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28 Sep

How do you achieve the 'WOW' factor in hospitality?

In a marketplace synonymous with increased disposable incomes and advanced consumer demands, businesses must now place greater focus on providing that unique selling point to satisfy customers: a need even more relevant in the hospitality industry- a notoriously difficult industry to survive in. With guests using their hard earned cash and free time to do something they seek pleasure from, this often means they are extra critical of their experience (just check TripAdvisor...).

Yet as a multi-billion pound industry, the question still remains therefore, what makes the industry tick?

Historically, HR was not viewed as a key business factor in driving business profits unlike other vital functions: sales, marketing and operations. However, nowadays this notion is far gone, and more and more we witness top businesses focus on employees as a USP and distinctive factor for creating a success. In particular, as a highly guest service–oriented business, where communication between employees and guests determine its success, the effective utilisation of human resources can give an organization its competitive edge. Through capitalising heavily on its human resources, therefore, businesses in the hospitality industry now have the opportunity to provide the WOW factor to guests.

However, with a range of negative themes common within the industry: long and antisocial hours, low levels of pay, low status and high staff turnover, how can HR attract and retain high quality employees to provide this WOW factor?

According to columnist Caroline Cooper from Zeal Coaching, the service your guest receives will often be the most memorable part of their stay: few will return by choice where they’ve experience poor service, nor recommend a hotel when they’ve received average or good service. Service is invariably your opportunity to create a key differentiator to your hotel’.

In particular, with the battle for the hearts and spending power of Gen-Y raging on, this is heightened by the increasing use of social media as a platform for customers to rant or rave about their experience. With 81% of Gen Y using Facebook every day, and 78% trusting peer recommendations (Neielsen, 2009), it is evident that the providing exceptional customer service is necessary. Without this, the likelihood of gaining the loyalty of Gen Y customers and their peers is slim to nil.

So how do you ensure your staff deliver great customer service?

First and foremost, you must define good service: what is the style of your hotel and how is this reflected in the way you serve your guests? ‘Once you know what level of service you’re looking for, you’re in a much better position to get your staff on board… in my book attitude will always be a higher priority than skills. You can develop skills by training but it’s much more difficult to change people’s attitudes; an eagerness to please people, a willingness to go that extra mile, an enthusiasm to learn’ claims Cooper.

In particular, through focusing on what you want your employees to achieve rather than directing their every move, this gives your staff the opportunity to adopt their own style and work to their highest possible standard. This ideas of employee empowerment is one that has gained a great deal of substance in recent years as more and more HR experts publicise its benefits in developing a high quality workforce.

According to Micah Solomon, customer service, experience and trends writer, employee empowerment is necessary to allow a company the ‘ability to respond to unpredictable, ever changing, intensely individual, nuanced desires of customers’. Cornell’s centre for hospitality research estimates there are an estimated 5000 customer-employee touch points every day in a moderate sized hotel. To handle each of these touch points correctly, and provide customers with that WOW factor at all times, this requires an exceeding amount of psychological and intellectual flexibility, which will be hindered when employees know that managers put primary value on conformity.

Yet whilst many companies speak of employee empowerment, they tend to compensate for results: did employees get customers checked in and to their rooms ‘on time’- even though lingering could have led to a greater potential bond with the company?

The proof is in the practice...

DAM client- The Four Seasons hotel- is one that has always excelled in providing guests with the WOW factor. Unlike many of its greatest competitors at the time, The Four Seasons finest achievement has always been the people it attracts: “Early in the company’s history we decided to focus on redefining luxury as service, and that became our strategic edge,” explains Sharp. “To deliver on that promise, we realised we needed to harness the ‘best of the best’ – employees who are dedicated, committed and inspired to deliver great service.”

Several decades ago, Four Seasons introduced a mission statement based on The Golden Rule: To treat others as they'd wish to be treated ourselves. “The Golden Rule guides our interactions with our guests, our business partners and investors, but most importantly – with each other,” says Sharp. For several years he toured his hotels, telling management at every level 'we can't change employee behaviour without changing ours. We have to have employees who think for themselves and act on it, can remedy service failures on the spot. We're asking them to see the company's interest as their own and to involuntarily take responsibility. We're asking them to- in effect- be self managers'.

See - delivering the WOW factor migh tbe easier than you thought.  Sometimes when we focus on getting the basics right, wonderful things happen!

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