The Reality Show of Service

Survivor! The Bachelor and Bachelorette! The Millionaire! The Apprentice and good ‘ol Average Joe! Who is for real these days and why has the issue of reality become so captivating for today’s consumers? Why is “being real” or in some cases “not being real” so fascinating? How do real scenarios and events in today’s world impact hospitality seeking guests? What reality do they want and are your employees prepared to give it to them?

The service landscape has changed in the past few years and hospitality leaders must recognize why anticipating and defining expectations may be more important than ever. People, customers, guests want the real thing. Especially after events like September 11, they want to feel more secure, more safe and more reassured that their interests and concerns matter. They don’t want to feel like their needs play second fiddle to corporate policies, complex chains of command or misinformed employees. They want a real connection.

On a recent flight to Colorado, I experienced a reality quagmire. Two major airlines have a program to allow elite members of either airline to get the benefits of early boarding. On this particular flight, I was an elite member of the other partner airline and sought the shared early boarding benefit. The employee taking tickets did not know about the program and even employees who were aware of the program were unsure of what proof of elite membership could be accepted from the partner customer. As the elite member customer asking for the benefit, I was made to feel like my expectations were “unrealistic” when in fact the companies have presumably spent millions to invite customers to experience this benefit and feel good about both airlines. The employee’s attitude and information were poor and we both suffered.

Customer reality suffers when employee reality is not consistently managed. The key to this is to have a single reality for customers and employees and manage customer benefits at the employee level. It is challenging to manage information at all levels with the plethora of web and direct mail promotions for hotels, airlines and other hospitality service providers. When a customer books through an online travel agent like Expedia or Travelocity or hundreds of others, is their reality penalized or does it suffer due to employees believing that that online customer is entitled to some alternated reality? Does it mean less service and other terms and conditions? Hospitality companies need to focus on what they want the final real result to be for all customers and then manage that experience through each possible source. Employees need the same care and attention that customers do when understanding what makes the experience what the company really wants for the customer.

When an employee does understand the power of real connections for customers and guests, the rewards are immediate. During a visit to two destinations in Florida, a Texas family experienced dramatic differences. The first one offered impressive grounds and facilities but employees at the front desk were rude, impatient and dismissive. The reality of paying $500 a night for accommodations did not seem to make a difference in service nor a genuine concern for positive memories beyond the physical location. They labeled their experience a “nightmare” and one which they would not repeat. Employees and those that managed them did not appear to care about making a real connection for their guests and allowed the physical property alone to do the work.

The second destination provided an immediate contrast with kind and caring staff immediately upon arrival. However, it went downhill from there with numerous problems with room service. Determined not to have another poor experience and get what they really wanted, they called to address the situation and were put off by unhelpful staff and unavailable supervisors. Frustrated again, the family resigned itself to an experience other that what they really wanted.

Finally, a senior room service supervisor surfaced and immediately changed the trip for the better. Once he heard the story, he found the family and personally apologized for all the problems. He assured them no more such experiences would occur. From that point on, that particular employee stayed in touch with these guests and extended kindness and special treatment that made them feel truly valued and appreciated. One employee who recognized what his guests really wanted really made a difference. Because of their experience and his real service commitment, this family plans to always return to this resort property for all future visits to this destination.

Consider placing greater emphasis on the skills, information and attitude necessary for ultimate service delivery. Recognize how to recognize what guests really want. Companies and hospitality organizations make real decisions every day that affect what experience their guests and customers will have. Understanding how those decisions can lead to positive or negative results is critical in the reality show of service.

Define service standards and specific actions for each point of contact, through any source. Train and inform employees on how to handle delivering great and real service through each of these points.

Instill the importance of attitude, eye contact and a smile in making the first impression of delivery. Just ‘showing up” and “doing the job” does not cut it.

Make sure employees are sensitive and prepared for unhappy or even confused customers and equip them with the skills to deal with delays, misunderstandings and complaints. A little empathy, an apology and a proactive course of action will go a long way.

Train delivery personnel, internally and externally, management and front line, on how to observe or gather feedback from guests on the spot. Provide an easy way to channel that feedback to whomever is in charge. Chances are new ways to improve service, reduce complaints and enhance business are sitting at the front desk or somewhere on the line.

Build relationships internally between all personnel who are touch points in the service chain of events. Make sure the baton of service gets passed seamlessly to benefit the guests.

When any service encounter is over, remember the importance of a thank you and recognize opportunity in the final moment to make a lasting, real, and positive impression. If any dissatisfaction remains, make sure the guest knows how their problem will be resolved.

When guests do encounter the “real thing” the impact is powerful. Donald Trump figured this out with “The Apprentice,” considered to be the first reality program that’s close to being really real. Mr. Trump understood today’s landscape, with people feeling more anxious about jobs and their futures and wanting more of a real thing. In the world of hospitality, people want more real service too. Not receiving service can be emotionally expensive for your guests and financially painful for your business. And that’s a reality show you do not want to produce!