How to Prevent Your Hotel Employees from Becoming Another Steven Slater

By John T. Bowen Dean & Barron Hilton Distinguished Chair at the Conrad N. Hilton College, University of Houston | July 24, 2011

Steven Slater bid farewell to the passengers on his flight, including an explicit message to the passenger who disobeyed his request to return to her seat. He then grabbed a couple of beers, activated the emergency slide, and escaped down it. And as if nothing had happened, he got in his car parked at the airport and drove home. The really incredible element of this story is that he was able to get to his car and drive home without being stopped. That does not speak well for airport security. The incident also has relevance for hotel executives.

This story ignited a national discussion about employees in the service industry. Bloggers were praising Steven Slater for what he did, whereas others claimed that he was not a hero, but rather a weak employee who could not cope with a rude customer. One blogger stated that if he could not handle a rude guest, he should not be working as a flight attendant. There did not seem to be a consensus on whether he was a hero or a jerk. There was, however, a lot of discussion on how employees should handle rude customers.

Stew Leonard became an icon for extraordinary customer service after opening Stew Leonard's supermarkets in Norwalk Connecticut in 1969. He had two rules: 1. The customer is always right. 2. If the customer is ever wrong, re-read rule #1. I do not believe the customer is always right. In fact, in some cases, we have to fire our customers. This certainly differs from Stew Leonard's message, and these two opposing opinions is one of the reasons why there is no consensus on Steven Slater's role as a hero. This article offers suggestions on how to prevent your lodging employees from becoming another Steven Slater.

First, a good employee selection process is critical. Finding employees who are good at creating a positive service experience is a vital goal and major hiring criterion of lodging organizations. Customer contact requires service employees to display more initiative, cope more effectively with stress, be more interpersonally flexible and sensitive, and be more cooperative than their colleagues who work in the manufacturing industry. This means that service firms place more emphasis on personality, energy, and attitude than on education, training, and experience in their recruitment, selection, and training strategies.

Finding employees who can create a positive service experience is a vital goal and major hiring criterion of service organizations. Careful selection can also have a positive effect on the employees who are hired because they feel special. Adam Hassan, a Ritz Carlton boiler operator, explains: "When people take so much time to select you, you really want to prove they made the right choice. So if I see anything unusual I take care of it."

Bell and Anderson, two service management experts, state:

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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.