comprehensively meaningful and memorable experience.

Benedict: We recently published one of your articles addressing that collision side and talking about how technology trauma can cause guests to need the ER-Emotional Recovery. I recently experienced frustration while visiting a hotel and wanting to connect to their Wi-Fi while I was in their lobby. Since I was only visiting and not a guest, they would not give me the code. The employee who told me made me feel less than worthy even though they touted their technology access for guests. What that employee missed is that I was a guest… just not sleeping there that night.

Roberta: That is an unfortunate but good example of my point. That employee was not trained or oriented to complement the technology benefit and did not know how to “fill in the blanks” when a guest’s need went “off script”. Guest Service within the framework of Guest Experiences must allow for those “off script” moments that can make or break what is happening. That’s when the ‘perceptual sense” kicks in and that sense is only possible through a live human being who can think and react on their feet or be trained to do so

Virginia: And, that “perceptual sense” allows for those employees to more effectively consider how to impact the five senses of smell, sight, touch, sound and taste which can further enhance any one guest experience. Many of my Les Clefs d’Or concierge colleagues around the world put that perceptual sense to work daily and play an invaluable role as choreographers of guest experiences. They reinvent themselves constantly to be the best they can be to serve guests. With so many choices, so many changes, so many preferences, so many demands and especially so many expectations, creativity in and with Guest Service is not only a trend but a necessity to truly deliver meaningful hospitality and experiences. We believe that humans, our hospitality employees, need to be empowered to apply that creativity and trained to read and react to each guest’s mood, motivation, state of mind and personality.

Benedict: It’s almost as if a shift is starting to take place in going back to the basics. Guests and consumers love the technology, new properties, stunning architecture, clever amenities and creative cuisine but they don’t want to feel compartmentalized and categorized-they still want to have individual attention when needed. How can hotel leaders better manage that shift with their people and still keep up with all the changes taking place?

Roberta: It’s not just about the procedures and the operations. It’s not just about great service. It’s not just about beautiful rooms or a great product or brand. It IS ABOUT creating a memorable experience that blends all of the above and every single point of contact that goes into any one hospitality experience. It IS ABOUT the multitude of feelings and emotions that are triggered whether one is a Millennial, a Baby Boomer or from the Greatest Generation, whether one is from a big city, a small town or another country. It IS ABOUT being authentic and sincere and caring about outcomes and being able to react to both positive and negative moments. It is about having that “Perceptual Sense” to be able to figure out how any Guest Service moment can satisfy or exceed expectations or to recover from ones that fail. Until computer hearts start beating, we believe hospitality leaders need to more strongly focus on how their teams can better develop that Perceptual Sense and then train them to more effectively design, develop and deliver Guest Experiences that matter, no matter what trends are taking place.

Benedict: LOL… until computer hearts start beating… that thought reminds me of the movie ‘HER’ with Joaquin Phoenix, about a computer app that develops into an intuitive and unique entity in its own right, to which Phoenix’s character falls in love with; it’s a very interesting perspective on the direction technology is taking us and worth watching. These days most people are starved for a connection with someone. The so-called ‘war on terror’ has people paranoid of each other. So the hotels not only have an obligation to uphold true Guest Service connection, but it’s also an opportunity in their favor. There’s a lot to be said about true hospitality – when hospitality is coming from the heart and not from the head (or the wallet). It’s easy to teach employees to be nice to guests, but being nice and being real are two different things. Hotels that recognize this will have an advantage in the market. Additionally, there are many other factors that tie into the equation – what kind of people are your employees? Question what they bring to the table… are they surrounded in white light or darkness? Do they give or take good energy? Who are their influences? Are they even conscious? All this impacts the type of personality that you employ to represent your hotel. It sure makes for more interesting conversion and perhaps we can expand on these elements with you and Roberta in another issue. Thank you Virginia and Roberta. You both have such unique perspectives on why gaining, and not losing that personal touch may be more important now than ever before.

Roberta Nedry

Roberta Nedry

Roberta Nedry co-authored this article. Ms. Nedry is President and Founder of Hospitality Excellence, Inc., Leaders in Guest Experience Management. She and her team understand all facets of Guest Experience Management and deploy their unique 3D Service® methodology as a successful business strategy for internal and external service delivery in all industries. Services include experience analysis, mapping and design, onsite and online training, service evaluation, service standards and initiatives, recognition programs, service leadership and employee engagement. HEI Experience Leaders have their fingers on the pulse of what matters in any Guest Experience and tune in to worldwide service excellence examples and strategies through their international work in exceptional service delivery. They provide Guest and Customer Service consulting, evaluation, design, education and training for those that seek excellence at every point of contact. To learn more about Hospitality Excellence online and onsite programs, visit www.hospitalityservicetraining.com. Ms. Nedry can be contacted at 877-436-3307 or roberta@hospitalityexcellence.com

Virginia Casale is an expert in ultimate guest service and an inspiring leader, teacher and guest lecturer of hospitality excellence. Her work and expertise in the hospitality and tourism industries for more than 30 years has placed her at the top of her profession. Most recently she served as President of UICH “Les Clefs d’Or “, the prestigious international association of the world’s best concierges. Madame Casale rose to this coveted leadership role as only the second woman to do so in 62 years and the first Canadian. Over 25 years, she promoted the management of guest service to levels beyond expectations and successfully orchestrated international congresses featuring global hospitality leaders and the top 3% of the concierge profession in Quebec City, Banff, Niagara Falls, Toronto, London and Queenstown, New Zealand. Les Clefs d’Or Canada, Austria and New Zealand awarded her with honorary membership for her leadership and service. Ms. Casale can be contacted at 877-436-3307 or virginia@hospitalityexcellence.com Extended Bio