Igniting the Spirit to Serve at the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel Hong Kong

By Simon Hudson Endowed Chair in Tourism & Hospitality, University of South Carolina | April 27, 2014

Hong Kong has long been known as an international business hub, frequented by wealthy businessmen and tourists with the requisite high-end hotels, restaurants and retail. With over 225 hotels and approximately 70,000 rooms, there is considerable competition in the city for visitors and so hotels rely on a variety of differentials to attract and keep their clientele. One of those differentials is customer service. Customer service is more important than ever before, especially during difficult economic times, when customers are looking to increase value for money and are less forgiving of mediocre service. A 2011 study found that seven in ten Americans are willing to spend an average of 13 percent more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service. Three in five would try a new brand or company for a better service experience.

Benchmark hospitality organizations spend considerable time and money teaching a culture value system so that when a situation with a customer arises that is not discussed in the training manual or can't be done by the book, the employee who has learned the culture will know how to do the right thing at that moment, will want to do the right thing, and will be empowered to do so by the organization. These companies know that there is a clear link between training and levels of customer service. Hans Loontiens is General Manager for the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel Hong Kong – a Marriott property on the island. Loontiens understands the critical importance of training, and brings in outside experts - Bob Brown and Cynthia Goins - to enhance customer service training at the five-star hotel which houses 805 rooms and 52 suites over 42 floors. These experts 'provide the icing on the cake' says Loontiens.

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Hotel Driveway

As well as working as a seminar leader and management consultant for restaurants and hotels, Bob Brown is a leading keynote speaker and author. His book, Little Brown Book of Restaurant Success, is an international bestseller which outlines the strategies, tools and techniques he advocates to high-powered customers such as Disney, Ritz Carlton and Hilton as well as Marriott. He was influenced in his early days while working in top restaurants in the US. Cynthia Goins' firm, CJ Goins & Associates, has been working in hospitality for over 30 years. Their mandate is 'passionately exceeding expectations' in order to differentiate a destination with wow factors and emotional connections with customers.

These service experts help Hans Loontien's team develop the real passion and 'Spirit to Serve'. Frontline ambassadors review each day's arrivals in advance, check on any previous comments and react accordingly. 'For example, if a particular female repeat guest needs more recognition - she needs to be given more face – therefore she is met by a senior manager and escorted to her room,' says Loontiens. If any of the arrivals are Platinum members, they will receive their guaranteed room type, access to the Club Lounge and a Platinum gift – all intended to make them feel special.

Wow factors for Renaissance clients include cold bottled water in their valet-parked cars on hot days and coat hangers placed in their cars to hang up jackets. It's like having 'Mom' look after you. If there is a group booking, staff members make efforts to find out about favorite snacks, the boss's beverage of choice and any birthdays in the party – for which they provide cakes. It is not just the managers who can implement this.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

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.