I’ll never forget the first time I heard the term “dark side.” It was 2003. An IT director said he was leaving his position at a well-known hotel brand to “go work for the dark side.” Curious and new to the industry, I asked, “The dark side ... does that mean the enemy?” He chuckled and said, “In the hospitality industry it means working on the vendor side.”
It’s still a common phrase. In fact, I was on a Hospitality Financial & Technology Professionals Hangout session recently, and before the meeting started, one hotelier casually asked a participant, “What's it like to work on the dark side?”
All these years later, I still wonder — why can’t vendors be on the bright side? I've asked some clubs and hoteliers why they see vendors as the dark side. The standard response is, “Because we can’t trust them.” When asked why, their responses include:
- They push product. Vendors are only focused on what’s in it for them — on making a sale; getting the next commission check.
- They don’t fulfill their promises. They sell you the product, then they are gone. They forget about you. No follow up.
- They miss deadlines. They don’t do what they say they’re going to do. We can’t rely on them.
- Most suppliers don’t think about what’s best for their customer.
When asked for a specific example of how a company could destroy trust, Dennis Blair, director of hotel technology for Aimbridge Hospitality offered this example. “They may misrepresent their product or company capabilities,” he said. “About 80% of all vendors that approach us say they are approved with a brand. And then when we check with our brand partners, we find out they aren't approved.”
As I wrote in The Power of Trust: How Top Companies Build, Manage and Protect It, trust is a predictor of future success. We all want to work with and buy from people we can believe in:
- Worldwide 80% of people say they buy from companies they trust.
- 87% say business leaders and consumers worldwide say ethics and a trustworthy reputation is nearly as important as price and delivery time in their buying decision (McKinsey, September 2022)
First, we decide whether or not to trust. Then we evaluate a company’s capabilities with questions like:
- Can they do what they say they will?
- Are their products secure and up to date with regulations?
- Will they protect us if something goes wrong?
- Will we get the support we expect?
- Are they ethical?
- Will they keep their promises?
Hoteliers and clubs are looking for partners who offer solutions to their problems. But that isn’t all. They also want trusted advisors who will be there long after the sale is made, providing value and helping to create exceptional guest experiences.
A company can have the best technology, the best products, the most innovative tools and the most effective processes — all the bells and whistles — and not have the trust of its customers and stakeholders. Trust always comes down to the people. How they communicate, how they behave and how they serve clients.
Blair and his team are responsible for selecting preferred partners and making recommendations for Aimbridge Hospitality’s 1,500 properties worldwide. “We do business with companies we trust,” he said. Blair's team validates the vendor’s financial viability and the strength of its management team to determine if the vendor has staying power. “It’s about the relationships with the people. We like working with partners who are constantly checking in, those that come through on all commitments,” Blair said.
Security is of the utmost importance in a technology partner. Aimbridge looks for dedicated support and a specific person to call if they need help. “Aimbridge works with vendors who are honest, upfront and ethical,” Blair said.
Operators are looking for partners, not vendors. Highpointe Hotel Corporation Senior Assistant Controller/IT Director Mark T. Pate said, “Trust is at the top. At Highpointe, we are always looking to work with partners for the long term. Companies that keep up to date and are focused on continuous improvement. Aptech Computer Systems is an example of a trusted company we are committed to. We’ve been partners with Aptech for 23 years.”
Pate also calls out companies that do more than requested. “Companies like (data protection company) VENZA go the extra mile for us,” he said.
When a vendor turns that corner and becomes a trusted advisor, they share in their clients’ wins. That’s not lost on says Juli Barter, VENZA vice president of sales. “Trust is a core value at VENZA, defined as fostering partnerships with integrity,” she said. “Integrity is key to how we think about relationships with clients, partners, and colleagues. We recognize integrity as following through with your word. Without follow through, trust can't exist.”
During workshops and training programs with Success Through Trust, participants always discuss the importance of transparency and honesty. It is important to remember that nothing builds trust like the truth. “Our team is always striving to be transparent and to keep our customers and partners informed. We know that transparency, consistency and openness build trust,” said Steven Bronken, head of global hospitality at Ruckus Networks.
BUILDING TRUST WITH CONSUMERS
In addition to fueling growth, performance, innovation and long-term success, there are two emerging trends in 2023 requiring companies to focus on building trust:
- Increased visibility: Companies, clubs and hoteliers are facing greater scrutiny from a more informed and skeptical customer. Tolerance for activity deemed unethical or unacceptable will continue to decrease. Guests, customers, partners and employees are paying attention. They’re demanding greater accountability and transparency — and they have a social conscience. People want to buy from companies that care about their employees and communities, and those that are paying attention to social, environmental, governance, privacy, sustainability, diversity and inclusion issues. It doesn’t end there. Many hoteliers are paying attention to the supply chain. They’re looking at where their technology originates. Increasingly, they’re questioning the ethics, governance, social conscience and trustworthiness of all the links in the supply chain.
- Shifting demands: The customer experience and customer’s expectations have changed. Technology’s potential for near endless customization has built expectations for a perfectly tailored guest experience. However, the cost of giving up all that information leaves guests, members and customers wondering, will my data be secure and is AI ethical?
HOW TO BECOME A TRUSTED ADVISOR
Looking to create strong bonds with your potential partners? Follow these steps:
- Focus on the person and the company you’re serving. Nothing shows your integrity more than acting in the best interests of another. Focus on their needs, not your own.
- Be honest and transparent. Share your intentions. Let the other party know the full picture. For example, if you’re on a sales call and your intention is to promote a new product, let the prospect know that’s why you’re there. Share the project plan, timeline, contact information for all participants, the impact window, critical success factors, risks etc. Figure out what people might be wondering about but are afraid to ask— or don’t know that they need to ask.
- Recognize that trust is a skill. Trust must be cultivated and developed. You can learn to become a trusted advisor. Every team member should see themselves as responsible for earning clients’ trust. The CEO sets the tone, but the whole team has a role to play.
When clients consider you a trusted advisor, they stay. They’re committed and loyal, which directly impacts the bottom line. In fact, according to research from Bain & Company increasing client retention rates by 5% can increase profits by 25% to 95% .
When everyone learns how to manage relationships and build trust, clients can’t help but notice. When you earn the status of trusted advisor, you’ll be rewarded — and you’ll no longer be seen as part of the dark side.
NATALIE DOYLE OLDFIELD IS THE AUTHOR OF THE POWER OF TRUST: HOW TOP COMPANIES BUILD, MANAGE AND PROTECT IT, AND FOUNDER OF SUCCESS THROUGH TRUST, AN ACCREDITED HFTP EDUCATION PROVIDER. SHE CAN BE REACHED VIA EMAIL AT NOLDFIELD@SUCCESSTHROUGHTRUST.COM.