Mystery Shopping Makes Training a Daily Occurrence

By Dan Denston Executive Director, Mystery Shopping Providers Association - North America | April 15, 2012

Bill Marriott, Jr. famously espouses a philosophy of "management by walking around;" he visits about 250 of his company's properties a year and interacts with customers and employees. Given the size of his company, this level of attention to the "front lines" of the Marriott operations illustrates the importance of paying close attention to the details of the customer experience.

He also penned "Twelve Rules for Success," which give us quick reminders about delivering great customer service to drive the bottom line. Most of them serve as guide posts by which detailed, but nimble mystery shopping programs can bolster that customer service delivery and your brand promise. Training is not just an overarching program or set of protocols to be followed; training is a moving target upon which your eyes should be fixed. And by remembering Mr. Marriott's rules, mystery shopping can help you deliver – and exceed - the customer service levels that truly are the lifeblood of your properties.

Customer needs may vary, but their bias for quality never does

The focus on quality customer service is greater in hospitality than any other industry. Poor customer service is often overlooked in a restaurant with a star chef or a creative theme. Department stores thrive despite spotty performance by associates. But hotels have no choice but to engage the guest, make them feel special.

The choice of the word "bias" is interesting in this rule, and emphasizes what guests expect. Guests often arrive weary and grumpy and any small inconvenience, wait, or confusion compounds that frustration. Combine that with a "bias for quality" and industry professionals have a very demanding task.

"Hotels make a huge investment to create traffic and drive it to the door," says Arcadio Roselli, Service Evaluation Concepts, Inc.. "And hotels spend a fortune on their image, on their brand. If these two significant investments are not aligned you don't have a fighting chance. You can't manage what you can't measure. Mystery shopping measures whether the traffic hotels drive in the door is in alignment with the customer expectation of quality --- whatever it is that brand is promising. And that all comes down to an assessment of a property's training."

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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.