Sustaining Service Culture That Drives Radical Change

By Naomi Stark President, Stark Service Solutions, LLC | April 12, 2015

Of all the ways that customer service can be sliced and diced, the one fundamental that stands out the most significantly to me is: "Upper management must create a culture where customer service is valued and esteemed, taught and rewarded. Customer experience leaders who can drive this kind of cultural change will radically affect their companies' competitive position and business performance." There is nothing more important in the effort of driving customer service than driving a strong customer service culture. It's the foundation to everything else. Period.

To coin the Southwest slogan, "Without a heart, it's just a machine." Well, without a hospitality culture, it's just a hotel – not hospitality. Hospitality doesn't live in the beds, the breakfast, the Wi-Fi, or the flat screen TVs. Hospitality lives in the people. Culture is to the team, what the flame is to a match: fragile enough to quickly be extinguished, or powerful enough to ignite a wildfire of activity. However, even wildfires can be put out. Fire needs fuel to keep burning, culture is just the same, requiring continuous fuel to keep alive.

The starting point at Stark is based on what we refer to as "The Principle of Reflection":

  • If A=B: Guest Satisfaction ratings are the reflection of the guest's interactions with team members they encounter during their stay.
  • And B=C: Team member interactions with guests are a reflection of their interactions with management.
  • Therefore A=C: Guest satisfaction ratings are a reflection of management's interactions with team members.

So let's ask, "What are we reflecting? What am I reflecting? What is my management team reflecting?" Think about it, if we expect team members to welcome guests with a warm smile, we must first equip them with one by welcoming them with a genuine smile when they come into work. If we expect team members to consistently apply the 10-foot 5-foot rule, we must consistently practice it internally. If we expect team members to use our guests' names, we must first use their name when speaking with them. If we expect team members to communicate with guests professionally, courteously, and in a friendly manner, then we must first do this with them.

All very basic stuff of course, but show me a hotel that consistently practices these things and you'll see terrific scores. Conversely, show me a hotel with poor guest service ratings and note how these are not part of the internal culture. It's very simple, the guest experience is a reflection of the team member experience. This is the essence of the necessity for a strong hospitality culture.

Next, have it squarely in your mind that you have two separate, yet equally important, customers and identify which is your personal primary customer:

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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.