Why the Personal Touch in Hospitality Must Not be Lost

By Amber Fox National Director of Sales, Signature Worldwide | June 11, 2017

Not too long ago, I was researching for a presentation that I needed to deliver during an annual conference for a major hotel brand. The topic was networking and this brand had seen a drop in personal interactive skills of staff at all levels. People in all roles – front desk, sales, even managers and owners - were losing their ability to connect with others due to their reliance on electronic tools. Being in the world of hospitality, where a premium should be placed on service and relationships, this void was seen as critical.

During this research, I came across a study that was conducted by UCLA that I found fascinating. These researchers found that sixth-graders who went five days without even glancing at a smartphone, television or other digital screen did substantially better at reading human emotions than sixth-graders from the same school who continued to spend hours each day looking at their electronic devices.
“Many people are looking at the benefits of digital media in education, and not many are looking at the costs,” said Patricia Greenfield, a distinguished professor of psychology in the UCLA College and senior author of the study. “Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues — losing the ability to understand the emotions of other people — is one of the costs. The displacement of in-person social interaction by screen interaction seems to be reducing social skills.”

The psychologists studied sixth-graders in a nature and science camp. Half the study group used electronic devices and the other half did not. At the beginning and end of the study, both groups of students were evaluated for their ability to recognize other people’s emotions in photos and videos. The children who had been at the camp without their electronic devices performed significantly better at reading facial emotions and other nonverbal cues to emotion, compared with the students who did not take a break from their media devices. “If you’re not practicing face-to-face communication, you could be losing important social skills,” said Greenfield. She said the implications of the research are that people need more face-to-face interaction, and that when people use digital media for social interaction, they’re spending less time developing social skills and learning to read nonverbal cues.

How is this relevant to the hotel business and our sales efforts today? Anyone who has been in a hotel sales office quickly sees the amount of time being spent on filling out RFP’s and sending emails. So what is happening to those traditional sales skills? In some respects, they are drying up. What is the impact to close ratios? Many studies have shown, the further removed the buyer is from the seller, the lower the conversion. Face to face selling to phone interaction to email to RFP or form. Each of these remove the seller one more step from the buyer.

What does this do to the psyche of the sales person? Traditionally sales people have been thought of as outgoing, excelling in communication, and truly enjoying engaging with others. We recently conducted a focus group of some of the top sales leaders in hospitality to establish some priorities for our sales training enhancements. What we heard was that sales people were losing those social skills. Most of their day was filled with completing RFP’s and sending emails. It has become intimidating for them to pick of the phone and make a call. The discussion then progressed to, “Is it really necessary for them to do so anymore?” The sales role has changed so much over the years, what is the best use of their time to generate the most amount of revenue for the company?

I am old enough to remember the days of sales blitzes and cold calling by walking into offices and delivering hot cookies. Backyard marketing, knowing the contacts at businesses located around the hotel, was critical to relationship selling. I also saw the changes as security tightened and many sales leaders shifted to feeling this approach was too folksy, not professional and ineffective. But the biggest shift happened with the influx of mass distribution methods for RFP’s through technology. Suddenly, the leads were pouring in. They may not be hot leads, or even slightly warm, but they had to be responded to all the same. The one size fits all approach was the solution. Create a form, change a few lines and send it out. Factory sales. There was no time to reach out to the neighbors. There was barely time to have a conversation by phone to potential clients. The sales contact was reduced to only the end of the sales cycle. We lost the luxury of all those touch points along the way and after the sale.

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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.