Hotel Check Up: Is Your Hotel Out of Tune?

By Steven Belmonte CEO, Vimana Franchise Systems LLC | January 12, 2010

I'd like to preface my article with a story about Count Basie, the great jazz pianist. He once told an owner that he would never play in his night club again because the piano was so badly out of tune. A month later the owner called Basie and said come back, it's fixed. Basie showed up, sat down, played a few bars and slammed the key cover down in disgust. He said, "This is worse. What did you do to this piano?" "I had it fixed," said the indignant club owner. "What do you mean you had it fixed? What did you do to it?" asked the Count. "I had it painted" was the answer.

Suffice it to say, a lot of hotel owners can probably identify with this story. No matter how much paint is used or the color of the paint, it doesn't help if the hotel is out of tune. I'd like to elaborate a bit about what I consider to be the two greatest broken components that need to be tuned in our industry - personnel and marketing.

Putting an End to the Revolving Door Syndrome

I'm amazed at the current turn-over rate at a majority of hotels. It's almost as though the personnel department is like a revolving door. Instead of offering career development for leaders, hotels tend to be offering jobs for lackeys. It's my opinion that there seems to be a real disconnect between hotel owners and their staff. Throughout my career I have been approached by a multitude of owners who would brag to me that they hired a general manager for a pittance wage. On top of that, they would be tickled pink because they were able to schedule the GM to pull a shift or two at the front desk.

It is mind-boggling to hear of these situations where those hired to be the face of the hotel are treated with little respect. The low wage may be a cost-saving method in the beginning, but in the long haul, it will end up being very costly for the owners. The old adage 'you get what you pay for' couldn't ring any truer in this case. Without a true investment in a general manager, the potential for poor customer service becomes a real threat. Hotel owners and their general managers set the culture of their hotel. In essence, they establish the tone and the environment in which the employees operate. Without a positive vibe to be sent out to guests and patrons, the hotel is destined to be a shell of its potential.

While a quick paint job in this case is the constant hiring of general managers at a low wage, the real problem, in my opinion, that needs to be tuned is the reminder and realization that we are in the people business. Without a general manager that is fully-invested in creating solutions, all the expenditures and marketing and sales efforts will not give hotel owners a full return on their investment.

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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.