As Rally Australia raced through Coffs Harbour in New South Wales a few weekends ago, drivers and technicians were obsessing over engines and all the various components. This is a rugged and highly competitive event, drawing teams from all over the world. If you’re going to have a chance at winning, you literally have to be firing on all cylinders. The engine and its parts, in particular, have to be well oiled and perfectly tuned in order to meet the demands of the course.
Does this sound at all like operating a hotel? If you don’t think so, you probably haven’t been long in the industry. We hoteliers may not get our hands quite as dirty (although some would argue that point), but make no mistake — we’re dealing with a litany of moving parts. And if things aren’t working together, the competition will get the better of us.
It’s easy to rattle off the various aspects of hotel management and compare them to an engine that needs tuning and maintenance. Amenities, promotions, common areas, interactions, services, check-in and checkout processes — the list goes on. But what are these actually components of? In other words, how do we describe the car itself and what is the ultimate objective?
The answer can only be one thing: Guest experience. That’s what all of the decisions, promotions, renovations, policies, trends, and balance sheets are about. Everything we do revolves around the experience of individuals, couples, families and friends who stay in our hotels.
So — assuming we want this car to run smoothly, what are its most important components? What aspects of the guest experience do we absolutely have to get right, if we want a chance at winning the race?
Guest/staff interactions and team morale
If you’re not putting time and resources into guest/staff interactions, you might as well be driving without a steering wheel. Look at it this way: Every point of contact between staff and guests is an opportunity and a risk (or a Moment of Truth). Based on the quality of those interactions, you’ll either hug the curves and improve your position, or invite the competition to overtake you.
Need proof? Just read what guests write on TripAdvisor. A nice percentage of negative hotel reviews call out staff members for being grumpy, unhelpful or disinterested. On the other hand, positive reviews often talk about people going the extra mile in their effort to be helpful and warm. As we’ve covered previously in this blog — and as you’ve no doubt seen at work in the world — positive interactions between guests and staff rely heavily on how managers relate to their team members, and whether or not everyone on the team feels valued and empowered. Whilst this ignores that the fact that all individuals have a choice as to how they will behave, there is no doubt that the manager/leader sets the standard as to what is acceptable and must lead by example. The indisputable link between team morale and staff-guest interactions must constantly be studied if your guest experience engine is ever going to reach peak performance.
There’s a good reason why some of the best-known hotel brands are questioning established design habits and re-thinking the interiors they create for guests. Modern travelers are inundated with choice — this alone would force hotels to break new ground in their effort to stand out. Now consider the shifting parameters of technology, social interaction and generational preference (ahem, millennials). There’s no doubt that the atmosphere and amenities inside guest rooms, as well as out in the common areas, is a driving factor behind the guest experience.
This is also one of the trickiest things to navigate — unless you happen to have a giant renovation budget, or plans for a brand new construction. Many hoteliers might feel lucky that big renovations are out of the question for now, since trends constantly shift anyway. You never know how some of these progressive renovation bets are going to end up. Yet sitting around waiting for the dust to settle is no more an option here than it would be for a competitor in Coffs Harbour this weekend. Even if your interiors are only changing by small increments, they should be changing. Otherwise you’re moving down the leaderboard, plain and simple. What you want to be doing is moving up — or at the very least, maintaining your position.
Personalisation and loyalty
There’s no question that loyalty programs are important to hotels today. Done right, they’re one of the most effective ways to strengthen the relationship between hotel brands and the people who use them. But too many loyalty programs are confusing, sluggish and time-consuming. Every moment a guest spends troubleshooting a loyalty account lowers the personal value it represents to them. Hotels should move away from the big, impersonal model of airline loyalty points and towards a more personalized and versatile approach that offers greater value to guests without wasting time.
Personalisation is an expansive theme that reaches into other areas, too. Treating people like individuals may not be important at a big sporting event, but in our business, it makes a real difference. For example: If you (the hotel) recognize me (the repeat guest) when I walk through the door, it gives me a simple and visceral reason to be invested in you as a brand.
The sum of its parts
The guest experience, like a racecar engine, is really the sum of its parts. One of the reasons why being a hotelier is the best job in the world (at least according to the genuinely passionate among us) is the endless quest for excellence in which we find ourselves. The rewards of that quest are real, but there is no such thing as a checkered flag — nor does a perfectly tuned engine stay that way for long. New components (and competitors) always appear to push the boundaries of performance. New goals always appear. But with a competitive spark and a passion for connecting the dots, you’ll be right in the thick of things no matter how drastic the twists and turns appear to be.
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