The Importance of Facetime in an Increasingly Digital and Disconnected Hospitality Landscape
By Clifford Ferrara Executive Vice President of Sales & Revenue Generation, Chesapeake Hospitality | June 09, 2019
The hospitality business has long been about personal attention and human interaction. For almost as long as hotels have existed, winners and losers have been defined largely by who can make guests feel welcomed and wanted. The warm smile, the firm handshake, and the friendly greeting have traditionally been critical arrows in the quiver of hotel professionals. Hotel owners and operators have long made it a point to address guests by name, and have trained their front desk and sales staff in the age-old art of face-to-face engagement with guests and professional partners.
Long before it was an app, facetime was a practice that was considered an essential part of running a successful hotel. That emphasis on facetime may be waning, however. New tools and technologies have led to new priorities and practices: many of which either ignore or place less of an emphasis on personal engagement. And with a new generation of young talent entering the hospitality workforce, that depersonalization trend is accelerating.
Hotel owners and operators are wrestling with the troubling irony that, at a time when technical marvels and new digital dimensions have opened up thrilling new frontiers, we are unwittingly closing doors that need to remain open if we want to get the most out of our personnel and our properties. In other words: even as we become more connected, we are drifting apart in fundamental ways. As a result, members of your sales team may not be making the most of their opportunities.
Even as hotel sales professionals are learning to do things at scale and to use digital/technological tools in exciting new ways, it's important not to lose sight of the fact that old fashioned facetime still goes a long way. Establishing, building and maintaining personal relationships-and using the power of facetime and personal engagement to make connections that translate to a very real and impactful bottom-line difference-is just as important as ever. Understanding why facetime is becoming a lost art (and appreciating why it can make such a significant difference for hotel professionals) is a critical first step in reestablishing and leveraging the power of personal engagement in your own property or properties.
The Tech Disconnect
Today, the hotel industry is benefitting from a transformative wave of powerful and exciting new digital technologies. Our collective ability to more efficiently and effectively market properties, strategically set rates, and book rooms has never been more sophisticated. But the innovation that flows from those new technologies-along with the proliferation of social media platforms and the ubiquity of personal mobile devices-is also having a dramatic impact on the way business conducted. It's fundamentally changing the way we communicate and connect with core audiences and professional partners (not to mention fellow employees-but that is perhaps a topic for another time).
A sizable and rapidly expanding percentage of people today "speak" to and with each other through digital media. Fewer conversations are held in person, and fewer connections are made face to face. Tools like texting, email and instant messaging have seen explosive growth in popularity and utility, and the majority of today's workforce communicates more frequently and enthusiastically through digital media and social platforms.
But for all these new technologies and digital platforms deliver in efficiency and immediacy, they leach away even more of the personal connection that has long been the lifeblood of the hotel industry. Even phone calls are becoming less popular. The unavoidably impersonal nature of these new channels presents a real challenge for hotel professionals looking to form and leverage the kind of strong and enduring connections and relationships that have proven to pay very real bottom-line dividends.
And for anyone tempted to dismiss the importance of facetime, consider this remarkable piece of information: at least one research study found that up to 93 percent of all communication is based on nonverbal body language. The implications are staggering. Do we really expect to get the most out of our sales team when they are so often working just with that remaining 7 percent?
The underlying problem facing sales professionals in the hotel business is not just that digital communication channels are on the rise, or even that opportunities for personal communication and engagement are becoming rarer. Those are both true, but this dynamic is especially tricky because the rise of impersonal communication options actually hides the true extent to which more personal communications are waning. It can feel like we are in touch with more consumers more often than at any other time in recent memory-but quantity is a poor substitute for quality.
A Demographic Gap
The trend toward minimizing facetime and personal engagement in favor of more impersonal digital communication channels is especially prominent among young people-specifically the much discussed and highly coveted Millennials, who represent a large, fast-growing and increasingly influential segment of both the workforce and the consumer base.
Familiarity with-and affinity for-technology among the younger generations is nothing new. What is fairly new is the extent to which those preferences have begun to impact entire industries. As Millennials and members of Generation Z begin to assume positions of seniority and influence in hospitality companies, that trend is only going to become more pronounced, and the current dynamic is only going to become more entrenched.
There is an opportunity to mold younger sales managers and other hotel professionals, and to give them the personal communications skillset many are lacking-but unfortunately many hospitality brands and businesses have been slow to recognize and respond to this issue. Many are not getting the training they need to conduct effective personal relationship development, and it is truly becoming a lost art.
The result is that today, on some important level, many hotel management companies have lost touch with the techniques that have been used to effectively sell hotels for generations. Finding ways to reestablish those personal skills, connect personally to establish strong and ultimately lucrative personal relationships with clients, and correct a growing industry imbalance presents a significant challenge.
Back To The Future
The big question, of course, is what can be done about all of this? There is a troubling tendency in the industry right now to simply accept these trends. But hotel owners and operators would be doing themselves a disservice if they figuratively threw their hands in the air and failed to take proactive steps to address the issue.
Reemphasizing personal engagement begins with reminding ourselves and our employees to get back to the basics. That starts with the very essence of what hospitality embodies: a warm, welcoming and generously hospitable approach. It's all too easy to lose that warmth and personal touch when we allow the convenience of technology to supersede a personal call or visit.
But it's not just a philosophical shift-it has to be a practical one, as well. You can't just remind your team of the power of a face-to-face conversation. Dedicated sales training offering specific hand-to-hand and face-to-face personal sales techniques can be enormously beneficial-especially to younger employees who quite literally don't know how to use facetime to their advantage. Hotel management companies that have implemented these types of specific personal training initiatives already find themselves significantly ahead on group pace in 2019 and 2020-in some cases closing business that their sales managers had never even thought to go after in the past.
Above all, your sales team needs to recognize that complementing technology with engagement is absolutely essential. They need to be given abundant opportunities to make use of these personal communications strategies and face-to-face engagement and sales tactics they have learned: to not just speak with major client, agents and brokers personally, but also to get out and see them (at both sales meetings and through regular personal touch-points).
It's important to note that this does not mean you should abandon the tools and technologies that are giving hoteliers more insights and capabilities. Embrace them enthusiastically! They are an important part of any successful hotel's ability to conduct transactional business and make more informed and strategic decisions.
Cultivating and maintaining invaluable personal relationships with agents and agencies, takes a great deal of hard work. It's quite literally an investment. But it's an investment with potentially handsome returns for those that commit to the process.
The convenience of digital communication and the power of e-commerce are alluring. But even the most powerful new tools and technologies can only ever be one part of a larger sales puzzle. If we write off those opportunities that can only be fully realized through facetime and personal engagement, we will be neglecting valuable and potentially very lucrative sources of business.
Communication preferences, platforms and practices might continue to evolve, but the power of personal connection will remain constant. While new generations of hotel professionals may not have the personal skillset or the appreciation for the importance of facetime, it is incumbent upon more experienced hotel professionals to recognize that and respond accordingly.
Making it a priority to stay connected to guests, clients and professional partners through face-to-face and voice-to-voice communications is about applying very old-school ideas of hospitality and engagement to an industry that is very much looking to the future. Hoteliers who can reconcile that irony, bridge the facetime gap, and effectively use personal engagement to build meaningful and profitable professional relationships will be positioned for success in a fast-changi
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