Brand as Culture: Training in a Transparent World

By Steve McKee President, McKee Wallwork Cleveland | May 31, 2015

Branding used to be something that was thought of as separate and distinct from other corporate functions like finance and operations, and certainly from the HR-centric world of employee training. But as the Internet (and particularly mobile media) has become ubiquitous, brands have been forced to operate in an increasingly transparent world. Today everything is marketing and marketing is everything, which means that corporate culture-and the behaviors it fosters-is as much (or more) a driver of brand perceptions as advertising ever was.

A recent hotel experience of mine illustrates it well. In March my wife and I participated in the Cowtown Half Marathon, one of the biggest events of its kind in the nation. 30,000 runners participate in two days of activities, making it a terrific tourist attraction for the host city, Fort Worth, and all of its downtown hotels. It's such a well-run even that many people return year after year to participate. That should mean good things for the host hotels. Except, perhaps, the one in which we stayed.

It's not because the rooms were small, or dirty, or noisy. They weren't. And it wasn't because of some light construction that made the lobby experience less than ideal. Everybody understands (and appreciates) the need to renovate. It was because of a simple decision made by a hotel staff member.

Our race was slated to start at 7:00 on a Sunday morning, and I figured we would finish up with it and the post-race activities by about 10:30, giving us just enough time to get back to the hotel to clean up and check out by noon. But there was one hitch: an ice storm hit the area in the days leading up to the run that was so bad the organizers considered cancelling the event for the first time ever. After much hand-wringing they decided the show would go on, but that they would delay the start by an hour to allow things to warm up just a bit. We, along with all the other runners, were notified late Saturday afternoon.

No big deal, right? As soon as we learned of the delay we asked the front desk clerk if we could get late checkout-just an hour, mind you. She politely told us that she couldn't make the call, and that we would have wait until morning to request it because they would have to gauge the following night's occupancy.

I thought that was a bit odd. They had to have some sense of their occupancy at that time, and since the following evening was a Sunday (at a downtown-not an airport-hotel) there weren't likely to be many surprises. Even if the hotel was at full occupancy the following evening, and even if other guests were making the same request, a smart general manager would understand the ramifications of the race delay, recognize the opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade, and take the initiative to beef up the next day's crew. But I didn't think it was worth arguing about and I agreed to try again in the morning.

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Coming up in April 2019...

Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.