There is a beautiful, award-winning 5-star hotel in Dubai that says to its customers, "Welcome Home!" as they get out of the taxi. Only problem is, what if this is the customer's first visit to the hotel? How does that make the hotel 'home'? In contrast, there is a delightful hotel in Phnom Penh where you are greeted with "Welcome home" when you return there from your day out. What's the difference? Care. And a passion for being authentic.
In the first scenario, the idea is right, but the execution is wrong. Sure, if you area returning customer it feels good to be welcomed back, but I struggle to equate a world-class hotel with home. I don't want it to be home. I've gone there to be away from home. I want to experience a world-class, 5-star hotel that cares for me and makes me feel special, providing the extras that don't generally happen at home. While saying "Welcome home" sounds like a good idea in a planning session in the boardroom or general manager's office, it is not necessarily right when directed at customers.
In the second scenario, "Welcome home" really works because there is a relationship already in place between the hotel and the customer. The returning customers are already acquainted with the hotel. However, in this case it is much more difficult to execute, because the team on duty has to be alert and finely attuned to the movements of customers as they check in, then again as they go off property, and finally, when they return. The bigger the establishment, the more difficult the task.
Many hospitality organizations put a tremendous amount of effort into the initial impact that they have on the customer at the entrance to their hotel. But perhaps we are now at the point where we have to create a different kind of standard; a standard that allows staff to employ a variety of greetings and use their own personality. But this requires deep thinking; we have to figure out how to make an employee capable of reacting to a customer from a specific scope of words and using a particular set of skills. These skills are not easy to learn. What we are asking for is an employee who is aligned with the very core of the business. This can be done, but it takes time.
The Enemy Awaits: Just when you think you have your team where you want them to be, someone resigns. Turnover kills authenticity. Every time an employee leaves and a new one joins, the collective learning of the departing individual is gone. The space that they leave behind cannot be filled instantly by a new person. And so, we return to relying on the scripts that we give team members until the new employee has mastered the concept of using a variety of expressions. There are some very practical and simple ways around this problem that can convert an impersonal interaction into a winning one.
Breakfast: The best way to impress a customer is by using his or her name. We all have that one unique thing that no one can take away from us; until you go to breakfast in a hotel that is. As you arrive at the door of the restaurant, the greeter says those terrible words, "What is your room number, sir?" and the whole thing crashes down.
Being authentic: talking to customers by name at every opportunity!
What could we do? Change the whole thinking process. First, ask employees to refer to each other by number for a few minutes. They will think you have lost your mind. Then remind them that this is exactly what they are doing with customers.
Now help them to learn this sentence, "Good morning sir/madam, how are you this morning?" while smiling and pausing, before saying, "May I know your name please?"
The customer will then reply with their name. "Yes, Mr. So-and-so, for how many persons this morning?" And away you go. The team member can then check the customer's room number in the database, or they may have the waiter ask for the room number when they present the bill. Why do we ask the room number when the customer arrives for breakfast? Because we always have done!
Being authentic: take the customer at his or her word!Mini-Bar: The classic "I don't trust you" statement that every hotel makes. You have just stayed in the hotel for five nights and the price was USD 350 per night, so you have pre-paid the hotel the best part of USD 2,000. You arrive at the front desk to check out and the first thing that they ask you is, "Did you take anything from the mini bar?" I weep! Not because they asked, but because of what comes next. The front desk staff then pick up a phone or a walkie-talkie and contact someone to go and check. The total contents of the mini bar must be not more than USD 20 at cost, but we have trained our team to make the last experience with the customer as unpleasant as possible. Why not simply take what the customer has said as fact? If the customer says they did not take anything, then accept it. And if they did, well, it is not the end of the world. You will have created some goodwill.
Customers, not guests: If you are a hospitality professional, you have probably been reading through this article and wondering why I have been talking about customers and not guests. The people coming into your business are paying for what they get. You are not inviting them. Customers pay money. And when they pay money, they expect services and value for that money. It is time to make a shift in our mentality. Being authentic is born from empathy - an understanding that customers are paying hard-earned money to use your facilities, and that it would make them feel so much better if they were greeted and served by team members who are genuine and authentic in their actions.