Taking Greatness for Granted

Ever heard the expression, “a legend in his or her own mind?” I first heard it when working with a man who was a legendary artist and designer. After dealing with his ego and self-adulation, one of my co-workers noted he had truly become “a legend in his own mind” and we all were less motivated and interested to work with him.

What happens when great hotels or great hospitality organizations, with great reputations, become legends in their own minds and less than so in the minds of their guests? How can a hotel that has worked so hard for fantastic fans and award-winning applause neglect a foundation of service and respect that won the fans and awards in the first place? Why would management take greatness for granted and simply ride a reputation? Who benefits, who does not and who CARES when service is on auto-pilot and the team rests on their laurels?

I was overwhelmed with these questions when recently visiting one of my favorite hotels in one of the greatest seaside destinations in the country. There were so many disconnects in service that even the employees were talking about it. Long an international favorite, the hotel has a rich history and has been rated as a top resort for years. Because of its location, its ambiance and its legendary status, guests will always come. However, how sad if guest visits become mixed messages of service and less dollars spent due to inefficient and inept efforts. And, what a shame to tarnish a long established reputation by taking the experience guests desire for granted instead of responsively making it more memorable during each moment.

As we arrived at the hotel, the valet departure and arrival setting was one of total chaos and confusion. Guests stood by with looks of confusion as valet personnel scrambled frantically to connect cars and passengers. For the first or last impression, guests experienced haphazard connections and unrelaxing moments in leaving or finding their cars. How fortunate to have so many guests at the hotel. How unfortunate to stress them out in their initial or final moments.

We walked in to make a dinner reservation and were greeted by three hostesses who appeared bored and uninterested. When we asked if we could be seated, especially since there were numerous empty tables, we were told that they were saved for later reservations and that the chef had told them not to serve anyone else anyway because the kitchen was too backed up. What a non-business development strategy and solution for less profit; turn guests away until the kitchen gets comfortable. And, make sure the idle employees tell everyone about the staffing and serving problems!

Since we had the wait for dinner, we decided to get a sunset drink at the bar. It was crowded (good for them) so we had a hard time tracking down a server. When one did show up, we asked him for water and for a drink recommendation. He did not have much to say until we asked if the bar had any specials at which time he begrudgedly retrieved a menu which PROMOTED the hotel’s expensive specialty drinks. He did not want to wait for us to decide and moved on with the promise he’d come back. He didn’t. We flagged another bar server down to place our order. We asked her to ask the bartender if the drink we ordered, a featured menu item, could be changed a bit, with less sweetness. Her answer was “no” but she said she’d enter it into the computer. Now, the bartender and bar were less than two feet away and we asked her if she could simply turn around and ask the bartender. Again, she said no, and off she went. So much for humanity!

As our jaws dropped in amazement, our dinner pager went off and we stood to get our reservation. The original bar server showed up and we mentioned we never got our water. His response was a matter of fact “I know” and off he went. When we got to our dinner table, a busboy appeared at our table and mechanically went about moving things around. He did not greet us or look at us at all and simply worked around us in a task-oriented fashion. His movements were abrupt and he appeared to be in a hurry. He’d been given his operational orders and guest service was not on the list.

When our waiter showed up, he was pleasant, warm and welcoming. We were so relieved. Finally, we met someone who appeared to understand the value of the resort he was representing and his impact on the guest experience. We mentioned we had ordered drinks from the bar but never received them or a bill and then left for dinner. He shrugged his shoulders, rolled his eyes and said it was always like that. We asked why and he said there was no communication between the bar and the restaurant, that they were run separately (though five feet apart) and that there was often confusion and lack of attention with that team. He noted his own personal frustration with management’s lack of caring relative to the employees in all the hotel settings and that he just wanted to do a good job because he liked the environment and the guests. When asked, he answered that training was minimal and that no uniformly dedicated service standards existed. He offered to go sift through the chaos, chase down our drinks and bill and come back for our order.

Eventually, the bar server from whom we ordered the drinks came to our table, dropped off the drinks and bill, and left… without a word. It was almost surreal.

Luckily, the rest of our evening was quite lovely and our meal nice, thanks to the attention and service commitment of our waiter. It’s amazing to think that the weight of making our experience rested totally on his shoulders. He appeared to have his own guest service compass and went out of his way to map out a special dinner memory for us. We thanked him and acknowledged his service with our words and gratuity but wondered how long someone of his caliber would last and if he too would soon be taken for granted.

When I checked the hotel’s website, searching for any kind of service commitment, I found none. There were press releases on awards, detailed physical descriptions, activity ideas and numerous descriptions of the rich history and desirable location but nothing on service. At least they are consistent.

What does it take for a great institution, a great hotel, a great organization to stay great? How does service fit into the big picture and does service even really make the picture big? When does a hotel make the superficial switch to outside looks instead of inner beauty? Why do caring employee hearts have to take the heat of uninterested leaders and personnel? Is it enough to ride a reputation and will that reputation continue to produce loyal and repeat guests who want to spend more and not less? Do those with a great reputation have a responsibility and integrity commitment to deliver something that is beyond physically great to guests? And, is greatness an earned stripe that does not require continued great efforts?

Consider the following:

  • Memories, profits, and loyal guests will slip away when service slips. They may still come but they will come for less time, spend less and recommend less.
  • Management has a responsibility to define why a hotel has become/is great and what it takes to remain great. Having a solid service foundation and a true commitment to hospitality is critical to any great hotel product.
  • Define service standards that support, reinforce and build greatness. Make them a part of each employee’s hiring commitment and train them on how to deliver the standards that lead to greatness.
  • Make teamwork a solid part of service training and ensure each department within a hotel knows how to pass the baton to others. Warm hand-offs create seamless service experiences.
  • Recognize superstar employees who really do deliver great experiences to guests. Make the experience great for fellow employees so they feel like doing the same for guests, as well as to attract other great service employees and reduce costly turnover.
  • Train employees on the products, services and experiences that will make the hotel money and be special for guests. Special promotions are not so special when nobody talks about them. Emphasize the personal touch and empower employees to be personal.
  • Avoid revenue cutting mishaps by focusing on the smooth and seamless delivery of service (We probably spent half of what we would have spent due to the slowness and disconnectedness of the service).
  • Watch out for mechanical solutions to personal needs. Make sure all personnel even those not always on the immediate frontline (bus servers, housekeepers, etc); understand their roles on the stage of guest service.
  • Recognize that reputations , good or bad, are earned on a minute by minute basis. Management needs to understand and appreciate guest votes and trust and instill the same in each employee.
  • Make sure greatness is not only skin deep. Emphasize the inner beauty from shining service success.
  • Exceptional service can actually enhance existing greatness and take profits, guest experiences and reputations to new levels. Mobilize efforts to keep service excellence top of mind and top of actions.

Make a date with greatness every single day and instill those feelings in each and every employee. Don’t allow greatness to grate on guest nerves or even worse, disintegrate. Don’t take guest service or a legendary reputation for granted. Grant guests the experiences they desire and deserve. Become greater for it.