Au­then­tic­ity: the need of the hour

Master trainer Mark Dick­in­son dis­cusses a crit­i­cal component lack­ing in our in­dus­try to­day: gen­uine peo­ple

Hospitality News Middle East - - IN THIS ISSUE - done.fyi

There is a beau­ti­ful, award-win­ning 5-star ho­tel in Dubai that says to its cus­tomers, “Wel­come Home!” as they get out of the taxi. Only prob­lem is, what if this is the cus­tomer’s first visit to the ho­tel? How does that make the ho­tel ‘home’? In con­trast, there is a de­light­ful ho­tel in Ph­nom Penh where you are greeted with “Wel­come home” when you re­turn there from your day out. What’s the dif­fer­ence? Care. And a pas­sion for be­ing au­then­tic.

In the first sce­nario, the idea is right, but the ex­e­cu­tion is wrong. Sure, if you are a re­turn­ing cus­tomer it feels good to be wel­comed back, but I strug­gle to equate a world-class ho­tel with home. I don’t want it to be home. I’ve gone there to be away from home. I want to ex­pe­ri­ence a world-class, 5-star ho­tel that cares for me and makes me feel special, pro­vid­ing the ex­tras that don’t gen­er­ally hap­pen at home. While say­ing “Wel­come home” sounds like a good idea in a plan­ning ses­sion in the board­room or gen­eral man­ager’s of­fice, it is not nec­es­sar­ily right when di­rected at cus­tomers.

In the sec­ond sce­nario, “Wel­come home” re­ally works be­cause there is a re­la­tion­ship al­ready in place be­tween the ho­tel and the cus­tomer. The re­turn­ing cus­tomers are al­ready ac­quainted with the ho­tel. How­ever, in this case it is much more dif­fi­cult to ex­e­cute, be­cause the team on duty has to be alert and finely at­tuned to the move­ments of cus­tomers as they check in, then again as they go off prop­erty, and fi­nally, when they re­turn. The big­ger the es­tab­lish­ment, the more dif­fi­cult the task.

Many hos­pi­tal­ity or­ga­ni­za­tions put a tremen­dous amount of ef­fort into the ini­tial im­pact that they have on the cus­tomer at the en­trance to their ho­tel. But per­haps we are now at the point where we have to cre­ate a dif­fer­ent kind of standard; a standard that al­lows staff to em­ploy a va­ri­ety of greetings and use their own per­son­al­ity. But this re­quires deep think­ing; we have to figure out how to make an em­ployee ca­pa­ble of re­act­ing to a cus­tomer from a spe­cific scope of words and us­ing a par­tic­u­lar set of skills. These skills are not easy to learn. What we are ask­ing for is an em­ployee who is aligned with the very core of the busi­ness. This can be done, but it takes time.

The en­emy awaits

Just when you think you have your team where you want them to be, some­one resigns. Turnover kills au­then­tic­ity. Ev­ery time an em­ployee leaves and a new one joins, the col­lec­tive learn­ing of the de­part­ing in­di­vid­ual is gone. The space that they leave be­hind can­not be filled in­stantly by a new per­son. And so, we re­turn to re­ly­ing on the scripts that we give team mem­bers un­til the new em­ployee has mas­tered the con­cept of us­ing a va­ri­ety of ex­pres­sions. There are some very prac­ti­cal and sim­ple ways around this prob­lem that can con­vert an im­per­sonal in­ter­ac­tion into a win­ning one.

Break­fast: The best way to im­press a cus­tomer is by us­ing his or her name. We all have that one unique thing that no one can take away from us; un­til you go to break­fast in a ho­tel that is. As you ar­rive at the door of the restau­rant, the greeter says those ter­ri­ble words, “What is your room num­ber, sir?” and the whole thing crashes down.

Be au­then­tic: talk to cus­tomers by name at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity!

What could we do? Change the whole think­ing process. First, ask em­ploy­ees to refer to each other by num­ber for a few min­utes. They will think you have lost your mind. Then re­mind them that this is ex­actly what they are do­ing with cus­tomers. Now help them to learn this sen­tence, “Good morn­ing sir/madam, how are you this morn­ing?” while smil­ing and paus­ing, be­fore say­ing, “May I know your name please?” The cus­tomer will then re­ply with their name. “Yes, Mr. So-and-so, for how many per­sons this morn­ing?” And away you go. The team mem­ber can then check the cus­tomer’s room num­ber in the data­base, or they may have the waiter ask for the room num­ber when they present the bill. Why do we ask the room num­ber when the cus­tomer ar­rives for break­fast? Be­cause we al­ways have!

Be au­then­tic: take the cus­tomer at his or her word!

Mini-bar: The clas­sic “I don’t trust you” state­ment that ev­ery ho­tel makes. You have just stayed in the ho­tel for five nights and the price was USD 350 per night, so you have pre-paid the ho­tel the best part of USD 2,000. You ar­rive at the front desk to check out and the first thing that they ask you is, “Did you take any­thing from the mini bar?” I weep! Not be­cause they asked, but be­cause of what comes next. The front desk staff then pick up a phone or a walkie-talkie and con­tact some­one to go and check. The to­tal con­tents of the mini bar must be not more than USD 20 at cost, but we have trained our team to make the last ex­pe­ri­ence with the cus­tomer as un­pleas­ant as pos­si­ble. Why not sim­ply take what the cus­tomer has said as fact? If the cus­tomer says they did not take any­thing, then ac­cept it. And if they did, well, it is not the end of the world. You will have cre­ated some good­will.

Cus­tomers, not guests: If you are a hos­pi­tal­ity pro­fes­sional, you have prob­a­bly been read­ing through this ar­ti­cle and won­der­ing why I have been talk­ing about cus­tomers and not guests. The peo­ple com­ing into your busi­ness are pay­ing for what they get. You are not invit­ing them. Cus­tomers pay money. And when they pay money, they ex­pect ser­vices and value for that money. It is time to make a shift in our men­tal­ity. Be­ing au­then­tic is born from em­pa­thy – an un­der­stand­ing that cus­tomers are pay­ing hard-earned money to use your facilities, and that it would make them feel so much bet­ter if they were greeted and served by team mem­bers who are gen­uine and au­then­tic in their ac­tions.

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