Strive for Top 5 in product and service quality

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Earlier this month I analyzed 27 mid-range hotels in the Orlando market using publicly available data from Tripadvisor. These properties ranged from locations near the airport, convention center, and theme parks. After rating the hotels from best to worst using an approach linked to Bain & Company’s Net Promoter Score methodology, I reviewed hundreds of verbatim comments from the Top 5 (5-Star guest ratings) and Bottom 5 (3- to 1-Star guest ratings) hotels to identify common themes.

Hotels in the Top 5 grouping were lauded for:

  • good value for the price paid,
  • observant employees who pay attention to detail,
  • customer-focused employees who are warm and hospitable,
  • motivated employees who take initiative,
  • employees who are equipped with problem resolution skills,
  • employees who make an impression and are mentioned in reviews by name, and
  • operational efficiency girded by effective processes.

Hotels in the Bottom 5 grouping were criticized for:

  • poor product quality linked to cleanliness and maintenance,
  • poor service quality linked to apathy and indifference,
  • failure to meet expectations and fulfill brand standards,
  • inadequate or incomplete selection of breakfast buffet food and beverage items,
  • rigid adherence to hotel policies that do not breach moral, legal, ethical, or safety guidelines,
  • nickel and diming customers, and
  • low-trust culture that disempowers frontline employees and questions the veracity of customers’ claims.

The obvious response to these findings is to accentuate the guest accolades associated with the Top 5 hotels and minimize the guest grievances linked to the Bottom 5 hotels. But as a hospitality industry manager, where do you start?

Build a business case

It’s well documented that customers will pay more for better service. According to the most recent American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, 69 percent of US consumers say they will spend more with a company that offers good service. In fact, they’re willing to spend 17 percent more on average according to the survey. This bodes well for the P&L statements of the Top 5 hotels.

Conversely, more than half of US consumers surveyed have scrapped a planned purchase or transaction because of bad service, and 33 percent say they’ll consider switching companies after a single instance of poor service. And this number increases to 60 percent after 2-3 instances of poor service. These findings erode the P&L statements of the Bottom 5 hotels.

It just makes good business sense to invest in processes and staff development that results in customers’ perception of exceptional product and service quality. With the numbers on their side, managers can pursue support for improvement.

Narrow the focus

While there are factors that are beyond the control of hoteliers, product and service quality are not among them. Energy flows where attention goes, and this is where the attention should go.

As the Tripadvisor guest reviews indicate, product quality is imperative. Newer or recently renovated hotels have the benefit of updated furnishings and a sparkling appearance. But this fact should not deter an older property that is awaiting its next scheduled renovation. The management team can make decisions in support of maintenance and cleanliness such as an enhanced general cleaning schedule that, based on forecasted occupancy, takes a room(s) offline for a night to deep clean the room(s), including steam-cleaning carpets and draperies, thoroughly cleaning vents, windows, and window/sliding door tracks, and power-washing decks/patios and outdoor furniture. This effort could be coordinated with maintenance personnel to make repairs (e.g., furniture, wallpaper, paint, molding, tile, etc.) that are beyond the scope of the housekeeping staff.

Guest reviews also point to the importance of service quality. And this sentiment is reinforced by the American Express study that revealed customers prioritize interactions with staff who are pleasant (68%), knowledgeable (62%), and efficient (42%). Specifically, customers say that getting satisfactory answers to questions is important to their overall assessment of service quality. This necessitates well-trained employees who are versed in pricing, loyalty program features and benefits, hours of operation, hotel amenities, directions, etc. While job knowledge and efficiency are related to technical training, whether employees are pleasant or willing to expend discretionary effort hinge on their demeanor, personality, and tendencies. These answers don’t come from a training or policy manual. They are coaxed from predictive screening software and behavior-based interview questions.

Evaluate the team’s progress

Most sophisticated businesses have mechanisms in place, beyond financial statements, to evaluate their performance. From surveys that gauge customer satisfaction to employee attitudes and perceptions, there are a variety of tools designed to elicit feedback to improve the customer and employee experience. In this article, I used publicly available feedback from hotel guests posted to Tripadvisor. This type of feedback can supplement a company’s internal customer satisfaction data and lead to product and service quality improvements that may have gone undetected otherwise.

Most businesses want to earn 5-Star reviews from their customers and enjoy the enhanced reputation, loyalty, and financial returns that accompany them. Managers can start by building a business case for improvement, girded by evidence that delighted customers are willing to provide social proof via review sites, have higher return/repurchase rates, and are less price sensitive. Next, they can narrow the focus by concentrating efforts on levers that will have the greatest impact on product and service quality as highlighted in verbatim guest comments. Finally, managers can evaluate the team’s progress by leveraging both internal mechanisms and publicly available sources like Tripadvisor, Google, and Yelp to operationalize sustained rapid improvement.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.

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