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What You Must Do to Create a Hotel Experience Based on Service
at the Level of Creating Truly Memorable Experiences? 
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By Peter McAlpine, May 2006

It is inevitable that more and more hotels will try to upgrade their service to the level of creating truly memorable experiences (CTME). Some will succeed better than others. In my opinion, the hotels or hotel groups which succeed the most will be those that focus on ALL four of the following areas, and not just on the first two, and do so the quickest:

  1. Experience-creating technology
  2. Actions that create memorable experiences
  3. Aligning the hotel’s systems and processes with the concept of CTME
  4. The core spiritual values of customer service
I can only touch on these areas briefly here.

1.  Experience Creating Technology

This is the easiest area and unfortunately, I think it will become the main battleground on which hotels and hotel groups will compete in order to create memorable experiences. 

Technology can turn emotionless aspects of a guest’s stay into a memorable experience. For example, take the limousine journey from the airport to the hotel. If you’re lucky, the car driver has a small choice of CDs for you to listen to, though you may not like any of them.  However, one hotel in Singapore, however, has karaoke screens in one limousine while the Conrad Bangkok has an I-Pod station in its limousines. This will no doubt evolve into virtual reality headsets becoming a standard feature of a hotel limousine.  

I’d like to see imaginative use of different colours and types of lighting to create different feelings; more use / availability of aromatherapy oil burners to stimulate the senses; and creative use of music and the sounds of nature to touch people’s hearts. In city hotels too. I don’t see CTME as only being for resorts.

Technology and physical items can help to create memorable experiences, but to me, technology only supports and enhances a hotel experience at the level of CTME. A hotel’s main focus should be on creating memorable experiences by developing the warmth and creativity of the service staff. I fear that CTME could deteriorate into a struggle for dominance in the area of technology. 

2.  Actions That Create Memorable Experiences

I think that this will be the other area where the focus will be as hotels try to make a guest’s stay a memorable experience. This is an area of great fun where the staff’s imagination should be allowed to run wild with passionate abandon! There are so many ways to create a memorable experience, but I feel sure that many hotels will fail here because of inflexible procedures and because of having to follow sterile and emotionless (corporate?) standards. 

Creating memorable experiences requires that staff can make spontaneous decisions without having to fill in a request form; or wait for the Supervisor or Manager to become available to approve an action. They should be able to “Just Do It!”, Nike style, without fear of retribution if things go wrong, as they will do sometimes. 

Can your restaurant staff give away a rose to couples (or single guests) of their choice during or at the end of a meal? Would they dare to go to a couple during the dessert and say, “Because you’re such a lovely couple, I’d like to give you this rose.” 

There are no rules for this kind of service. It has to have a strong spontaneous element or else it will become routine and lose its emotional value, like a Guest Appreciation Programme or … the hotel birthday cake.

Let your staff try things out. Even give them a “license to charm”. For example, a Waiter could go to a couple at a table and say to the man, “Excuse me, (name). There’s a telephone call for you over here.” When you are both out of sight of the table, give him a rose to give to his lady friend / wife, and encourage him to give it to her in a romantic way. Of course, he has got to play the game by saying to her that he had ordered it. For sure, she won’t forget the experience, and who makes most buying decisions nowadays? Men or women? Perhaps for the cost of a rose, you will have more loyal customers.

Corporate standards may be an obstacle, however. The lift is an example. How many of you find a hotel lift journey to be a memorable experience? It’s usually a place of deadly silence with people afraid to even look at each other, let alone talk to each other. Piped in music doesn’t change things. A TV screen tuned to CNBC certainly doesn’t. Surely nobody thought it would!??

Think … how can you get people from different races, religions, nationalities, and backgrounds to laugh together in the sterile and silent atmosphere of a 5-star hotel lift while going from the Lobby even just to the 5th floor? … One hotel wanted to install a flat TV screen with a continuous slide show of funny pictures, but corporate office would not approve the idea because it conflicted with their brand standards for a lift!  Another hotel wanted to install a DVD player and TV screen in its limousines for the long journey from the airport, but corporate office would not allow it! … Do you see what I mean? 

3.  Aligning the Hotel’s Systems and Processes With the Concept of CTME

Now we arrive at the first of the areas where success in CTME becomes a lot of work and requires a lot of change. If you ignore this area, I don’t think you will achieve the level of service and experience involved in CTME.

So … let’s suppose that you want to upgrade your customer service to this level and you want the service to be infused with love, care, warmth, empathy, and creativity. What will you have to do?

a) Review Your Core Values: 

The hotel / Corporate Office will have to review its core values. If you look at  the websites of hotels and hotel groups, you will struggle to find any that openly  support this kind of service and the core values of love, warmth, care, empathy,  and creativity. 

Are you willing and brave enough to state publicly that your organization aims to exemplify love, care, warmth, empathy, and creativity? Indeed, why is it so hard  for a hotel or corporate office to use the word “love”?  I imagine corporate office people whispering to each other at the water cooler: “Don’t tell anyone, but I said the word loh … loh… love this morning! I didn’t mean to … it sort of slipped out … You won’t tell anyone, will you?” 

Doesn’t love belong right up there amongst quality, innovation, excellence, respect, etc.?  Indeed, isn’t showing and feeling love for fellow human beings not a part of the essence of true hospitality?

In my opinion, if you are not willing to support all 5 of these values boldly and  openly, then I don’t think your service will truly reflect the nature of service at the level of CTME. Care on its own isn’t enough.

b) Align Your Systems, Processes etc. With the New Level of Service

I foresee many hotels and hotel groups ignoring this one because of the amount of work it entails. When you upgrade to CTME, you’re moving the goalposts, and you have to adapt your HR systems, procedures, and such like so that they are aligned with it and support it. 

Every HR system may have to be adapted or reconstructed to support the new direction in the service. For example, create a continuous performance appraisal system that also evaluates the staff on each of the core values. Align the rewards & recognition system with the core values. Create new awards, such as “The Most Loving, Caring, and Creative Team of the Month”. You can even adapt the Employee of the Month award accordingly, if you still use that award.

Noticeably missing from the Singapore Tourism Board’s recent GEMS awards is the award for “The Most Loving, Warm, Caring, and Creative Hotel Experience”. 

Why are people so afraid to talk in these terms when it is what guests want?

c) Modernize the HR Department
 
You cannot afford to have a traditional Human Resources department that is focusing on its administrative and staff-processing functions. It should be a centre of inspiration for the hotel; the impetus behind the upgrade in service; the water of life for the staff. The HR Manager and Training Manager should not be hiding in their air-con offices, but rather they should be out on the floors, attending briefings and meetings to inspire the staff with stories that exemplify the core values; and praising the staff when they show love, care, etc. 

While you’re at it, change those awful names, “HR Department”, HR Manager /  Director, and Training Manager. They belong to the Customer Satisfaction era.  Replace HR with a Centre of Inspiration or something like that because that is  what it should be doing if you are going to upgrade your hotel experience. 

Also, you don’t upgrade to CTME by training people in skills and knowledge alone. You also need to work on the staff’s hearts and develop capacity as well. This goes beyond training and learning, so the name “Training Department” no longer works.

d) Make “Training” an Emotional Experience
 
I don’t recommend for service at this level the style of training that works mainly  through the rational part of the brain. If you want the staff to exude love, care, warmth, and empathy, the materials and activities have got to work through the  right side of the brain and touch their hearts and even bring tears to their eyes. 
 
Use a lot of moving stories and music in your workshops mixed in with the service input and practice activities / role plays. Also experiment with combinations of music and stories for greater effect.  

e) Change the many procedures that stifle creativity. 

Staff come up with so many ideas for creating experiences, but they often say that they can’t do them because of rules and procedures. The solution here is simple.

f) Leadership Must be Inspirational
 
Apart from exemplifying the core values, team leaders have got to be like a fountain of enthusiasm and passion so that their leadership style supports CTME. They should be the wind beneath the wings of their staff. I remember sitting opposite an air hostess as the plane took off. She looked so glum! I asked her what happened in the pre-flight briefing, and she said that it was a very serious affair and that some people were scolded too. The consequences of that style of inspiration were very apparent.

4.  The Core Spiritual Values of Customer Service.

This may be the hardest area for hotels to develop because you can’t develop people in the core values in the same way as with skills and knowledge. It would take too much more of your time to explain this in detail here. (Refer to 3d).

The hotel experience at this level of service has to become like a handkerchief dipped into water and dripping with water. The handkerchief represents the services and facilities while the water represents the 5 core values. The more the hotel experience is dripping with love, care, warmth, empathy, and creativity, the more successful the hotel will be, and the easier it will be to progress to the higher level of customer service that CTME will evolve into.

The core values of love, care, warmth, empathy, and creativity should be like a golden thread that runs through every interaction, standard, and process so that the hotel experience becomes almost unreal. The intensity of these intangible core values should be almost tangible.

I think that you will know if you are succeeding in creating this level of service when you see it in the eyes, smile, and general body language of your staff; when the core values become a regular topic in the morning senior management meetings; and when the guest feedback refers regularly to the level of warmth.  

If I were the CEO of a hotel group or even the GM of a hotel, I would be asking my leaders and staff every day:

  • “What did you do to increase the spirit of love, care, warmth, and empathy in your department yesterday?”
  • “What truly memorable experiences have you created today?”
These are the sorts of questions that leaders should be asking every day. 

I realize that all this may sound very idealistic and hairy fairy, but you really can create a hotel experience like this if you want to. Why bother with anything less? The concept of service will become a way of doing business, and hopefully banish customer satisfaction to the museums of the hospitality industry where it belongs. 

The days have gone when it was enough just to provide fast and efficient service, and to show courtesy and respect. Even some pizza companies are moving on from that! People everywhere face many problems and worries each day - marital and family problems, pressure at work, loneliness, frustrated dreams, money problems, low self-esteem, etc. People need and want to experience love, care, warmth, empathy, and creativity when they stay at a hotel, even though they might not write this on their comment card.

Achieving this level of service and guest experience involves an awful lot of work. You have to change the way you are used to training. You also have to align all your systems, job descriptions, procedures, leadership style, etc., with the concept of service. But if you do so, and combine it with relevant technology, aromatherapy oils, lighting, sounds, and music, then you will transform your guests’ hotel experience to something truly memorable. 

Bear in mind that this level of service will be the foundation for what customer service will evolve into – service and a hotel experience that fulfill the guests’ dreams!  



Peter McAlpine is the Senior Consultant at Renaissance Consulting Ltd. in Bangkok. The company specializes in pre-opening 5-star city hotels and resorts at the level of creating truly memorable experiences; upgrading customer service to this level; and inspiring hotel staff. If you would like the full article, please e-mail Peter at info@renaissanceconsultingltd.Com
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Contact:

Renaissance Consulting Ltd.
99/192 Mubahn Place and Park
Soi 90, Tanon Pracha Uthit
Ampheur Prasamuthchedi
Samuthprakarn, Thailand
Tel/Fax: +66-2-461-5164; +66-7-054-8813
E-mail: info@renaissanceconsultingltd.com

Also See: What is Customer Service Like at the Level of Creating Memorable Experiences; How Do You Create It? What Does it Look Like? / Peter McAlpine

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