Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

By Steven Ferry Chairman, International Institute of Modern Butlers | October 28, 2008

How does one turn individuals from no matter what culture, country, familial and social background, who follow certain moral codes or not, into the epitome of a British butler and the quintessential service provider? Not a question most people ask, but it is one that has challenged trainers at the International Institute of Modern Butlers and which parallels the task facing trainers around the world trying to bring about some standardized level of high-quality service by employees in their hotels.

We look for those with a service heart, with service experience, with some starting point upon which to hang the service culture established by corporate. And the result is generally mixed, ranging from very good to passable, more often the latter. Perhaps nowhere is it more important to think globally and act locally than in the hospitality industry of a global economy.

Trying to enforce a global model, a same-brand identity in all corners of the world results in the kind of behavior that can rankle with guests: such as having butlers slip notes under guest-room doors at regular intervals reminding guests to use their butlers; or guests being told "It's my pleasure" by every employee in response to the slightest of acknowledgements by the guest. Sometimes, hotel-grading standards enforce this on hotel staff, such as the requirement that the guest's name be used at least three times by each employee. This sounds natural enough when a butler is with a guest for several minutes, but what about the valet, doorman, and bellhop? They have seconds to fit in the mandatory greeting in triplicate, and the guest hears his or her name nine times within the first minute of arrival.

What is happening here is a tendency to put a rule where an individual's judgment should be; to make a rule stand in for the evident lack of ability of individuals to exhibit basic social graces and service functions. But does this not boil down to a failure to bring about an understanding of the principles of social interaction and graces, and of service, and be able to apply them when called for? In other words, as trainers, we seem to have hit a brick wall on having employees think for themselves and act responsibly.

We seem to have fallen for the line that people have to be programmed in the same way that one programs computers or robots. This seems like the only option that works, but the problem is, it does not work beyond a certain level, just like robots. Take the task of training a couple from the Far East as butlers in a private residence in three days. It was not possible, beyond training in certain set actions and phrases, which the couple would then use from then on out, whether or not they were appropriate to the occasion.

Where understanding is lacking, employees will ask earnestly for set patterns to follow. Even though they make very poor robots and have the ability to think intelligently for themselves, they want some stable datum to fall back on in order to deal with the confusion of some situation or in servicing a guest.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.