Employing Charitable Causes: Build a Better World and a Better Business

By Steven Belmonte CEO, Vimana Franchise Systems LLC | November 08, 2008

In the never ending quest to gain market share in a highly competitive business, hoteliers are, unfortunately, being seduced into what I call the "amenity game" to build and secure a form of loyalty with customers. An example of this game is when Hotel Brand X puts coffee makers in every room, then Hotel Brand Y feels the need to 'up the ante' with automatic pant pressers. While the seduction for fancy gadgets or basic amenities is an enticing lure, customers today are still not fully satisfied with self-indulgent benefits. According to studies, they feel a need to do more - to make a difference in the world.

The global and information community is getting smaller via the Internet, travel, and abundance of media outlets. As a result, the awareness of the plight of the needy, sick, environment, and endangered species is more acute. Therefore, it's not surprising that many times when a customer is deciding between hotels that offer similar products, the tie-breaker most often isn't the state-of-the-art fitness center but the hotel's program that is making a difference in the world. An example would be those that are directly supporting global welfare initiatives, green issues, and/or health research programs.

The consumer marketplace is being transformed by a generation of socially-aware individuals who would like to see companies they patronize and work for take the lead in making the world a better place. Surveys have long validated the growing power of the baby boomer generation, and businesses should not dismiss those unique wants and needs. On top of that, the younger Generation Y members are voicing their desire to embrace causes they are passionate about. To the hotelier, this means that guests and employees want a promise of social vision and to be a part of a brand that advocates social improvement.

That promise is generally referred to as strategic philanthropy, or, corporate giving; that is, when a company makes a long term investment in the cause that not only does good in society, but also enhances the company's reputation with key audiences. Some forms of strategic philanthropies are already engrained in the public's consciousness - such as the eponymous Ronald McDonald House and McDonalds Restaurants; environmental causes and Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream; and Home Depot's involvement with Habitat for Humanity. Those carefully selected charities are a logical extension to those companies' primary businesses.

The megahit Hollywood movie, Field of Dreams, provided us with the cherished line "if you build it, they will come." In many instances, the adage is dubious at best. We all know that building a hotel or restaurant does not mean people will instantly start flocking to it. However, in the cases where businesses are already built and established, the movie line couldn't be truer. Many hotels that have embraced a form of strategic philanthropy are not only building a better business, but a better world at the same time.

Joining forces with a charity and putting the weight of the brand behind the philanthropic mission should be a no-brainer for hoteliers. I truly believe that 99.99% of guests can relate to charitable endeavors, regardless of the cause. Here's an example of how interconnected consumers are with charitable causes:

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.