Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Service Ethic – Dead or Alive?

I met with a colleague the other day.  He left his last job in a major branded Hotel a few months back and we have gotten together on a number of occasions to discuss the “state of the nation” as it relates to Hotels.

Our conversations have taken us in many different directions when we have gotten together, but it was the topic of our last conversation that left me wondering about the future of our industry, or at least as it relates to the true commitment to service.

My friend, as I said, has recently left his job with a major branded Hotel.

Why, you may be wondering?

Because, in short, he could no longer work in an environment that boasted of their commitment to their associates and their guests, through their over-riding commitment to service, while experiencing first-hand the actions and instructions of his General Manager to the contrary.

This friend of mine, himself a department head, was repeatedly told by his General Manager, to do things that were completely against their corporate (brand) commitments to employees, to guests, and to service.

When this Manager respectively questioned some of the directions that he was given by his General Manager, he was accused of not having any business acumen and told that “this is what it takes to be a Manager.”

Now, don’t mistake me for some bleeding heart that can’t make the tough decisions, pass on the bad news, when the need arises, or make necessary cuts, to improve an operation – quite the contrary.

I have gone into operations and found multiple items that could, and should, be cut.  Frivolous or extravagant expenditures or programs that did not add any value to the guest experience – gone.

However, what I have not done is cut items that were invaluable to the staff in their ability to deliver service to our guests, or items that provided a direct or indirect benefit or value to our guests, thus supporting our commitment to providing consistently exceptional guest experiences, and ensuring their loyalty to our Hotel and our brand. 

My over-riding concern, what got me putting fingertips to keyboard, was my view that this is happening more and more every day, certainly in North America at least.

More and more, Hotel companies are standing up and professing their unwavering commitment to service, telling consumers why they are better than their competitors, and why YOU should choose to stay with them, while on the other hand, they are cutting the guts out of their loyalty programs, reducing their (inclusive) services and operating like a limited service brand, while they charge for the luxury brands that they are, or at least by definition.

Service, is for sale, and if you want it, you’re going to have to pay to stay at the most exclusive Hotels, and even then there won’t be any guarantee that they haven’t made significant cuts to their service or guest programs as well, or, you’ll have to travel to Hotels in places like Asia, where the labour market is still so cheap that the major Hotels in Asia can afford to provide service, and, throw bodies at the problem when all else fails.

Service doesn’t have to be defined by a higher body count, sure it helps at times, depending on the specific service, but it isn’t a necessity.

What is necessary is a dedication to service in the first place, and a specific plan on how to deliver it, consistently, so you can look your employees in the eye every day, with the confidence that you are behaving like and modelling the behaviour of the leader that they expect and deserve.

There is, in my opinion, no better leadership model than leadership by (positive) example.

Great leaders inspire others with their passionate commitment to what they believe in. They love what they’re doing, and they’re doing what they love.  

Inspire your employees through your passionate commitment to service. 

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Public Washrooms – Flush with Opportunity

Picture it, you’re walking through a Hotel, or, maybe you’ve just had a drink in the bar, and you decide that you need to use the washroom.

You push back the entry door and one of two things happen.

      1.       You are hit, smacked in the face, with the sharp contrast between the beautiful lobby (or bar/restaurant) that you were just in and this excuse for a “public space,” or,

      2.       You are reassured by the continuation of the commitment to quality, to cleanliness, that is evident in every noticeable feature that catches your eye as you enter.

I don’t know about you, but I want to experience #2 when I enter a Hotel washroom, and so I should.

Operators need to ensure that public washrooms are well thought out and prioritized during the design phase or during any renovations programs that are contemplated along the way.

Far too often, these areas, out of sight for the most part, are forgotten or pushed to the back of the list during renovations, and as a result, they end up falling short of your brand promise or commitment.

The same holds true for your restaurant/bar washrooms if in fact they are separate from your main lobby washrooms.

I always draw a conclusion from what I see in the washrooms to what I expect to experience in a restaurant or bar, whether part of a Hotel, or simply as a stand-alone restaurant or bar, and I have yet to go out with a woman who has not returned from a trip to the washroom with some comment about the “state of affairs” behind those closed doors and how that might translate into their commitment to cleanliness or overall quality.

As I have been no doubt guilty of repeating all too often, a Hotel should be treated like your home, it should be a reflection of what you would do in your home, for guests, to, in this case, make a space feel warm and inviting, and of course clean, with an attention to detail.

So take a few extra minutes, and spend a few extra dollars, and throw in a few little touches, like attractive tissue containers on the vanities, to cover up those institutional looking Kleenex boxes – something that compliments the colours in the washroom.

Maybe a couple of lotion pumps or decorative hand soap dispensers.

Personally, I like to go to a local home decor shop and look for unique individual items that will reflect that someone made an effort to personalize this space, rather than having picked out the accessories from the local restaurant or Hotel supply catalogue.

And last, but certainly not least, make sure that there is a diligent program in place to have these spaces checked OFTEN. Nothing is worse than going into a washroom where it looks like a bomb just went off, and it is clear that no one has bothered to check this space in some time. 

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Labour Relations – Out With the Old, In With the New

The topic of “Labour Relations” has been on my mind of late.

If you’ve been following my Blog for any length of time you will have noticed several articles, in the last month, on the topic of unions, their impact on service, and the question of their validity in this era.

I’ve long thought that even the term “Labour Relations” is out of date.

What do you think of when you hear the term?   

For me, it conjures up memories of stories of labour disputes, protracted and adversarial contract negotiations and other negative examples of a typical relationship.

In my opinion, there is currently no “relations” within the labour sector, so why do we refer to it as Labour Relations?

If we’re going to have successful relationships with the people that we work with, union or not, management, hourly, whatever, it’s time to look at this area with fresh eyes.

I think, for starters, a more appropriate label would be; Relationship Management, not Labour Relations anymore – Labour Relations is outdated and out of touch w reality.

After all, everything, and I mean everything in this business is all about relationships.  

As I’ve said before, I firmly believe that the 4 most important words in the hospitality business are; it’s all about relationships, so why wouldn’t that extend to the relationships that we have with our employees?

Managers, all managers, need to take a new look at the relationships that they have with their employees and remember a few simple facts along the way:

Manage your relationships, all the time, not just when you need them.

“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  

I love that quote.  To me, it reinforces the fact that it isn’t about what you know, how much experience you have in this or any other preceding position that matters to your employees, or at least not as much as it matters to them how you treat people.

Show your employees how much you care and watch them line up beside you. 

You need to know your people, what makes them tick, what motivates and inspires them.

Show them how they make a difference.

Be real, be sincere, be genuine:

- Dogs can smell fear, and,
- Your employees can smell bullsh**.

Be present and listen, really listen.

Thank people, often, and be specific.  (Show appreciation)

Labour Relations, or in this case Relationship Management, is everyone’s job, and it’s time that this important topic was elevated and prioritized within every service-based hospitality business.

Statistics show, repeatedly, and consistently, that happy, engaged employees are significantly more productive than other employees, and, those same happy and engaged employees are also much more likely to extend their happy attitude to your guests, a reflection of your company’s commitment to extending exceptional guest service.

Doesn’t everyone win when this happens?

It’s going to take a commitment though.  It’s going to take bold leadership to establish this as a priority within your business and to stick to it, even when it’s harder to do so.

It’s always harder to do the right thing, but, as I’ve said before, if it was easy, anyone could do it. 

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Crisis Communications Plans – What You Need to Know

It takes years to build a positive corporate image through a presence and good acts over the years.  A solid reputation is like the foundation of a building, on top of which, additional levels can be built and achieved, on the strength of that foundation of a solid reputation.   

It can take years to create an enviable reputation – it can take even longer to restore the publics confidence if a crisis is seen or perceived to have been mishandled.

There are differing opinions on the key elements of an effective crisis communications plan.  However, it has generally been my experience that no matter the specific contents within your crisis communications plan, once the crisis occurs and the need to effectively communicate to your respective audiences arises, all of the experts support following seven key criteria in dealing effectively with a crisis once it has occurred:

1.            Tell it all and tell it fast.  There is no better or more effective way to stop speculation about a situation; establish credibility as a reliable source of information; and to take control of the incident and the flow of information.  There is one caveat however.  It is imperative that you are certain of your facts.  You cannot be seen to either be over-reacting to the situation, or, under-estimating the significance of the situation.

2.            There must be only one designated spokesperson.  Nothing is worse than having several different people speaking on and attempting to explain a situation in different or potentially conflicting ways.  This situation can quickly destroy credibility which is why it is so important that one senior person in authority be designated to handle all of the communications functions, from the beginning of a crisis until it is concluded.

3.            All available information, so long as it does not involve security or confidential issues or potentially violate people’s privacy, should be made public.  It is important to determine and once determined cover all of the bases within a crisis situation.  Failing to do so, or choosing not to share information on a particular area, can result in questions focusing in on that area and making it appear to be far more significant than it may be, simply as a result of its original omission.

4.            Provide regular updates.  Providing regular and timely updates serves to build trust and credibility.  Conversely, lapses in the flow of information can result in speculation and heightened anxiety around a particular situation.  As stated earlier, it is however, imperative that you ensure that your information is accurate before sharing it with the public or the media.

5.            Recognize that the less people know about what is really transpiring the more they fear the possible consequences.  Uncertainty breeds speculation and rumours, and you can ill afford either in a crisis situation.

6.            Recognize that as a by-product of living in an increasingly technological world, the potential for a crisis situation to occur is equally increased.  The more complexity we add to our environment the more possibilities exist for disruptions.

7.            Companies MUST plan for crisis communications in advance and prioritize ensuring that plans are regularly reviewed and kept up to date.  Companies must anticipate a crisis before it occurs and have a communications plan prepared and ready for use when the time comes, and it will.

Having a comprehensive crisis communications plan in place allows staff to have a resource when the time comes, which will allow them to follow the guidelines established in the plan, both in responding to the crisis and in responding to the media, which will hopefully serve to maintain and protect the company’s reputation.

At some time, your business will likely be faced with any one of a number of situations, such as fire, earthquake, food poisoning and other threats, accidental death and other accidents resulting in personal injury or public liability, major criminal acts, and disputes by employees, customers and unions.

A bad first response, no response, or a late response to a crisis, will severely affect your image, and, if you are part of a larger brand, could negatively impact the overall brand as well, increasing the negative impact, substantially.   The error, in addition, may be amplified or repeated continuously by media coverage as the crisis develops and unfolds.  If the situation is severe enough or persists over time, public confidence will be seriously eroded, support diminished, and sales lost or cancelled.

The role of an effective crisis communications plan is to defuse negative situations which have the potential to damage your business, your image, and as a result, your short and long term goals. 

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

First Impressions - The Sequel

I only just recently wrote on the importance of first impressions, and in that case my focus was on the silent or unspoken first impression that your building makes in contributing to the initial arrival experience.

I stand by my comments and the importance of your building, landscaping etc., being well maintained and consistent with your brand image.

But let’s move on, and assume that you have an impeccable building exterior, driveway, etc., that sends the right message about your commitment to providing exceptional experiences.

Your guest pulls up in his or her car, or by cab, to the front of your Hotel.  Now what happens?

It’s the moment of truth.

I always liked that expression. 

When I was a Front Office Manager, at Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, many years ago now, the (then) Executive Assistant Manager that I reported to first introduced me to that expression and the concept that every time that we come in contact with a guest, or potential guest, it is a moment of truth, a defining moment.

It’s one of those moments that I still remember today, because it had an immediate and profound impact on me – I “got it” the minute he said it, and I have tried to pass on that concept to employees at all levels ever since.

It’s why it is in fact so important that the person that your guests first come in contact with has the right “attitude” towards this guest, and every guest, no matter what the circumstances, no matter what kind of day it’s been.  

If that Bellman, Doorman, or perhaps Valet does not spring forth with an exuberance that sets the Hotel apart, find someone that will.

Yes, it’s that simple to me, I feel that strongly about it.

I have been to Hotels where I pulled up in a cab, and marveled as I struggled to get my bags out of the cab, (thanks to an equally less than helpful cab driver), to see Bellmen or Doormen watching me, clearly aware that I was struggling with an awkward load, and what did they do to help me?

Nothing, nothing, not until I either waved them over, or, as I now approached the actual doors to the Hotel and I was forced to walk by them to get access to the Hotel, they felt that I was now close enough to warrant their efforts to throw my bags on their now within reach bell cart.

What was I left thinking?

I was left to think that this was one of “those” Hotels where the staff, and perhaps the management, had grown to think that they were better than the guests.  A Hotel where the guests should feel fortunate that these well-seasoned employees that deemed them worthy to be served by them.

You all know a Hotel like this.  Where the environment is so arrogant you can sense it immediately upon arrival, and certainly upon first contact, and most every service contact that follows.

And if you’re like me, and you have found yourself unwillingly or unexpectedly in this Twilight Zone episode of service, you make it a point never to go back, and to warn of everyone else that you possibly can.

Alternatively, there are those gems, those ambassadors of service, that we all want to steal away for ourselves when we encounter them.

Patrick, the Doorman at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel in Vancouver, BC is just such a gem.

I had the pleasure of working with Patrick when he was at the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Hotel, and when it was previously a Delta Hotel before that, but as often happens, we could not hang on to him forever.

He was at the Marriott/Delta property for many years and guest after guest after guest would comment on what an amazing, warm, charming, personable man this was, and how he remembered them and made them feel welcome, and how he was the reason that they consistently returned. 

And now, the Fairmont will benefit from his natural abilities, his warmth, his genuine caring, or more accurately, any and every guest that gets anywhere near the entrance to the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel will benefit from their experience of meeting Patrick.

If you go to the Fairmont Pacific Rim, you won’t need to look for Patrick, he will find you, and you will immediately know that it is him.

Make sure that you have your own gem, like Patrick, in position to make the right first impression to your guests when they arrive.

You know what they say; “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” 

Need an experienced hospitality professional to help your property reach its full potential?  Contact me.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Triple Sheeting vs. Bed Bugs

There has been a lot of press lately, again, on the “bed bug situation.”

Don’t get me started on how disgusting bed bugs are and the harm that they can do, to the individual affected, for sure.  But also to the poor unsuspecting Hotelier, who may have been doing all the right things to prevent a bed bug infestation, only to have someone bring them in in their luggage, and leave them behind for the next lucky guest.

As disgusting as we will all agree that bed bugs are, it strikes me odd that we only seem to focus on the extreme cases of what we associate with a lack of cleanliness, like bed bugs, but no one seems to be concerned with the every day occurrences that go on right under our unsuspecting noses.

Case in point – triple sheeting, or more importantly, the lack thereof.

Anyone who has EVER worked in a Hotel knows that duvets, or heaven forbid, bed spreads, are not cleaned after every guest.  

Far from it, in fact, bed spreads in Hotels that actually still use them, are almost never cleaned.  Maybe, just maybe, they are cleaned as part of an annual “deep clean” program that the Hotel has, but don’t count on it, especially among Hotels that are trying to minimize their costs, to the extreme, with little or no concern for their guests’ health and well-being.

Believing instead in the tried and true motto of; “what they don’t know won’t hurt them.”

And duvets, or duvet covers, are similarly cleaned very irregularly, and certainly not after every stay.

So here’s the question then?

What do you want next to your skin when you have curled up for the night in your warm (Hotel) bed?

Some cootie infested bed spread or duvet cover that is harbouring more germs than the toilet seat, or, a nice fresh 3rd sheet, put in place for the express purpose of keeping you and your cooties from coming in contact with the bed spread or duvet cover, and leaving your germs, to join everyone else’s?

There is only one answer for me – bring on the triple sheeting.

And yet, for some reason this topic never comes up?

I suspect it is because of a couple of factors:

      1.    A great many of the average consumers actually believe that the duvet cover (or bed spread) is changed out after every use, and,
      2.      The room “appears” clean.  You walk in and everything looks all perfectly placed, there is (hopefully) no dust to be seen, there is (again hopefully) no hairs floating around the bathroom, and, the room smells clean – ergo it must be clean.

All I can say, is don’t count on it.

It’s not that the majority of Hotel companies don’t care about cleanliness, because they do.

However, it just isn’t practical to remove the duvet cover after every use to have it cleaned.  The increased labour cost, just for starters, would cut into productivity and profitability.  Then add in the additional cleaning costs, the need for increased inventory and higher replacement costs due to increased wear and tear, and it’s not hard to see why Hotels do not change out the duvet cover after every use.

That said, that does not excuse the need for cleanliness, and to me, that’s where the need for triple sheeting comes in.  Where triple sheeting was once viewed as a luxury to be found at only the best (and usually more expensive) Hotels, it is now a necessity, which as a result, should be found at every reputable Hotel.

Bottom line – don’t accept anything less.  You’re paying for cleanliness, you should get what you paid for. 

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Power of One

I’ve recently taken on a self-imposed project to increase the level of charitable work done by companies and individuals.

I was originally inspired by my daughter, a 4th year university student who last summer travelled to a remote village in Guatemala to help teach in a small isolated village school.

There were many facets of her choice that inspired me, but perhaps the most significant was seemingly the smallest.

Before she left for Guatemala, she did a lot of research on the area that she was headed for to better understand what to expect when she arrived, and one of the many things that she discovered was that the “school” where she would be assisting had almost no paper, pencils, crayons or markers.

It was, as you might have suspected, a VERY poor village, and as a result, very, very poorly equipped.

So, my daughter decided that she would see what she could do to help out with the situation.

She was working as a barista at a local coffee house at the time, so she asked her employer if she might post some simple signage and ask people to donate any school supplies that they might be able to provide.

Her request was a simple one, just a sign, and a cardboard box, where people could deposit any paper, pencils, markers, crayons.

She also went to the other area coffee houses and asked their permission to do the same thing, in the hope of increasing the amount of supplies that she might be able to obtain.

By the time she left for Guatemala a few weeks later, she was able to fill several large duffel bags and suitcases with school supplies and take them with her to the village where she would be assisting in the local school.

You can’t imagine how excited the school teachers were when my daughter arrived with her many suitcases filled with paper, pencils, etc…  (They actually asked her NOT to tell the children as it would be too overwhelming for them to have so much at one time, but rather the teachers would give it to the students in smaller “doses” which they also hoped will extend the life of her gift as they called it).

This, was my inspiration.

As individuals, and as companies, we often struggle with how we can work to improve the lives of others.  We often spend our time looking for the “big win” where we can have what we feel will be a significant impact, and we minimize our own ability to be affective, as individuals.

In short, we down play our ability to make a difference, focusing instead on the sheer size and magnitude of the challenge, and believing ourselves incapable of making a difference, or, we believe someone else will take up the challenge.

As a Hotel General Manager for many years, I have always been a part of charitable campaigns within my Hotels, both as a part of a larger Corporate commitment, usually selected and mandated by Corporate Office, and, as a part of a local initiative, ideally identified and spear-headed by my employees, in support of something that they felt was important.

These are and continue to be important reasons to get involved and support important causes.

But I’ve recently become much more aware of the power of one, and the importance of recognizing our own greatness as it relates to our ability to be compassionate, and to choose to make a difference, no matter how small our effort may initially seem.

Imagine what we could achieve if everyone took on the challenge, to make a difference, in whatever way they could, today.

Imagine if we did not spend the time to think about what the impact might be if our efforts were not as successful as we wanted them to be, but instead just took action, did something, anything. 

And what if our actions inspired just one other person to do the same?  

Wouldn’t it be worth it?

I’ve decided to take this on, and I plan to incorporate this message into the work that I do with organizations and schools, and I’m asking you to take up the challenge.

“I am only one, but I am one.  I cannot do everything, but I can do something.  And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”   Edward Everett Hale 

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

First Impressions – You Only Get One Chance to Get it Right

When is the last time you REALLY paid attention to the arrival experience at your Hotel?

Come on, be honest, you’ll feel better.

When is the last time that you arrived by cab to the front of your Hotel?

Or, stood across the street and looked at the fa├žade of your property and REALLY thought about what it is saying to arriving guests, or prospective customers?

We all know that we only get one chance to make a first impression, yet far too often, the first impression is thought to be associated with the first employee that your guests come in contact with.

While I whole-heartedly agree on the value of the first “personal” contact that our guests experience, I would argue that there is, nonetheless, a first impression being made, albeit silently, by your building, your driveway, your landscaping – In short, the arrival experience.

What is it combining to tell your prospective guests?

Is it warm and welcoming?  Is it in harmony with your company’s commitment to service and the other standards that you have set to provide an exceptional experience to your guests?

Or is it cold and uninviting?  In sharp contrast to the commitments, the vision, mission and core values that you associate with your Brand and what your Brand stands for.

I have often marvelled at the sharp contrast between the exterior and the interior of a Hotel, and specifically, the distinctly different messages that each is sending to your guests.

I recognize that times are tough, and finances are stretched.  Not every Hotel can afford to have their building exterior painted in spite of the need to do so, due to the age and fading or outdated paint colours that adorn the exterior.

But you can take steps, small steps, to ensure that your building is clean, the driveway and sidewalks clear of debris and cigarette butts.

If you have exterior landscaping, plants, trees, etc., it is important to see that they are regularly attended to and kept properly groomed.

They may not say so, but your guests DO notice whether or not your Hotel appears to be “clean” from the outside, whether or not it is warm and inviting, or cold and uninviting.

I believe that first impressions, and last impressions, are key in our business.

First impressions set the tone for everything to follow, and as a result, the arrival experience is key to setting the right tone, sending the right message to your guests, sending the subtle but important cues that reassure your guests that they have made the right decision when they put their faith in you, to deliver an exceptional experience, from beginning to end.

As important as first impressions are, I would also argue that last impressions can be equally important, and should not be left to chance.

If everything has gone well, right up to the point of departure, creating that lasting impression that creates repeat customers, and who doesn’t love repeat customers, only to have it all shattered by a sub standard experience upon departure, what do you think that the guest will remember?

Make the right first impression, and last impression. 

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