A happy staff is the key to happy guests in the hospitality industry. Hard research and anecdotal evidence show that employees who feel secure, supported and empowered provide a richer and more engaging guest experience than employees who don’t feel they make a difference. “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers,” explains Steven R. Covey in his bestseller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
This, like many things in life, is easier said than done. How do you encourage your staff to be more caring, warm and empathetic toward guests? This is a complex conversation, but the details usually boil down to three main tactics: listening, empowerment and authenticity.
Investing in your employees’ happiness can have a strong impact on the bottom line. Happier employees who feel engaged at work are potentially less likely to leave for other jobs. This, in turn, decreases the costs involved in hiring and training new employees. Further, guests who feel they are receiving exceptional treatment are likely to return, spend additional money, and ultimately become loyal to your brand.
This discussion is especially important in the hospitality industry, where service makes all the difference and people are the product. The finest luxury resort or most upscale restaurant in the world will still garner negative feedback from guests if the staff is indifferent or discourteous.
Managers shouldn’t assume they know what their staff wants and values. Building a resilient hospitality workforce begins with asking questions and listening to the responses. Forbes says this is not happening, however. Among companies that give annual employee engagement surveys:
According to Forbes, HR and talent management expert Josh Bersin says that companies in all industries, not just hospitality, need to take a more holistic approach to listening to employees. The concept of the annual employee survey is more than 30 years old, but employees can now speak out in real time through social media and employment-related websites. Instead of taking the pulse once a year (or less often!), it’s now possible to talk with employees on a much more frequent basis. This is relatively easy to do in the hospitality industry, where managers and staff traditionally work closely together, and there are many opportunities to engage in conversation.
If managers want to provide truly exceptional customer service to their guests, they might consider giving front-line staff the ability to resolve problems without deferring to a supervisor. One example of this trend can be found at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. This organization uses written empowerment guidelines, but on the whole, employees are given wide latitude to take action. Some examples: An employee might credit a guest for a free night if he or she wasn’t satisfied, or upgrade a guest to a better room or “comp” a meal if a service challenge has occurred.
Empowerment, however, should consist of more than discretionary spending. According to the Houston Chronicle, experts suggest that managers in all industries can empower staff to take more control over their job duties, team structure and career planning. While this might not be possible in every hospitality setting, employees should be made to feel empowered to share ideas and make suggestions to improve the working environment and guest experience.
Entrepreneur Richard Branson, who recently has expanded his empire to include hotels, says that guests can sniff out insincere customer service — and they don’t enjoy it. The company is very selective about who it hires, looking for employees with the attributes and attitude to make an authentic connection with guests, according to a November 2016 Forbes article.
The lesson for managers is to do away with scripts and rigid rules, and allow staff to build personal connections with guests. Genuine person-to-person interaction will lead to a positive guest experience.
Customer service expert Micah Solomon has written about a less-formal approach to dealing with guests, and it provides an excellent conclusion to this article: “Excessive formality is hazardous to your business because it clashes with the personal style of your customers, millennials in particular, making your brand appear out of touch or even condescending.”