Sustaining Service Culture That Drives Radical Change

By Naomi Stark President, Stark Service Solutions, LLC | April 12, 2015

Of all the ways that customer service can be sliced and diced, the one fundamental that stands out the most significantly to me is: “Upper management must create a culture where customer service is valued and esteemed, taught and rewarded. Customer experience leaders who can drive this kind of cultural change will radically affect their companies’ competitive position and business performance.” There is nothing more important in the effort of driving customer service than driving a strong customer service culture. It’s the foundation to everything else. Period.

To coin the Southwest slogan, “Without a heart, it’s just a machine.” Well, without a hospitality culture, it’s just a hotel – not hospitality. Hospitality doesn’t live in the beds, the breakfast, the Wi-Fi, or the flat screen TVs. Hospitality lives in the people. Culture is to the team, what the flame is to a match: fragile enough to quickly be extinguished, or powerful enough to ignite a wildfire of activity. However, even wildfires can be put out. Fire needs fuel to keep burning, culture is just the same, requiring continuous fuel to keep alive.

The starting point at Stark is based on what we refer to as “The Principle of Reflection”:

  • If A=B: Guest Satisfaction ratings are the reflection of the guest’s interactions with team members they encounter during their stay.
  • And B=C: Team member interactions with guests are a reflection of their interactions with management.
  • Therefore A=C: Guest satisfaction ratings are a reflection of management’s interactions with team members.

So let’s ask, “What are we reflecting? What am I reflecting? What is my management team reflecting?” Think about it, if we expect team members to welcome guests with a warm smile, we must first equip them with one by welcoming them with a genuine smile when they come into work. If we expect team members to consistently apply the 10-foot 5-foot rule, we must consistently practice it internally. If we expect team members to use our guests’ names, we must first use their name when speaking with them. If we expect team members to communicate with guests professionally, courteously, and in a friendly manner, then we must first do this with them.

All very basic stuff of course, but show me a hotel that consistently practices these things and you’ll see terrific scores. Conversely, show me a hotel with poor guest service ratings and note how these are not part of the internal culture. It’s very simple, the guest experience is a reflection of the team member experience. This is the essence of the necessity for a strong hospitality culture.

Next, have it squarely in your mind that you have two separate, yet equally important, customers and identify which is your personal primary customer:

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Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.