Building great products requires absorbing as much knowledge and insight as possible about the people using them. We have found it helps to approach this from multiple angles, not only speaking to our customers but speaking to industry experts to learn about the different aspects of hospitality and the unique challenges they come across.
We do this by regularly inviting a partner to speak to our team informally about their experiences. Recently, we chatted with Arlene Spencer of Learning Tiger. Arlene trains staff for leading hotel brands and has deep expertise in customer service, setting and maintaining standards and the application of personalisation through the human touch.
These are some of the takeaways from our conversation with Arlene.
Everything starts with culture.
As the adage goes, ‘Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen’. Everything starts with the culture of the team. Trust, empowerment, and knowledge sharing are critical amongst high-performing hotel teams.
Successful restaurant brands want a waiter to have tasted everything on the menu that day. If a guest asks for a recommendation, their waiter should be talking from experience and show real knowledge and understanding of the menu. The same goes for drinks at the bar or even rooms; the best staff will have seen it from the other side and know their product inside and out.
This also applies outside of the hotel. Guests will immerse themselves in the neighbourhood and staff should be given the opportunity to experience what is around the hotel in the same way that a guest will.
The value of getting good at reading the guest.
Within F&B, a good maître d will pick up on the dynamics at a table. They will notice who the host is; the one who will indicate when they are ready to order or ready to pay, and possibly the one who will order wine for the table.
This is also true when a guest comes to reception looking for a recommendation, for example, for shopping. A guest might walk up to a young receptionist in their early twenties who has a very different idea of where to shop than them. It is important that the receptionist can pick up on cues and ask the right questions, whilst at the same time not making assumptions or jumping to conclusions about their tastes.
Handbags, shoes, watches - there are several indicators that you can pick up on to identify the tastes of the person you are speaking to.
The importance of setting expectations and educating.
Having worked in housekeeping and acknowledging them as the ‘unsung heroes’ of the industry, Arlene points out a common challenge is managing guest expectations. Guests arriving for a city break are likely to arrive early to make the most of their time, and if they try to check into the hotel, they might find that their room isn't ready. It's okay to inform the guest why this is, Arlene says. Guests will fully understand and appreciate if the property was full the night before and the housekeeping team is working hard to turn all the rooms around. The guest may have been frustrated, but more often than not, will entirely appreciate the situation once it is explained politely.
The hotel team has an opportunity in these moments to turn the situation into a positive interaction. They can take their bags for the day and chat with them about what they are up to and why they are in town.
Technology is not a replacement for the human touch.
Many of us will instinctively know when we enter a hotel how to join the Wi-Fi, how to message the reception, and how to use all sorts of in-room technology. However, that's not to say that everyone will. Particularly for elderly guests, there needs to be a consideration and an ability to recognise and respond to those things that aren't second nature for everyone. This could be as simple as helping a guest connect to the Wi-Fi, but it should never be dismissive.
Telling a guest that is struggling to connect that there is a card with a QR code in the room is probably never the right solution. Offering to come up to the guest and set them up personally will leave them feeling more valued and better served.
Personalisation without technology.
It doesn't matter if it's a five-star hotel or a budget one; emotional intelligence can be the bread and butter. It doesn't take much for a receptionist to introduce themselves and ask your name and then speak to you about your travel.
Personalisation isn't a new concept; it's just made cheaper and more accessible through technology. Staff in hotels tend to learn the names of regular guests, and those guests will similarly refer to their bartender by name, having gotten to know them.
Arlene can remember a time when a regular guest at a hotel in London was sitting in the bar one evening, sipping on his regular old-fashioned with a twist, and the bar manager asked how his week was. He replied that he was sick of all the bad news, everywhere he looks. He'd been away from his family for some time, and this week it was really getting him down.
The next morning when he came down for breakfast, the bar manager had left a note for the breakfast team to hand him a specific newspaper. Upon opening, he found lots of holes, of all sizes, and a note saying, 'I hope your day is a little better today.' The bar manager had cut out all of the bad news stories.
Above all, what we learned from our conversation with Arlene is that personal touches go a long, long way. There are many ways to bridge the gap between the hotel and the guest, and this always starts with the people and the culture of the team. People will pick up on little things and use their experience to improve the service that they offer each guest. Technology can be used as an extension of the team and as a tool to enable even better service, but it doesn’t ever replace the human touch.
Find Arlene on Linkedin - https://www.linkedin.com/in/arlene-spencer-1716594a/