Technology, Training and Delivery of the Guest Experience

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June 16, 2006
Technology | Training
Carol Verret - carol@carolverret.com

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© 2006 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

The spring issue of Hospitality Upgrade was exciting! There was the article by Amitava Chatterjee on the effective use of CRM systems to assist in identifying our most profitable customers and delivering to them the service that will retain them. This segued well to Michael Schubach’s article that postulated that the "promise of technology (is) the seamless and apparently effortless ability to recognize, respond and delight" the guest.

Both of the above mentioned articles were excellent as were the other articles in the issue. The industry is excited and intoxicated by the potential that is now available in terms of drilling down our guests to the most profitable and delivering quality guest service.

One element that we can’t ‘technoligize’ is the guest service associate who is responsible for the face-to-face delivery of the guest service experience. The guest service associate is the face of the hotel that the guest experiences throughout their stay, whether they are behind the front desk, in the lounge or restaurant, in housekeeping or engineering.

Hotels provide a checkin kiosk that will provide a quick and easy checkin and checkout. At times, however, the guest has questions or the information is incorrect or the guest simply wants to make a change in her room. It is at that point that the guest service associate at the desk is critical.

Similarly, restaurants can have terminals on tables to allow guests to place their beverage and food orders without having to wait for a server to take the order, write it down and hopefully communicate the information accurately to the bar and kitchen. If, however, the guest wants something not on the menu or desires to make a change to something on the menu (hold the mayo, please), then it is the server who must appear and make the adjustments.

From a training standpoint, there are resources available to train associates. However, often there are no success metrics in place to evaluate the ability of the associate to implement the principles contained in the program. We use the ‘quizzes’ within the modules to ascertain that they have understood and can respond to multiple-choice questions but can they deliver it on the floor?

In addition, if the turnover is high, and let's face it it usually is in these positions, we are in an endless loop of providing service training 101 and never able to get to the next steps. Unfortunately, in most markets in this country, the line level guest service positions are temporary stopovers for most employees on their way to a better position in the hotel or the industry, a way to make money until they find something they really like. Sometimes we get lucky and hire a ‘temporary’ associate with the great smile and service attitude. As unemployment gets lower, we may not have the luxury of selection.

These line level service associates are often referred to as ‘the least paid and the least committed’ – see any correlation there? In many other countries in the world, these positions have a higher status than in this country. In other countries where these are considered ‘good jobs’, it could be because unemployment is high and/or because the wage paid makes for better retention.

When the CRM comes up in my practice and the value of a customer is discussed, I often get the feeling that those I am teaching have no idea of what I am speaking about or the rebuttal that the data will not be correctly entered at the line level because of (you guessed it!) the turnover! And this doesn’t apply to just the tiny companies either.

Technology and training are only as effective as the execution on the ground in contact with the guest. The most sophisticated CRM system is useless without a commitment to training and retaining employees with the capability of using it. The IBM Global CRM study indicates that only 50 percent of all CRM initiatives are successful and Chatterjee goes on to say "companies will have to fall back on superlative service" if they are to distinguish themselves from the commoditization of hospitality offerings."

High turnover leads to inconsistent service delivery. The solution is to make guest service associate line positions more lucrative so that turnover is reduced and training can move from basic to proficient. Neither technology nor training delivery methodology can provide consistency in guest service without a stable staff of guest service associates.

Carol Verret and Associates offers training services and consulting in the areas of sales, revenue management and customer service. She can be reached at carol@carolverret.com or (303) 618-4065.

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