Strengthening the Guest Service Workforce in the Sharing Economy

By Kevin Wilhelmsen Dean, University of Phoenix School of Business | November 15, 2015

As more startups such as Uber and AirBNB emerge and utilize mobile platforms to infiltrate the market, the consumer is in the driver seat. This means high stakes for the hotel industry; guests won't return or refer others if their experiences do not meet or exceed expectations. With these challenges also come opportunities. Organizations that deliver exceptional customer experiences can earn loyalty and brand champions who will post positive reviews and engage in social media about their experiences – introducing a brand to new customers or reinforcing it with existing customers.

The channels constantly evolve, but people are still the key to winning in today's service economy – something that has not changed in more than a century. The hospitality industry was founded on people, and technology will never replace an exceptional in-person customer service interaction. The key is to develop a culture in which both work in tandem.

In a world where customers expect a high level of service, but also the ability to use technology to make travel simple, the right training is critical to bridging the gap. Employees who are charged with delivering exceptional guest experiences, need to understand the experiences customers have with the brand in multiple channels. This will make not only make them more empathetic and knowledgeable, but also empower them to use critical thinking skills. Training is not just about a specific set of skills or experiences because one cannot anticipate every scenario; it is about empowering employees to make good decisions informed by company values and culture.

This was reinforced when I recently attended the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) national conference. I had the opportunity to connect with many hospitality leaders and hear first-hand about their emphasis on complementing technology, amenities and other offerings with strong customer-centric cultures. The individuals I spoke with collectively felt their organizations had made great strides in creating strong customer service cultures, but were challenged to find and retain individuals who were suited for long-term careers in hospitality and delivering customer service in the new economy. In other words, in order to deliver on the customer service promise, many see the need to strengthen their own employment brands and the overall perceptions of career opportunities in hospitality.

These leaders also shared a desire to upskill their current workforces to help them continue to grow professionally and with the brands. Their organizations have struggled with a lack of consistency across the industry in training and education standards.

Given all of these dynamics, how can employers build highly-skilled pipelines of professionals who can handle the new complexities of the hospitality industry, constantly grow in their roles and remain enthusiastic customer service ambassadors?

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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.