Written by one of the world's most published authors in the field of hospitality, this book represents a radical departure from traditional texts in the industry.
Targeted at hotel management, this book is intended to serve as a platform for discussion on current issues relating to the performance of hotels and resorts. Through a combination of real life examples and an examination of current challenges facing the hotel industry, the book comprises approximately one hundred individual segments each dedicated to a single thought or concept. These stand alone articles are then combined into ten chapters, each dedicated to a specific topic.
The book has been written so that hoteliers of any level, from apprentice to seasoned general manager will be able to gain value from the contents. While the bulk of articles deal with marketing aspects, many of the items relate to core operational issues. A theme common throughout is to recognize the importance of guest service as it relates to the industry.
For those who are not involved in the hotel industry, but have careers that involve customer service, s the practical hints provided throughout the text, serve as excellent training pointers.
So, why the title? Ostriches are classically known as avoiding conflict by putting their head in the sand. While probably not true, the stigma remains, and those who are considered an ostrich, are living in the past. Llamas, on the other hand, are considered utilitarian, hardworking and reliable. This is what you want to strive for. By reading this book, and digesting the contents, the hope is to move from ostrich to llama.
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Are You an Ostrich or A Llama?ESSAYS IN HOSPITALITY MARKETING AND MANAGEMENT
By Larry Mogelonsky
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Larry Mogelonsky
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGuest Services
Introduction to Guest Services
Superior guest services conquer all. I can't stress this enough. Each visitor is unique and each will have a particular set of tastes. Some will complain, and when they do, it's your responsibility to compensate them in order to live up to the guest experience your brand promises. Ideally though, guests will be singing your praises because their experiences have already lived up to and gone beyond what they were expecting.
This grouping of articles isn't meant to be an introduction to the diverse range of topics that 'guest services' entails. Rather, I'm going to assume you already know what this term tacitly implies from the classroom, on-property training, or simply through countless human interactions over the years. My intentions are to help spark your guest services imagination, to introduce some new hotel-oriented terminology, to open your eyes to some of the underlying contributors to poor guest service, to make you think about some of the finer nuances involved in this process, and to get you back on track.
A caveat. On the verge of what might be called my 'golden years', I've been blessed to have stayed at some very luxurious properties, but this wasn't always the case. When I first started out, many of the hotels I slept in were questionable at best. But as I progressed through my career, the rooms improved (as did my salary!). Thus, I'm not so much blessed as I've earned my stripes. Rest assured, despite having ascended through the many stratospheres of opulence, I am confident that these inferences are directly applicable for lower tier, economy hotels.
Lastly, a large part of this section deals with how guest services integrate with social media and how these forms of communications tie into the bigger picture of branding. Guest services and branding have always been wholly entwined towards the overall goal of driving occupancy and giving guests an exceptional vacation or business stay over. As it stands today, however, social media is rapidly coalescing with the mechanisms of what makes guest services function effectively.
I want to emphasize that service should always be considered as a brand distinguisher, a tool of differentiation. Remember that the more things change the more they stay the same. No matter how technology advances, if you apply the fundamentals of proper guest services and guest interactions then occupancy will be a nonissue.
Qualifying Guest Services One Interaction at a Time
A weekend getaway to Miami was inspirational in understanding hotels and service. My thirty years of extensive travel around the world translates into tens of thousands of employee-to-guest transactions of various dimensions, and this is the experience I now bring to the table each time I check in. Service has been on the back of my mind throughout my tenure in the industry, and it was while relaxing on the beach that I had my true 'eureka' moment.
Let me first reflect on some of the interactions I had while vacationing in South Beach. The flight was a breeze, and after a short taxi ride, we arrived at our accommodations. We checked in and went to lunch as our room was not quite ready. So from the beginning of our stay, here is what I experienced in rapid succession:
Bellman to take bags and providing bag tags
Front desk to confirm reservation and credit card
Concierge to provide in-house restaurant options
Server (multiple times)
Bus staff (multiple times)
Uninterested and somewhat disgruntled front desk receptionist to pick up room keys
Bell captain to request bags
Another member of the bell staff to bring our bags to the room
Room service staff to drop off a welcome amenity
Telephone call from guest services to see if everything was in order
Notice that of all those human contacts, I attributed no explicitly positive adjectives. Friendliness was my expectation for the norm amongst this four-star hotel staff. It was only when I returned to the front desk after lunch that I came across a surly fellow, someone who was rather apathetic about his work. The weekend excursion is still fresh in my mind, pleasant as it was with all the palm trees and brilliant sunshine. Yet, this one brusque encounter is what I remember the most about the otherwise outstanding service received.
All egos aside, I pride myself as being a fairly humble traveler. If that one front desk staff member had not been so indifferent, my vacation would have been flawless. With nothing to complain about, the hotel would have received a perfect score. When it came to my review on TripAdvisor, I overlooked this one individual and wrote some genuine words of praise. Others might not have been as generous.
Reflecting on my South Beach mini-vacation generated three powerful inferences. First, congeniality from hotel employees is not a bonus, but rather the assumed standard of service at a luxury property, and for that matter, any hotel. Moreover, it is only when this standard is broken that guests really take notice, for good or for bad. Finally, the attitude of staff was more important for my experience than the quality of the facilities, which were indeed excellent.
This is something I pick up on when I read through online reviews. One guest might boast about how great the property is, but they still feel at a loss due to a few less-than-agreeable staff encounters. On the flip side, a critic who is willing to admit that the room or spa accommodations were a few notches below perfect might nonetheless write a positive review based on the gregarious nature of the employees. My conclusion is that regardless of room price or amenities, the innermost kernel of guest services is the compassion of your front line staff.
The proliferation of the revenue manager (RM) offers a good illustration for one large shortcoming in the industry. RMs are able to justify their actions and successes because they have direct metrics to prove their worth towards fueling revenue. They have been instrumental in modernizing some of the financial aspects of hospitality operations.
But how do you quantify guest service? Just as every human is unique, so too is every human experience. Even with online rating aggregates and customer feedback forms, you'll never get the concrete numbers that an RM can extract. Without these intricate statistics, how can you determine with precision where you need to improve?
A quick exercise should help clarify this problem. Look at your property's 'big picture' for a moment, with its diverse operations, daily tasks and all other pizzazz. Then, remove the front desk, restaurant, spa and all other amenities from your mind and think only about the individuals—people talking to other people. At its core, customer service is about being respectful, attentive and courteous at all times—all the qualities you'd regularly look for in another human being. If your staff can embody this, then everything else becomes second nature.
So to figure out how to quantify service, perhaps what each property needs is a new management position dedicated to educating all employees about the fundamental importance of treating the guests right at all times. Call the position director of guest services, or the manager of guest satisfaction. Maybe it is human resources, or the training manager's duty to uphold this policy. But don't minimize the importance: this is planning committee level stuff!
True, this still doesn't directly equate to a numerical methodology, but it lends itself toward cleansing your hotel of negative experiences. The quantification will come through happier guests, better third-party reviews and more return visits. A roaming arbitrator on the lookout for ways to improve the friendliness of your staff will heighten your customer loyalty and brand reputation—it's all linked to this basic human practice.
This is perhaps the simplest, and yet possibly the hardest, concept to master. Staff oversight and continual training in this area will do wonders for everything else down the road. Treat every customer like your best friend and you can't go wrong.
Inverting the Organizational Pyramid to Build Service Reputation
Adapting your organizational structure for today's rapid communications is a hot topic amongst hoteliers. We all know it's a necessity, and we're all curious about how best to initiate this change. But when it comes to the fine print, however, we are often left in the dark. Managers are bombarded with so much work they seldom have the opportunity to investigate all the technological resources at their disposal.
In the past, a firm pyramidal structure of information distribution provided adequate time for senior managers to review and respond. As well, it insulated executives from trivial data, letting them focus on the big picture. Decision-making occurred at a steady pace, flowing from the GM to the planning committee, then to their line managers. The results reached the guests.
Remember the notion of delivery 'in a New York minute'? Forget it. It's too slow when it comes to guest services nowadays. Ditto for next week's executive planning committee meeting. Information has to move faster to keep up with the latest postings on your social media outlets and online review sites. Your response to any sort of mishap has to be instantaneous.
In other industries, one prevalent technique is a 'flattening' of the pyramid, where the ranks of middle management are slashed to heighten team initiatives and the sharing of ideas. But this isn't directly applicable to hotels, as each department has such a unique set of skills. What I am proposing as an alternative to this is an inversion of the classic hierarchical organization pyramid in order for positive guest relations to be maintained even as new technologies work to erode patience and leniency for staff errors.
Think of the water works. Water flows downhill not uphill. Communications work the same way. It is much easier for information to move down the chain of command to the line staff than for it to percolate back up to the executive team.
A compact pyramid will hasten this transmission, but not in a manner significant enough to make a difference by the time a disgruntled guest leaves your hotel or posts a diatribe online. Instead, visualize inverting the pyramid. Put your guests at the top of the chart and next to them are those in direct contact with guests—your line staff.
The importance of this communications model cannot be underestimated. Social media and rating sites like TripAdvisor allow guests to re-tell their on-property experiences in real time, both good and bad. They do not wait for the weekly planning committee before they wreak havoc based on a distasteful room, spa or restaurant experience. The future of your hotel rests in their hands (quite literally given that customers will likely use their iPhone, Blackberry or Android smartphones to voice concerns).
So, how do you go about inverting your communications? The answer is empowerment. Line staff can no longer simply follow orders and react to unfamiliar situations by first seeking the wisdom of their immediate supervisors. They must learn to adapt and respond on their own. It's no longer just about data flowing downstream to the executive team, but making sure the upper strata of the pyramid—the guests—are well fed.
There are two steps to this change in methodology. First, you must foster a culture of independent action. Front line staff must be given the opportunity to answer guest requests without the 'silo thinking' attitude of clearing every action by their manager. Even better, meld the principles of traditional data filtering and pyramid flattening into codependent action so that the manager and line staff work to address the problem. That is, building an organizational structure with strong interdepartmental sharing. Tandem action will assure that no loss in response time and, as well, the line staff will be learning through doing.
Now for an example. Let's say a guest felt his or her meal at the hotel's restaurant was displeasing. The normal lines of communication would prompt the waiter, busboy or host who noted the grievance to tell a supervisor and that supervisor would coordinate the eventual response. The key word here is eventual. Managers are increasingly rushed for time and a request like this may not illicit a pressing reaction.
Empowerment in this scenario means that a staff member has the ability to alleviate the troubled guest on the spot with simple yet elegant actions such as complimentary desserts, coffees or drinks. Taking this one step further, that employee should then be able to initiate feedback with staff in other departments; all within reason, of course.
Imagine complaining about a meal, receiving a free confection as a result, but then, upon returning to your room, there's a gift from the spa along with a handwritten apology. Now that's customer service! I don't know about you, but I would be ecstatic if this happened to me, fully negating any of my previous objections. What's important to infer from this case is how little the manager has to be involved in the play-by-play as well as the tremendous impact of a prompt reply.
Sure, you 'comped' some F&B, but all for the noble cause of protecting your brand image. The consequences of failing to directly mitigate could far outweigh any minor revenue loss. Remember, all a guest needs is a smartphone and a smidgen of free time for an endorsement or a denigration to appear online. Your line staff should be able to help decide which of these two conclusions is posted.
Empowering your team to delegate ensures that your property is keeping pace with the rapidity of web communications. Line staff should know that this sort of discourse is sensible, even if it takes months, or the better part of a year, for them to master all the nuances of immediate guest satisfaction. So, leave decision-making to those at the top of the organizational structure, but think of ways where this pyramid can be inverted to better serve your customers.
Double Deviations: Two Wrongs Never Makes a Right
When does a service issue become an outright problem instead of just a temporary inconvenience? What is the 'tipping point' that provokes a guest to write a comment in, say, TripAdvisor, or worse, speak ill words about you to their friends and never return to your property? And, most importantly, once you find this threshold, how do you ensure that things never reach this point?
A new age definition for this process is 'Double Deviation'; a term you might have heard in passing, and yet, it's one you should have on the back of your mind at all times. Customer complaints follow an initiation and propagation couplet. That is, an issue only becomes a bona fide problem when guests are not adequately compensated for the initial error, or when a second error occurs.
I will use a trip to Philadelphia last year as an example. My wife and I spent the weekend at a downtown luxury property. To avoid embarrassment, I'll leave out the name of this well-known chain establishment.
The first morning we chose to dine at the hotel's minimally-crowded restaurant and were not impressed in the least. We waited a full ten minutes for our simple order of bacon and eggs to be taken and another twenty for it to arrive; cold and no forthcoming apology. Having a table near the kitchen, we could hear the staff chatting it up all throughout our half hour hang-up. Unacceptable. We left without touching our food and complained to the front desk, then went offsite for real food and activities.
Returning that evening, we found a rather contrite note and a fruit basket in our room. Apology accepted. In our mind, the issue was fully resolved by the positive response by the staff. We chalked this up as a once-in-a-blue-moon sort of fault. It did not impede our travels and we are not above thinking that there may have been other extenuating circumstances outside of the staff's control.
Then came the coup de grace. Housekeeping had cleaned the bathroom without leaving any towels. A minor grievance, negligible even, but it set off a flood of bad memories from that morning. The subdued breakfast mishap roared back into our heads and solidified a negative impression of the hotel.
Once was okay, but twice was utterly deplorable, despite the adequate compensation for the first wrongdoing. Needless to say, we're never staying there again. And when asked about our trip to Philly, a foremost topic of discussion was always the horrible service, conferred ahead of any other experience involving the hotel. This property not only lost a customer, but many other prospects via our justifiably unenthusiastic word of mouth.
The nature of 'Double Deviations' means you understanding that perfection is not an absolute requirement. After all, no property can be perfect all the time. Even the best of us have slip ups.
The challenge is to handle slip-ups in a capacity sufficient to prevent a double deviation. That is, if you do make a mistake, educate your staff on the importance of not making another. I was willing to look past one hefty fault, especially given the admission of guilt from a manager. But two faults proved in my mind that the hotel just didn't value us as customers.
Everyone has a slightly different comprehension of double deviations. For guests like me, the fact that they made the effort to acknowledge their error was enough to quell my doubts. However, had they not granted reparation, then that act, or failure to act, would have counted as the second strike. From all accounts, it would appear as though baseball is even more lenient than hospitality—three strikes the deathblow instead of two.
Excerpted from Are You an Ostrich or A Llama? by Larry Mogelonsky Copyright © 2012 by Larry Mogelonsky. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I approached this book with high expectations and a desire to learn about the inner workings of the hospitality industry. Larry’s book truly exceeded my expectations, as I found myself laughing and learning from start to finish. His comprehensive and eloquent writing style allows the reader to grasp all the key takeaways effortlessly. Larry brings us back to basics, using a commonsense approach; he states, “The priorities are the same: first people, then brands, and lastly the physical logistics.” Larry encompasses all the essential ingredients to help any hotel manager become successful in our ever-changing, ever-growing world of technology and media. He shares an abundance of knowledge in the latest technologies, marketing, branding, hospitality, the travel industry and public relations. Most importantly, Larry understands people. He teaches through specific scenarios, his personal experiences, and straightforward advice.
Full of insightful commentary, this book should be on the shelf of any hotelier. The essays contained within are timely, astute and fun to read. It's clear that the author knows their stuff, and shares that knowledge in an entertaining fashion.