A push for direct bookings, an increase in loyalty programs, ever-developing technology in the hotel experience, and well-established channels where consumers can voice their opinions. This is what drives the hotelier’s pursuit of delivering a memorable guest experience. Hoteliers are increasingly challenged to stand out, and stand out for good reason.
Therefore, efforts to affect the guest experience are made at every step with the objective of being memorable, increasing guest satisfaction, and ultimately, creating loyal customers. That is, loyal customers who return to the hotel time and time again.
Perhaps the most effective resource is also the most affordable. Hoteliers don’t need to make a huge up-front investment to cover it — they are already paying for it. All they need to do is make it a focus and spend some time crafting it to become an integral part of their hotel service.
I’m talking about the human connection: genuine, open, and thoughtful actions taken by your staff that go the extra mile and stand out in the guest’s memory.
Peter Ducker, Chief Executive of the Institute of Hospitality, gained 35 years of experience in the hotel industry before taking up his position, which he has held since 2013. Considering that he works with the Institute’s members on a daily basis, it’s no surprise that he knows a thing or two about the role of people in hospitality. At the recent Independent Hotel Show, I sat down with him to hear his thoughts on how hotels can master the art of the human connection.
Thank you, Peter, for giving your time today for this interview. Firstly, why do you think the human connection stands out so much?
Because hospitality is about providing experiences and memories. If I buy a cup of coffee I want it prepared with care by a skilled barista. Likewise, I remember the greeting I was given and the little extra touches that improved my stay in a hotel long after I’ve forgotten the size of the TV or the power of the shower.
What areas should hoteliers focus on when striving for the human connection?
Making sure that every staff member understands that they have the opportunity to positively impact on the memory of every guest they come into contact with — even if they’re just walking past in the corridor. Generally, they have something of great value to the hotel guest, but don’t realise it. They live in the destination where the guest is visiting, and handy tips about using local transport, travelling times from point to point, or special “insider knowledge” can make all the difference. A simple “do you have a busy day planned?” is all it takes to open the door to this advice. Though the concierge is the fount of knowledge, so too is the breakfast waiter, the receptionist and the doorman.
Giving guidelines is important, however: don’t offer advice on a subject you don’t know much about, don’t recommend your cousin’s dodgy bar as the coolest venue in town and do think about who you are talking to before you make suggestions.
It seems that establishing a genuine connection with a guest relies upon each staff member taking ownership of the guest experience. How can hoteliers motivate their staff in this sense?
Every hotelier knows that you recruit attitude and train skills. People attracted to our industry tend to be long on emotional intelligence and strong on empathy, so illustrating to them how they can positively influence a guest’s experience and add enjoyment to their stay is in some way motivation enough for most people — we like to help.
What are some easy steps hoteliers can take to get started?
Run informal show-and-tell sessions outlining scenarios in the guest experience and invite suggestions on how to improve upon it.
Talk to guests as they are departing and ask them about the most memorable aspects of their stay.
Lead by example.
Staff training and development can take up a lot of time. How do you suggest hoteliers measure whether their efforts are effective?
The two key metrics are guest satisfaction levels and staff turnover. Thanks to online review sites we now know more about what a guest really thinks about their stay — it’s a rich mine of information about the guest experience.
We all know how costly high staff turnover is, both in cash and in the potential impact on service levels. The best mantra I have ever heard on this topic is “Develop your people so well they can go and get a better job. Treat them so well they don’t want to leave you.”
Hoteliers have to be business people, marketers, operations managers, and now HR experts as well. Where can they find resources to guide them in training their staff effectively?
Developing the full skill set to be a successful hotelier can take a lifetime. In our industry, every day is a school day. Smart leaders know that they need to employ the best people they possibly can, weaker managers tend to employ more mediocre staff. I believe that everyone is ultimately responsible for their own destiny, and should strive to build up the knowledge they need to achieve their goals.
The challenge these days is information overload and the question of who to trust. Obviously, as I run the professional body for our industry with members in senior positions all over the world, this question is one I ponder regularly. We address it by having information available in the format and on the medium that today’s executives need to access it — quite a challenge given that our members span every age from 20 to 80!
We offer a range of Information Services to our members and produce a selection of regular and specialist publications. Increasingly we deliver our collateral online; the key is to be rigorous in ensuring the quality of anything we disseminate — more than anything, hard pressed executives need to know that they have access to a trusted source.
Do you have any final thoughts or parting words of wisdom for our readers?
Every year in every way pressure mounts. There is a never-ending flight-to-quality that drives hotel design, amenities, and facilities; we are ever more demanding of the menu offered to us and the cocktails we are served. I referred earlier to the barista skills — 30 years ago, a coffee was a coffee: black or white; regular or decaf. Now the options are endless. Quite simply, if we don’t keep pace with demand and fashion, we will lose market share. If we don’t invest continually in our staff — our human capital — we mustn’t be too surprised when they leave us high and dry.
Today’s hotelier has to get their head around so many things, but none more important than becoming an expert on “the human condition.”