Lip Service Versus Guest Service

By Roberta Nedry President & Founder, Hospitality Excellence, Inc. | October 28, 2008

Consider the following episode which took place at a "full -service" spa. On the agenda: a manicure and a pedicure. When I called to schedule this pampering experience, I was told to plan for two and a half hours. Perfect. I had a three hour window and my toes already were wiggling with excitement. I asked the receptionist to confirm that treatments for me and a companion would begin exactly at noon and be completed by 2:30 pm as we had another engagement. She reassured me they would.

We arrived at noon, our feet already undressed. The receptionist noted our excitement, remembered our time window and let us know our therapists would be with us shortly (always be wary when anyone uses this nebulous phrase!). At 12:25, our therapists came out to greet us. My anxiety was slight at this point. I selfishly wanted all two and a half hours to pamper my feet and hands and knew we had just lost 25 minutes.

Nonetheless, we were led to a private room, seated in comfy armchairs, received herbal tea and water-but then had to wait some more. Our therapists still had to assemble lotions and potions to get the job done and at 12:45, the real treatments began. With increasing anxiety, we began to resent paying full price for the 45 minutes that did not involve our feet or hands.

Although flustered, our therapists reassured us we would be out by 2:30. At 2:55, with tissue still between our toes and polish still wet, we had to leave. Although everyone involved knew of our time restraints, our bill was not ready and had to be redone twice before we could finally leave.

The next day, the spa called us to tell us we owed an additional amount due to a billing error. Amazed, I returned the call and spoke to the spa manager. I relayed how upsetting our experience had been, how the time commitment had been broken during each step, how the service was not even close to satisfactory much less the expectations we were given and how surprising it was to learn that we had to pay even more because of a billing error.

Aghast with my comments, she told me that, in 20 years, no one had ever complained about service at this spa. Although that may be true (though I doubt it), I was not looking for a history lesson and certainly was not feeling any better about my first (and final) experience at this spa.

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Guest Service: Empowering People

Excellent customer service is vitally important in all businesses but it is especially important for hotels where customer service is the lifeblood of the business. Outstanding customer service is essential in creating new customers, retaining existing customers, and cultivating referrals for future customers. Employees who meet and exceed guest expectations are critical to a hotel's success, and it begins with the hiring process. It is imperative for HR personnel to screen for and hire people who inherently possess customer-friendly traits - empathy, warmth and conscientiousness - which allow them to serve guests naturally and authentically. Trait-based hiring means considering more than just a candidate's technical skills and background; it means looking for and selecting employees who naturally desire to take care of people, who derive satisfaction and pleasure from fulfilling guests' needs, and who don't consider customer service to be a chore. Without the presence of these specific traits and attributes, it is difficult for an employee to provide genuine hospitality. Once that kind of employee has been hired, it is necessary to empower them. Some forward-thinking hotels empower their employees to proactively fix customer problems without having to wait for management approval. This employee empowerment—the permission to be creative, and even having the authority to spend money on a customer's behalf - is a resourceful way to resolve guest problems quickly and efficiently. When management places their faith in an employee's good judgment, it inspires a sense of trust and provides a sense of higher purpose beyond a simple paycheck. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.