Great Hotels Rely On Great Communications!
By Mark Ricketts President & Chief Operating Officer, McNeill Hotel Company | December 22, 2019
Can you hear me? More importantly, do you understand me? Also, am I truly listening to what you have to say?
Each of us in hospitality must be skilled at all forms of communications, the formal and the informal; directly speaking with someone (Remember that?), as well as the myriad forms of modern electronic communications, from texting and emails and postings on web sites to multimedia presentations.
Many electronic forms of communication, in particular, are deceptively simple. They have their own rules for being effective and are prone to misunderstandings, perhaps, more so than when we speak directly with each other.
Witness the incivility and mixed messages we often find on Internet social media and forums of all types. Did the sender really control their intended message? Are they saying what they meant to? Would we say the same thing if we talking with the audience in the real world in the flesh?
We all know of the countless examples of tweets gone sour. And who hasn't been guilty at some time in their life of speaking without thinking. Moreover, how we communicate with the media; our community and brand partners, vendors and service people; our guests and with those inside of our organization goes a long ways towards achieving everyday effectiveness and fulfilling our core mission and philosophy.
This article will examine important principles of and approaches to communications, as we discuss how hospitality organizations at all levels can be great communicators. For, to excel in hospitality also means excelling in communications.
Cutting Through the Clutter
Perhaps a useful analogy is one form of communications, visual images. During the course of any day, most of us see thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of these silent impressions. Let's start with the clothes we choose to wear to for the day to the signs we see along the road, to the menu in the coffee shop, to the papers on our desk, to the face of our computer screen. You get the idea. It is a credit to our image processing system, the human brain, that we don't shut down from sensory overload. It can be tough for a sender's message or intent to get through all the traffic.
The same thing is happening with written communications these days. Texting, emails and e-letters, paper mail, blog posts, web sites, that memo from corporate. It's a never-ending barrage of information. In many ways, the Internet has spurred a new kind of literacy; folks are reading and writing more, including in newfound informal ways. However, there is a deluge of content and its authenticity is always an issue.
On the positive side, our corporate communications are being improved and enhanced in many ways through multimedia approaches, whether it's direct videoconferencing through a corporate network or the many forms of web conferencing like UberConference or GoToMeeting. Here, we can combine the spoken word with charts, bullet points and other written materials to support and extend the communication in real-time collaboration. Show and tell.
A Matter of Tone
Regardless, one of the keys to effective communications is understanding and mastering the concept of tone. Vocal quality, inflections, pauses, change in pitch and loudness, body language all contribute to the message when we speak directly to another person. However, so much of today's organizational communication comes "through the computer or smart phone." Sure, we have those cutesy emojis, but they are also subject to misinterpretation. Is this how we want to conduct a business?
Also, gaps in communication can be deafening. Whenever we stop communicating, we leave the meaning of the pause open to guesswork, often of the negative variety. Staying in regular contact with those under our supervision with messages of genuine support goes a long way in eliminating doubt, while earning continued attentiveness. Don't give anyone on staff the silent treatment.
Both within and outside of our organization, we must strive to interact with each other in a more civil, understanding manner. For example, when we send an email or respond to a voice mail message, would we be comfortable if our response were printed on the front page of the newspaper or splashed across a corporate newsletter or web site. We need to always consider the possible consequences of our communications before we hit the Publish or Send button. Words do have consequences.
A Role for Training
Our hospitality training and orientation programs aren't meant to duplicate secondary or college education and classes in grammar or composition. However, they should establish guidelines for communications to respective audiences, including policies about participating in social media and how individual properties are to respond to online reviews.
Additionally, continuing education in communications should be included and encouraged in the organization's continuing training programs and career progression tracks. Poor communication skills could impede career development and reasonable organizations will do as much as possible to prevent that from happening.
These needs are highlighted in an industry where many staff speak and write English as their second language or where some older workers may not be as adept with the newer world of multimedia. Thus, as in so many other areas of business, there is a cultural sensitivity aspect to communications. Nor do we want to eliminate the available pool of strong candidates for staff through communications issues.
Focus on Communicating with Each Other Within the Organization
Like other worthwhile pursuits, with communications, practice can help make things perfect. There are many regular activities within the hospitality team that support organizational messages and cultivate communications skills.
These include daily huddles, where hotel management gathers their team together every morning or before a new shift for a quick meeting. This practical meeting could review how to speak with guests, review upcoming groups or key individuals staying at the hotel, alert staff to construction or maintenance projects in progress, update brand standards and incentive programs, or look at Guest Satisfaction results and Guest Surveys.
The last item is a great time to give special recognition to an associate complimented on a survey or for management to give praise to a deserving staff member. The daily huddle is also an opportunity to rotate short assigned presentations among staff, helping them to help grow more confident in speaking to a group; or a different staff member could be assigned to host each huddle and be responsible for its content.
Other initiatives to support communication within the group and grow the speaking and writing skills of staff include weekly staff meetings, especially with respect to discussing in an open manner any guest or property issues; a corporate newsletter; monthly associate celebrations, another excellent time for staff recognition; and the organization's web site and password protected Internet portal, which allows staff to review corporate policy, complete training updates or access human resources functions.
One last tip: many of us still believe in the intimacy of a hand-written note. A great example is having executives from the home office send a hand-written note (Snail mail, anyone!) with personalized comments to a property manager after a visit. Such gestures will be long treasured.
Focus on Getting Closer to Guests
Let's face it, in today's technology-driven world, in addition to brand and individual property guest surveys, the customer can offer immediate feedback on her or his experience at our hotels. More importantly, the feedback is available to everyone. In the past, our guests may have written a letter, completed a written guest survey or made a telephone call to share their comments. Now, everyone with access to the Internet can be made aware of such feedback on multiple travel or social media web sites. The potential audience is in the thousands, sometimes millions. Rate, comment and subscribe.
We welcome feedback, but how can we "answer back" in a way that fosters rapport?
Some useful approaches include taking advantage of the help most of the brands now give us through regularly updated summaries of guest satisfaction surveys, as well as comments on social media sites like Trip Advisor, Twitter or Facebook. We can review comments and respond accordingly, doing our best to patch up, as needed, any unsatisfactory experience reported by a customer.
Another valuable approach is to chat up guests. Some hotels might make a quick call to a guest after check-in to make sure that everything is going well. Others call the guest the night before they check out. Of course, the newest trend is to text guests before they even arrive on property, thanking them for choosing our hotel and asking if they have any special requests. Breakfast is also a great time to interact with guests. Staff from other departments can help assigned breakfast staff to clean tables or pour coffee, as we get closer to our guests. Open-ended questions like "Are you enjoying your stay," or "If we could add one thing at the hotel, what would it be?" are great conversation starters.
Our Ultimate Communication Goal: Building Bridges
As organizations grow, the lines of connection between each other, our brand partners, our investors, our vendors and service people, our host communities and our guests can become stretched, maybe frayed. Strong and secure communications reinforce our purpose, which is to help all of us to be successful, personally, professionally and financially.
Within the organization, building bridges certainly begins, as suggested earlier, with stronger communication. By talking more frequently, we help create and sustain a culture of trust, breaking down any walls of misunderstanding or suspicion.
Great leaders are great communicators. So must be those who follow them and translate the organization's mission statement - and business plan - into real world action.
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