By Roberta Nedry
Late afternoon, lazing in our cabana chairs outside our room, next to the pool, overlooking the beach, waiting for our first cocktail as sunset approached. Our guest experience so far was dreamy and our boutique hotel setting exquisite. We loved our room, the ambiance and the feelings we were having. We were comfortable, relaxed and happy with our hotel choice. Then, a high pitched buzzing noise, the sense of something flying nearby, the disturbing sight of a black insect landing on my leg, the stinging slap to end its life, a small squish of blood, a new bump and the realization that the itching would soon begin. A MOSQUITO had interrupted my Guest Experience! And, he brought friends.
Soon, we could think of nothing else and exquisite turned to annoying as more mosquitoes showed up. Our cocktails and sunset toast were neglected as we began a series of calls to solve a problem we would not have expected to have in this luxury setting. We were now uncomfortable, stressed and unhappy with the hotel for not taking care of this before our sunset experience began. Our call to the manager led to an explanation that their elaborate mosquito prevention system was broken. He sent a housekeeper to our room to “spray” but she did not speak English, did not understand the problem, thought it was inside, and not outside and simply offered to vacuum and spray air freshener. We declined her offer, left our cozy patio ambiance and headed to the bar. We told the bartender about our frustrations and that we were quite surprised the hotel did not proactively manage this insect intrusion nor know how to handle the intruders after they arrived. She jumped right in with her own frustrations noting the tiny monsters also bit her and her fellow employees regularly and that the hotel did not seem to care or help. She said the mosquitoes were often a distraction to her job and that she was less focused on the guest while she was battling the icky itches. She finally starting coming to work with her own mosquito prevention equipment and offered to share her can of bug spray. We eagerly accepted and started spraying up a storm.
Tiny annoyances like these can turn into gigantic upsets and leave guests with experiences they want to forget instead of remember.
What’s interesting is how hoteliers and hospitality leaders may or may not be responding to these interruptions and how they are preparing their staff and teams to handle them if and when they happen.
In the case of the invading mosquitoes, the hotel team knew that this time of year was more mosquito intensive but did not have a plan in place to address it or alert the guests. The housekeeper who was sent to our room had no idea that she played a role in the guest experience and simply had a job to do. She had not been oriented to approach the situation from the guest’s point of view and to what would make that guest more comfortable. She did not connect to the situation or the guests and simply went about the tasks she was assigned. She was there for at least 15 minutes, more time than we spent with any other employee in the hotel. She was not empowered nor in tune with the experience underway and did not even want to speak to the guests. She simply wanted to get her job done. This caused the feeling of “interruption” to be even stronger with the guests when a “connection”, empathy and a positive outcome were what were needed.
Then, when the employee at the bar shared a similar experience and frustration, we knew the interruption continued far beyond the mosquito. The interruption was actually a disconnect between the hotel employees and the guest experience. While great moments had been scripted for guests in this beautiful boutique hotel setting, those moments did not flow together into one seamless experience and had not been coordinated nor managed from an overall experience perspective. The employees were trying to do a good job but they were individually focused and not linked together as a chain in experience and seamless service delivery. The employees were interrupted from delivering a good experience, which in turn interrupted the guests from receiving a good experience.
Are there areas of the guest experience where more interruptions take place than others? Are there certain employees or departments who receive less training on guest experience management such as housekeeping in the example above? Are individual tasks prioritized over coordinated service delivery and continuity? How well are employees prepared to handle interruptions? And how often, do procedures intended to support the guest experience end up interrupting them instead?
“A Smoke Alarm interrupted their Guest Experience”
Image Courtesy of Shutterstock/PathDoc
At a beautiful boutique resort, the smoke alarm went off at 11pm. The two guests, in their 80’s, who were almost asleep, panicked looking for a fire, called the front desk immediately and were told engineering would be right up. There was no fire but engineering was not right up. Luckily the alarm stopped on its own before engineering got there. When the engineer did arrive, he took a cursory look and said all looked fine. There was no emotion or empathy about the disturbance or late hour. No follow up or concern by front desk. No acknowledgement about the interruption.
At 7am the next morning, the smoke alarm went off again in the same room. This time, both of the elderly guests were sound asleep and so their reactions were more frightened and stunned. They called the front desk immediately and were told again that an engineer would be right up. The alarm kept blaring and the guests called the front desk two more times asking when the engineer would come and stop the shrill sound. The alarm continued for 15 minutes straight until one of the guests finally stood on a chair and pulled out the batteries from the alarm, not a great thing for an 80 year old to do?
The engineer showed up a few minutes later, noted that the battery should have been changed a few months earlier and had been overlooked. Unfortunately these elderly guests had to pay the price of lost sleep and unexpected anxiety for this two time loud interruption. There was no apology or empathy as it was happening, no acknowledgement of the trauma this had caused the guests, twice now, and no solution offered initially to make up for their discomfort. There was also no follow up or response by the front desk other than to schedule time to replace the battery.
In these interruption scenarios, housekeeping and engineering were called in to address the situation yet neither one seemed to recognize their role in the guest experience. They did recognize they had a job to do, a procedure to perform and problem to try to solve. They had not been trained on how to make an emotional connection with the guest. They were not skilled or trained in service recovery. They were not oriented to their role and link in the chain of the guest experience. And their own experience and effectiveness was diminished by having to interact with dissatisfied guests and unrewarding outcomes and not knowing how to handle them.
Engineering and housekeeping spend a good percentage of their time on interruptions and things that need “fixing” with guests. Yet, how much time is spent with these two departments relative to other areas of the hotel as it relates to guest experience training? Do employees in these areas understand the behaviors essential to interacting with guests in stressful or less than wonderful moments? Do they understand the skills required for effective service recovery or do they even recognize when they are needed? Do they feel empowered to take charge and play a stronger and more emotional role in the guest experience that would allow both them and the guest to feel better?
Oftentimes, these departments are not a focus of guest service training or emphasis and yet they may end up spending more time with guests than those that do receive more intense guest service training. They are the ones that come to the door or the meeting room and must respond, answer or solve a problem. It may take them several minutes or trips so their interaction time with the guest can be extensive. How they handle it as well as how they then pass the baton to the next touchpoint in the guest experience can also impact service delivery in a positive or negative way.
And, beyond these departments, how are the rest of the employees oriented to handling interruptions or assisting departments like these in managing them with the goal of seamless service delivery and a flowing guest experience in mind? Think of the front desk in the alarm scenario and how they could have played a greater recovery role.
Consider the following to better assure superior results and that the desired experience is not interrupted in your hotel or organization:
- Take a look at records and feedback on any interruptions that take place on a regular basis, at least twice a month. Explore why they happened and if they could have been anticipated or handled better. If some interruptions are seasonal, plan for them and prepare teams to handle recovery and solutions when they happen.
- Once identified, determine what soft skills and behaviours are necessary to handle those situations.
- Evaluate whether the teams/employees in those situations have been trained or have enough training to deliver those soft skills and behaviours. Take a closer look at departments like engineering and housekeeping to see if more comprehensive training should take place with a focus on their specific roles and scenarios that take place.
- Orient ALL EMPLOYEES to how the Guest Experience evolves and how they each play a role in not only in their own responsibilities but also in how they pass the baton on to the next employee or department.
- Evaluate how the employee may be interrupted in delivering a good experience and give them the environment and tools for success. (No mosquito bites and scratching while serving drinks!)
- Look at policies and procedures from the guest’s point of view and not just operational efficiency. Orient employees to better understand uncovering and discovering the emotional impact of any interruptions. Train them on how to come to the rescue with the appropriate emotional response and solution.
Don’t let mosquitoes, smoke alarms or other annoyances interrupt your guest experiences. If they do happen, take the sting out of them with effective and empathetic guest experience management. Prepare your staff with service recovery strategies and make sure they are not interrupted on the job either. Minimize alarming moments with guests. Maximize the positive opportunities that come with continuity and seamless service delivery. Spray on Service Excellence for the ultimate guest protection.