Hospitality is taken for granted across government agencies, airlines and hotels. In my line of work, I often hear “I want to have the JetBlue customer experience.” Although many claim this, few truly understand the complicated steps, processes, and investments required to create the hospitality experience they claim to want. So, how do you infuse hospitality in your business?
What Does “Hospitality” Really Mean?
I used to say hospitality means CARING. But even that seems too broad. And hard to grasp. So, here are a few examples of the actions that express hospitality to your guest, customer, or traveler.
Hospitality means dropping the extra towels in your guest’s room after you have said you would (after you commit to it). It means that, when the internet in your hotel is not working, you proactively communicate to ALL your guests so they can properly prepare.
Hospitality also means that, after you have promised to take a day of resort charges off the bill for the inconvenience of broken internet, you actually do it. You do not “forget about it.” Nor do you make your guest remind you about your promise, or make your guest feel anxious over whether you will keep your promise.
By now, I hope you see the theme of trust in these examples. In this context, hospitality is easy to understand. Hospitality means following through on your promises. It is walking the walk. And putting your money where your mouth is.
If Hospitality is So Simple, Why is it Hard to Do Consistently?
Hospitality is hard to put into consistent practice because, behind each commitment you make, there is organizational complexity required to deliver on that commitment.
Let’s go back to the towels example. In order for the housekeeper to drop off the extra towels, she needs to genuinely CARE about making the guest happy. That means she needs to go the extra mile and interrupt her original flow of cleaning rooms and go to the guest’s room. She needs to enter, despite the sign that says “Do Not Disturb,” because she REMEMBERS the specific request to drop the towels without cleaning the room. This also means that the housekeeper is selfless. She is not bothered by the fact that she may not receive a big tip, since she is not there to clean the room. In other words, the housekeeper will, essentially, drop the towels “for free”.
Now, to get that kind of mentality in a workforce, you need days of hospitality training; daily rituals for supervisors and managers to keep the hospitality standards top of mind; and, perhaps, a payment structure that is more sophisticated than tips to incentivize caring about all guests’ experiences.
For all of this to take place, hotel management must bring hospitality experts to design the proper training and procedures, and to train all employees. This requires money and intentional investment in the guest experience, which, in this case, is hospitality.
Let’s move on to the proactive communication related to any kind of amenities that today’s customer takes for granted (like in-room WiFi). In order for proactive communication to happen correctly, several procedures must be in place.
Chances are, the internet is provided by an external partner. So, your relationship with the outsourced company must be strong. This strong relationship means you know immediately when the internet is down. Further, you understand the plan to fix it, and how long it will take to fix.
The next thing you need to have is a serious SLA (service level agreement) in place. This ensures that what the internet provider says they will do actually happens. In other words, the provider incurs heavy fines if they fail to practice hospitality in their organization.
Include Marketing in the Process and Response
Assuming all of this is in place, you must map the process so that every time the internet is down, a specific person in marketing is informed. This enables you to send an email out to all the impacted guests. As we explained in our last article, you may not have the contact information for everyone, but you will cover your customers as best as you are able.
Now, another requirement is worth mentioning here. The marketing team itself needs to have gone through that hospitality training we spoke about earlier. Many organizations divide employees in two categories: “customer-facing” and “non customer-facing.” These organizations try to save money by training only the “customer-facing” employees in hospitality standards.
The problem is, in today’s day and age, almost every service requires the proactive engagement and diligence of the “back office.” Hospitality happens only when every person on the chain CARES. In this case, you need that marketing person to be proud of their responsibility. Then, that person needs to run all the necessary email lists to send the right message to the right people.
Connect Tone to Hospitality
Keep in mind, this individual can ruin the guest experience by writing the email in the wrong tone of voice. So, what is the wrong tone?
The wrong tone is a tone that lacks empathy. It reads like a service announcement. Or it is a purely functional message. For example, the wrong tone in this scenario looks like this:
“Ms. Petrova, we write to inform you our internet is down.”
Do you see how the copy writer needs to be trained in hospitality?
This writer can destroy the ROI of your technology investment to connect with your external internet provider! Just imagine, after all the processes that are in place and negotiations for the SLAs, your guest gets this message?
The guest will still feel angry. They might even switch to another hotel! However, if your marketing team is trained in hospitality, the email will, first of all, go out to guests VERY quickly, in order to catch as many people as possible. And second, the email will read something like this:
“Dear Ms. Petrova,
Thank you for choosing us again for your visit to Las Vegas! We really appreciate the trust and loyalty you have in us! We value your experience with us and are writing to inform you that our internet will not be working this weekend.
We are currently changing providers and have encountered some technical difficulties.
To compensate you for the inconvenience, we will comp your resort tax for one night.
We are looking forward to seeing you next time, when we will have the internet back online.
Your Hospitality Team”
Now that is an expression of hospitality!
Let’s Talk About the Money
So, how do you actually take the charge off the bill without worrying your guest? On the surface, this is not complicated. You promised the guest you would do it. Now, you need to make the change in the billing system, right?
Now, here are just some examples of why the person who made the promise is NOT the person who needs to make the update in the billing system. First, changes on charges can ONLY happen at check out. Second, the person who made the promise does not have access to the billing system. In our hospitality-driven organization, the person who committed to the adjustment is in marketing. And third, the person needs the approval of a supervisor to make the change to the bill.
The list of complexities goes on and on and on. That is why we do journey maps. While I have mixed feelings about them, in a scenario like this, journey maps are a perfect tool to document who needs to do what to ensure hospitality is in action.
In some cases, you resolve this with a good CRM (customer management) system. It allows all departments to see the guest. In other cases, you implement a process that connects marketing with finance. Whatever the solution you choose, it comes down to intentional, deliberate work. And investment BEFORE a disruption occurs, so when there is a service failure, the hospitality engine can activate, and loyal customers will keep coming back for more.
Hospitality and Technology
Since we touched on technology, I would be remiss if I did not mention Ivy, my hotel’s digital concierge. At best, Ivy was unfriendly. And at times, Ivy was clueless.
At the EXACT moment when I called the front desk to ask for Wifi assistance, Ivy texted me saying she can help me with my WiFi password. Clearly, she did not get the memo that there would be no internet all weekend.
At the very least, someone should have turned off that text message. At checkout, Ivy un-hospitably sent me a message with a link to check-out digitally, since “the lines can get long at check-out” (more on queues in our next article). She did not provide instructions for how to do that. And when I texted her about an error message, she did not respond.
So Ivy was, to say the least, useless. And frustrating. She actually added to my dissatisfaction. The experience would have been better (and more hospitable) without the digital concierge. Imagine that! This casino actually spent money to erode a service level. Why? Because they thought, since IT is not a customer-facing function, it does not need to understand (or be involved with) the hospitality side of things.
So, next time you wonder what hospitality is, remember this article. Motivate and empower all your employees to deliver empathy-driven, seamless experiences to your customers. Even if that means spending more dollars on training everyone (including yourself!) on the hospitality standards that your brand will drive and mapping out the right processes and technology to connect all parties involved in making the magic called hospitality happen!