Excellent guest service is at the heart of the hospitality industry, but delivering it consistently can be tricky – Faiz Alam Ansari, Complex GM – Alot Bengaluru Cessna Business Park & Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel & Convention Centre
Ask hoteliers the definition of the hospitality industry and they are likely to tell you that it is a service-oriented business encompassing hotels, restaurants or bars. Ask them how they gauge the success of any entity in this domain, and they will throw about terms like ARR, ADR, RevPAR, etc. However, the true measurement of success lies in the very word that sums the business â€“ hospitality. It lies in the service extended to guests who choose to visit a hotel, restaurant, bar, spa, etc. After all, customers choose to become patrons of these establishments and a key reason for this choice is the service extended to them. Today, every general manager worth their salt knows that great service is vital in the competitive hospitality business. The challenge, however, lies in articulating it in clear tangible terms and outlining the processes to follow it so that associates know how to deliver it to guests. It is just as tricky putting in place metrics to gauge its efficacy. At the outset, this might look simple. However, the hospitality industry, given its people-centricity needs a slightly different approach. Here are some tips from Faiz Alam Ansari, complex general manager for Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park and Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel and Convention Centre, which he has implemented during his 20-year career.
Define the service vision: Most hotel chains have a defined service vision, which is well communicated to associates. These could vary for the sub-brands within the chain. General managers should ensure that the distinctive service vision for each brand is understood by their team, especially those who are in constant contact with guests, so that they can convey the brandâ€™s service culture appropriately. Customers often attach some preconceived service standards to certain brands. In Aloft, for instance, guests do not mind associates calling them by first name while answering their query, since the target audience comprises younger travellers. However, in Sheraton properties, guests might prefer to be addressed with a â€˜Mrâ€™ or â€˜Msâ€™ as a salutation. These small nuances make a lot of difference, and have to be conveyed to associates, as a misstep could result in an unhappy guest, who might shift loyalties to another brand.
Customer delight at all costs: Most brands look at customer satisfaction as their proclivity to visit repeatedly or buy more. However, it ought to be customer delight at all costs, since only then is the guest more likely to stay with the brand. If this means going the extra mile by cutting ranks, then so be it. In his previous stint at a Singaporean hotel, Ansari recalled how a guest had left behind a wine bottle â€“ a common enough occurrence. The usual process followed in such cases was to keep the bottle in the â€˜Lost and Foundâ€™ department for three months, till the guest returned to reclaim it, and if the guest failed to turn up, bottle was distributed amongst staffers. However, Ansari got the guestâ€™s phone number from the front desk staff, informed the customer about the forgotten bottle, retrieved his address and sent a wine bottle to that address. This gesture cost him a few dollars, but the result was that the hotel won a guest for life.
Cut through ranks: Taking off from the earlier example, Ansari said it was possible for him to take such procustomer steps in his earlier role because he was empowered to do so. Associates often do not wish to take bold steps for guest gratification because they worry that it might not be permitted within their pay grade. General managers should instil confidence in their team to take ownership for the guestâ€™s comfort, even if it means going the extra mile, but also set some prudent limits at the same time. They need to similarly empower their staff by giving examples of how this can be done, drawing from their own experiences. People find it easier to relate to anecdotes than Powerpoint presentations, so it is pertinent to have regular informal staff meetings to discuss customer service hits and misses and how these could have been improved are very effective, without getting into the blame game. Additionally, associates who take such customer-focused initiatives should be recognised and rewarded publicly to motivate them and also their peers.
Create service-oriented architecture: To be able to deliver impressive customer service, it is advisable to create a well-defined service-oriented architecture for guests. This could be part of the overarching structure that the parent brand has conceptualised with some localisation factored in, keeping in mind the guest preferences, location, etc. It need not be an expensive system, but can be a simplistic program even on a Microsoft Excel worksheet. However, it should include baseline measurements to track customer service experience at various touch points, ways to generate insight about their potential return, etc. Often, most systems focus only on the obvious touch points like front desk, F&B, etc, ignoring the other verticals, like laundry or IT, which play an equally important role in customer service and satisfaction.
Follow processes to a point: Processes are set to create standardisation, but sometimes these can be overlooked while focusing on customer satisfaction. Most hotels, for instance, have a policy of not allowing outside food. Ansari however recalls how he accommodated a guestâ€™s request for getting food delivered from a famous street side stall, because he knew his F&B could not prepare the same fare. Concentrating on guest satisfaction and providing value, rather than sticking to policies, ensures better chances of success.
Listen, then respond: Given the hyper-connected world that we live in, one encounters lot of virtual chatter, especially on social media. User generated review sites, like TripAdvisor, have become significant and hence, it is advisable for general managers to respond to guest feedback, particularly negative comments. In such cases. If there is a problem that can be fixed, then one should always aim for it. The ultimate goal should be to keep the customer happy and keep the channels of communication open. At the hotel too, Ansari makes it a point to solicit feedback from guests as often as possible and insists that his associates do the same. In the F&B outlet, it could go beyond the cursory query of whether everything is fine with the meal, to addressing the guest by their surname and also recalling their seating and meal preferences if they are regulars. Guests are at the heart of the hospitality industry. Irrespective how grand a hotel, how fantastic the rooms, how appetising the food â€“ if there is one misstep on the service front, you have lost a guest. However, if your customer service is superlative, then your guest will be a little more forgiving, if ever any of the services falter.