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Above and Beyond

From bellhops and front desk clerks to housekeepers and maintenance staff, every hotel worker plays an instrumental role in the quality of service guests receive. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s “2011 Lodging Industry Profile,” the U.S. travel and tourism industry employed 1.76 million hotel property workers in 2010. As the economy continues to improve and hotel occupancy rates increase, an engaged, motivated, and passionate lodging workforce is necessary to satisfy hotel guests and turn them into loyal, referral-friendly customers.

Avatar HR Solutions’ Research Institute has found that employees working in hotels, resorts, and casinos truly understand the importance of ensuring a guest’s overall experience is a positive, memorable one. In fact, 70 percent of employees who work in the hospitality industry believe members of their work group have the skills needed to provide the best guest service. (Avatar HR Solutions’ Hospitality Normative Database contains responses from more than 240,000 employees at nearly 300 organizations.) Such interpersonal skills like respect, active listening, and conflict resolution go a long way when lodging employees are making a concerted effort to satisfy guests. However, employees’ skills alone do not always yield a positive experience for guests. While 78 percent of hospitality employees said their organization is committed to quality service, only 56 percent of them feel their organization’s administrative policies and practices promote the most effective guest service.

To guarantee all new and tenured employees comprehend the tenets required for a successful guest experience, lodging HR professionals should establish a Commitment to Customer Service if one is not already in place. The document could list the organization’s commitment to professional excellence, quality, timeliness, and flexibility, and should be prominently displayed near the front desk. Such a commitment will drive home the significance of giving guests the service they not only deserve, but also expect.

Unfortunately, lack of concern for guests and their needs can be detrimental to maintaining an organization’s reputation, as well as securing repeat customers. Interestingly, only 67 percent of hospitality employees think workers in their organization show an attitude of genuinely caring about the customer. A culture of engagement and a commitment to guest satisfaction are necessary to improve the overall quality of service guests receive.

In season two of the CBS TV show “Undercover Boss,” Great Wolf Resorts, Choice Hotels International, and the MGM Grand had one of their senior-level executives disguise themselves and work alongside line-level employees to evaluate the inner workings of their organization. They all appeared on the show to see how their decisions directly affect employees, uncover problems that exist within their organization, and identity the engagement level of their staff. Appearing on the show was a significant step toward demonstrating their dedication to employee engagement and the drastic impact it has on the overall guest experience.

“The Great Wolf brand is something all our pack members and guests are immersed in from the time they step foot in one of our lodges,” says John Curty, vice president of employee relations for Great Wolf Resorts. “The majority of our senior management has been with the organization since the beginning. Because they created the brand and concepts, their sense of ownership helps them communicate their enthusiasm for the organization to line-level employees.”

Lodging organizations count on their staff to build a strong relationship with their property, brand, and guests. “We rely on our people to deliver a fantastic guest experience each and every day,” says Tracy Robbins, executive vice president, global human resources and group operations support of InterContinental Hotels Group. “When we have the right people, who love their jobs, feel proud of where they work, and are committed to improving performance, then our guests enjoy a better experience.”

Many lodging organizations are driven to engage and empower their employees, recognizing the importance onboarding and professional development opportunities have in engaging staff. “With training at the time of hire and continual training, our employees are empowered to do their duties and create a memorable experience for our guests,” Curty says. IHG has also created a set of activities called the “People Tools” (i.e., hiring, training, involving, and recognizing teams). With the tools, each brand’s personality is married with customer insight and designed to bring out the best of the unique skills and experience each one of its employees brings to work. Career development is a key driver of employee engagement and an important retention tool for organizations that are determined to retain their top talent.

Joie de Vivre Hotels has several internal programs that are driven by employees instead of managers to continue fostering engagement. For instance, Joie de Vivre’s Dreammaker program enhances the connections employees make with guests and forges a unique bond between the two parties. Through the program, each employee is empowered to give any guest a gift to recognize that individual. Examples of a Dreammaker include an employee lending a guest a suit for an interview after the guest’s luggage was lost, a staff member creating personalized playlists for a guest with similar music tastes, and a worker providing toys and activities for parents traveling with their children. Each Dreammaker is a symbol of that employee’s personal engagement and empowerment.

“Employee engagement is woven into the fabric of our organization and is what often attracts people to work with us,” says Blaire Perrett, learning and development manager of Joie de Vivre. “We communicate this to our employees by making their development a priority through programs such as JdV University and Cultural Ambassadors.” Joie de Vivre’s training programs prepare employees for the uniqueness of each hotel and give them the skills to satisfy guests.

Since recognition plays a pivotal role in engagement, the need for lodging organizations to publicly and privately recognize their employees for providing excellent service cannot be underestimated. Every year, in partnership with the IHG Owners Association, IHG dedicates a whole week called “Celebrate Service Week” to thank and recognize employees for the great service they deliver to guests. Through Great Wolf Resorts’ Paw Points program, line-level employees can earn a variety of points for demonstrating certain characteristics (e.g. integrity, safety, teamwork, etc.) and can redeem them for various prizes. “Instant and individual recognition is the best form of recognizing the whole,” Curty says. “Paw Points provides instant positive feedback for the individual, but also creates the ripple effect to share the honor with the whole team.”

Joie de Vivre also has recognition programs both at the corporate level as well as the individual property level. Each property creates unique employee recognition programs that reflect the culture and atmosphere of the hotel. For example, the Hotel Adagio uses the “High Five” program, where employees who see each other doing something positive can give each other a “High Five” card that gets placed into a monthly raffle for various rewards. The organization also has its annual Art of Service, Manuela Ramirez Heart of the House, and Rising Star awards that are given to employees at each region’s annual holiday party.

By recognizing employees for high performance, lodging organizations will further empower their staff to do what is best for the guest while always bringing their best selves to work. Holding monthly staff meetings where there is a focus on service successes and areas of opportunity can dramatically improve guest satisfaction. In addition, measuring guest satisfaction allows organizations to regularly monitor the overall guest experience and discover areas for improvement. Many lodging organizations like Great Wolf Resorts and IHG assess guest satisfaction through post-stay surveys.

“Each of our departments and properties has a score goal to reach. Until they reach that goal, or when they see their score dip, they work together as a team to bring the score to its highest potential,” Curty says. “The customization of the program really allows us to gauge what type of experience we create for each family.”

Joie de Vivre monitors guest satisfaction from the number of repeat guests along with its ranking in social media sites like TripAdvisor; however, the one measurement that has been central to Joie de Vivre’s success is its “Can Do Attitude.” When asked to define “Can Do,” the organization’s employees most often say that it is simply doing whatever you can for a guest because it is the right thing to do. “‘Can Do’ isn’t about a script or a particular model,” Perrett says. “It is truly about each employee showing up for work and engaging with co-workers and guests.”

When guests arrive at their lodging destination, they expect to have a fun, positive, and memorable experience. Engaged employees are the key to providing those guests with exceptional service, going above and beyond to exceed expectations. Without such service, organizations run the risk of losing not only their most valued guests, but also their most engaged employees. n

Michael P. Savitt is the PR/communications marketing manager at Avatar HR Solutions, a Chicago-based Human Capital Management Consulting Firm specializing in workplace survey design, implementation, analysis, and action planning; www.hrsolutionsinc.com.

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