30 Jun Moving Up The Ranks Of The Guest Experience Hierarchy
In 1943, Abraham Maslow published his theory of the hierarchy of needs, and his psychology theory has profound applications to the hospitality industry. As his treatise identified five sets of specific individual needs, let’s apply each to how your guests approach an accommodation and how each subsequent level adds further needs that are only important once all predecessors have been satisfied.
This level denotes the physical accommodations your property delivers – a comfortable night’s sleep, a functioning washroom for proper hygiene, essential beverages like water and sustenance (note that this is different from ‘food’ and ‘cuisine’). Also included here would be housekeeping as it relates back to maintaining sanitary conditions, thus explaining why flaws in this area so easily draw the scorn of guests. Nowadays, free high-speed WiFi is teetering on being a part of these bare necessities given how reliant we all are on internet connectivity for communications, our jobs, information access, directions and even payments.
More than just a doorlatch, safety means that you provide as stress-free an environment as possible. For instance, guests should not be woken by rowdy people in the room next door. They should not encounter unsavory characters in your lobby as the security presence is both apparent and effective. Guests should be reassured that their cars are not vandalized in the parking lot. Finally, living in the digital age means that their personal data and credit card information is not willingly shared with third parties and that you have done your due diligence to ward off hackers.
This is the first category where service really comes into play, especially when you take into account that the other common name for this level is ‘love and belonging’. The focus is the reassurance that the guest’s decision to choose your property was a wise one when compared to every other hotel in your comp set, whereby not only are you attending to visitors’ personal needs but providing for them in a friendly manner. Included here are operational line staff positions like the bellhop, valet parking attendants, concierge and front desk clerks – basically anyone whose primary function is to interact and help customers in any way that’s beyond the scope of physiological and safety needs. For many properties, the mandatory concept of service necessary to fulfill this level is specifically detailed in SOP manuals as well as an innate characteristic that is prescreened during the interview process. In any case, these skills are trainable and can be measured against quantifiable standards.
This fourth echelon of service is where personalization starts to play a part. A typical example of this is a loyalty program, where habitués are given a preferred status, often with separate check-in, upgraded amenities and additional onsite privileges. For example, your staff should address guests by name when they pick up the in-room phone to call for restaurant reservations. The general manager might also compose a handwritten note on arrival with a welcome refreshment. Recognition of a birthday, anniversary or major lifecycle event also falls in this category. Lastly, food rears its magnificent head again as providing a fine dining experience above and beyond merely refilling one’s energy stores is a sharp demonstration of respect for your patrons.
Representing the pinnacle of service, this classification does not necessarily mean significant added expense for the operator, but it does require time for mastery. Self-actualization implies that our operations are delivering a memorable experience as well as one that enriches a guest’s life in some meaningful way. It could be as simple as providing the recipe for a dish that the guest remarked as exceptional in the restaurant – that is, education. Or likewise, it could mean providing a sample of the dry rub the chef uses for the main course so visitors can better understand how individual ingredients contribute to a greater whole. This could also be a facility tour of the property, an invitation to an event held on-property, passing along some information about a hard-to-secure local activity or simply having a lengthy discussion with a corporate group about what else the staff can do to make their retreat go off without a hitch.
Satisfying The Guest Experience Hierarchy
Self-actualization is where you want to be, delivery of which typically results in lifelong memories, extreme levels of positive sentiments and unswerving loyalty. Naturally, commentary on Yelp, TripAdvisor and other third-party review sites reflects these achievements with exuberant and exceptionally compelling appraisals which will definitely help to convert future guests.
Think of these levels as building blocks, though. Remember, focusing on any higher level within the hierarchy while letting any of the lower levels slip will result in failure. Your restaurant could be performing excellently, for instance, but if your housekeeping is sloppy, the front desk agents are surly or the air conditioning is noisy, all value-adds will be for naught.
The question then is how do you build your service program beyond what’s standardized to satisfy the top three levels of this pyramid? It starts by nurturing a culture of guest-focused service as well as the approach taken by your HR team in hiring. There is no such thing as a college course that motivates an individual to be oriented towards a life of service. In addition to this challenge, a good general manager must establish an identifiable service culture that is reinforced through an ongoing commitment to staff empowerment so that each little opportunity to deepen the guest experience is never lost.
Looking To The Future Of Guest Service
With few exceptions, these examples did not increase expenses in any significant way but in many cases they increased revenue and certainly loyalty. Guests do not necessarily expect self-actualization service to be free, though obviously, to avoid negative surprises, charges should be properly identified in advance.
The more you know about a guest, the better your service delivery and the more opportunities to incorporate self-actualizing opportunities. Start by taking advantage of the guest memorandum section of your PMS, denoted under the banner of customer relationship management (CRM). Encourage your staff to add information that can be used for future visits. If you are part of a loyalty program, review the additional customer data that is made available in advance. For those operating with higher ADRs, assign a staff member to review social media, in particular LinkedIn, to glean additional information and help build this database.
Another corollary of technological innovation is that alternative lodging providers (Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO and so on) have made service delivery an even higher priority for hotels. More than ever, a guest’s ability to remember any property in particular is based less on physical facilities and more on personal staff interaction. It’s all about getting close to the customer.
In this regard, further technology upgrades can certainly help. Electronic advance check-in can be used as a platform to learn and anticipate your guests’ needs. As almost all your guests carry smartphones, cost-effective mobile apps can also be deployed to enhance your customers’ stay in various ways. Use your daily meetings to identify local activities that may be of interest and to discuss arriving guests’ individual requirements. Refer to data from your social media monitoring tools to reinforce successes and identify further opportunities.
Successful service delivery is still a hands-on, ongoing effort for all team members, though. Ignore it at your own peril, or embrace it and be rewarded by improved ADRs and occupancies.
Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in Today’s Hotelier on April 1, 2017