Responding to Change and Guest Expectations

By Patrick Connolly Chief Customer Officer, Orange Lake Resorts | March 24, 2019

Hospitality is changing more rapidly now than ever before. Although some is driven by the technological advances that enable us to streamline operations and provide better consumer experiences, most has to do with major shifts in consumer tastes and expectations. This constantly evolving baseline is, for the foreseeable future, the new norm.

It's clear that highly personalized service is becoming a standard expectation. With the advent of the internet and so many choices, more and more consumers are saying this is what I want from my stay. A good example is the growing popularity of bringing comfort animals on vacation. This is a trend many of us didn't see only a few years back, but we have to learn to respond positively.

Guests also expect you to know who they are and what they want-especially if they stayed with you in the past. What keeps my team up at night is a business model that includes satisfying owners who buy timeshare, guests who trade into the resorts from exchange partners and rental (virtual hotel) guests.

In one respect, this gives our organization a distinct advantage over traditional hoteliers. We have, and should know our owners and their past experiences with our products. But with the different types of guests we service, each can require different outcomes to satisfy them. While certain rental guests may look for monetary compensation to correct an issue, our owners are looking for us to fix the situation to provide them a better vacation experience.

Hitting Key Targets

A big part of our service success starts with our four key goals and targets: People, Guest Engagement, Responsible Business and Financial Results. These are integral to our service culture and are constantly reinforced. Financial results are purposely listed last, because when you do the first three well, you'll get the financial results you expect.

We also set a high bar for what we call "Guest Love." It focuses on 20 key areas in the guest experience. We cordon off the critical ones that we must hit first. These include things like villa cleanliness, making sure everything in the villa is in working order and a smooth check-in experience.

Furthermore, our "Way of Maintenance" program means we have consistent descriptions of how to maintain a unit, facility and resort. This ensures when one resort manager is talking to another, they are using common language and similar procedures. It's a set curriculum and process to get consistency across the board so we can measure and increase everyone's resort guest scores.

And only guests that rate us eight to ten, on a scale of 1 through 10, are recorded as positive. We know when a resort scores 84% or above, our minimum target, there's no doubt they consider it a fantastic resort. They talk positively about you and write comments about how great your team has performed and how wonderful their vacations are. When you meet those critical guest expectations up front, you take a potential worry off their plates. Guests get right to enjoying their stays, sharing their experiences on social media and becoming consumer advocates for the resort and brand.

It Starts with People

One thing that struck me the most when I arrived at Holiday Inn Club Vacations was how important its people are to the organization. Plus, everyone is reachable at every level of the organization; there are no real statuses that separate us. I believe this is the result of our company's long-held value of doing right by its people and guests. This applies not only to our customers, but also to staff interactions with each other.

Love of resort and brand begins with quality, consistent customer service at every consumer interaction. I strongly feel the only way to get this is to invest heavily in our people at every level. We have some of the most extensive training in the industry, including a big emphasis on teaching leaders how to lead. This makes us much more adept and effective at servicing the ever-changing needs of our guests.

It's ingrained in everything we do. This means my team is well aware of the service expectations we have. They are thoroughly trained on the many nuances-and corresponding solutions to take-when problems arise, and are empowered to turn them into positive guest outcomes.

Keep Solutions Personal, but Have a Backup

We feel the best resolutions occur with the initial conversation with the customer. The only way to assure this is to give your team the tools it needs to effectively do it. But you also have to recognize the challenge of maintaining consistency when resolving issues at the source. When a team member tries to respond or act in a one-off manner from outside the established norms, it can cause issues. This has been especially true for my team as we've more than doubled our resort network and absorbed more than 1,000 operations staff over the last few years.

So we've learned to be more careful and proactive. With social media, curated Facebook pages and more, how my team responds to questions or provide guest recompense will be quickly shared and compared. The key is to get questions or issues that are beyond the front-line team member to a group that can quickly handle them. We have a central service area that's a phone call away. It's filled with highly trained team members who understand the bigger picture and can respond to our owners and guests in a consistent voice.

Team Engagement Matters

Our company's top leadership stays very engaged with our resort operations teams. I'm continually told by our resort teams that they want to be listened to and heard by their corporate leaders. So it's not uncommon to see members from across our C-suite and senior leadership frequently stopping by and vacationing at our resorts with their families. Resorts get to see and talk to them casually, and our leaders are seen as down-to-earth people.

More importantly, our visits are never intended to find fault. Many times it's just to say "thank you, you're doing a fantastic job." And for resorts that are struggling, we'll say "yea, we know that, but we know you'll turn it around." Many times when I visit I hear from resort staff that they are blown away that senior leaders are showing up and listening.

Leaders also hold unscripted town halls on resorts to share what's going on and team members get to ask questions directly to leaders. Plus our annual GM Summit brings together resort leaders from across the company to talk about what we want to accomplish that year, share ideas and discuss some of the bigger things going on. Our company is undergoing many internal changes as we grow. Showing that we are all in this together goes a long way to create trust at every level of our organization.

Attracting & Keeping Great Talent

Attracting good people in this tight hiring economy is challenging. However, I always tell my people we deserve to have a waiting line out there to work for us. A couple of new strategies we've been working on are to enlist the help of our current staff, which is tied to referral programs. We realized that if you have great employees, they are usually hanging around with other great people. So we encourage them to bring in their friends and acquaintances. And who wouldn't love to have their friends work with them at a great company?

We also have many team members that love working here. So we are creating a way for them to record themselves on video talking about how they love Holiday Inn Club Vacations and easily post the videos to social media. And we don't just tell our team members about these programs, we actively encourage them to get involved.

The company also invests in our Academy of Learning and Development, our comprehensive internal training team, plus promotes ongoing learning and job advancement. Within our own service and operations team, we work closely to create targeted training and clearly defined job paths for team members at every level of our organization.

These efforts go a long way to boost retention and create service excellence. And members of our operations and customer support teams are no strangers to receiving ARDA (American Resort Development Association, our timeshare trade association) awards for customer service.

Not Resting on Our Heels

Like many other resorts and hotels, we know we can always improve our service. So we are actively laying the foundation for a new Customer Relationship Management system, as well as revamping how we interact with customers in respect to reservations. This includes contracting with a company at the enterprise level to completely revamp our web experience, where guests are most likely to interact with us first. We are also implementing a custom maintenance software system that will keep track of all issues and things that were ever done for a unit. These efforts will help us better define and manage our customer needs, service delivery and product quality.

However, these are just tools. The most important thing is the people. You can't provide good customer service without great people that are happy about doing it. If you treat people correctly and do the right thing by them, and make it a nice work environment, that will always be the basis to provide great customer service.

Mr. Connolly Patrick Connolly provides strategic vision and leadership for Orange Lake Resorts' operations, guest services and the company's Holiday Inn Club product, managing its development, growth and delivery to more than 125,000 Club members throughout the world. In his role, Mr. Connolly also manages inventory and operations for the growing resort portfolio, as well as customer service and product engagement for more than 340,000 owners and Club members. Mr. Connolly's strategic leadership and initiatives were instrumental in the growth of the company from a single-site timeshare property in 2006 to 28 resort properties located in 14 states today. Patrick Connolly can be contacted at 4073956876 or Please visit for more information. Extended Biography

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