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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Coming up in June 2019...

Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.