Will You Please Stop Trying to Satisfy Your Guests?

By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | February 06, 2011

When it comes to thinking about giving good service, everyone in the hotel business talks about the importance of guest satisfaction. You have to satisfy your guests. You have to conduct surveys asking them, "Are you satisfied with..." Guest satisfaction is your number one goal. Bunk! Baloney! Hogwash!

While satisfaction is certainly better than dissatisfaction, in today's competitive lodging environment, satisfaction doesn't cut it. Merely satisfying your guests will not be nearly enough to keep you growing and prospering over the long run.

Heresy, you might say. In yesterday's way of thinking, that may have been true. But not today. And certainly not tomorrow. If you don't believe me, take a look at what the venerable old dictionary says. Webster tells us that satisfaction means "anything that brings gratification, pleasure, or contentment." It's a short-term thing. But you don't want short-term guests. You want long-term relationships with loyal guests who return many times and then go out and tell or tweet others how great it is to stay at your hotel. So you really don't want satisfied guests; what you really want is delighted guests.

Again, let's turn to venerable old Webster. Delight brings "a high degree of pleasure…it is the power of pleasing, the power of giving great pleasure; it is that which affords rapture." Yeah! That sound more like what you want your guests to feel about staying in your hotel. You want them to be delighted, not just satisfied.

Guest delight is more important than good guest service because it has a different focus. When you focus on providing good service, it is too easy to define it from a managing-the-hotel point of view. It is too technical; too procedural. It's place the amenity package here, or place the pillow there.

What makes delight so powerful is that it cannot be defined from the hotel's point of view. It must be defined from the guest's point of view. To know if your guest is delighted, you have to look at the whole guest experience from his or her perspective. And that, as we all know, it the only point of view that really matters. As my dad used to always tell me, "If you're not seeing what our customers see, you're seeing it wrong." Focusing on delight will force you to see everything that happens in your hotel through the guest's eyes, and that will keep you more in touch with their total experience.

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.