Hoteliers need to know the difference between caring about guests and caring for guests to put both into practice. For 30 years now I have been doing a workshop activity in my training classes where I have participants break into small groups and write out one collective definition to answer the question: “what IS hospitality?” These days I have to preface the activity by reminding them “please do NOT visit dictionary.com on your smartphones!”
Although it is always interesting and insightful to hear their feedback, I still recall well the best definition I’ve ever heard in literally over a thousand times I’ve done this: “hospitality means caring about as well as caring for others.”
What does it mean to care about as well as for others?
In the hotel business, when we care for the guest it means that we process their check-in efficiently and promptly get them the key to a clean, well-maintained guestroom. In the restaurant business, it means that we politely take their order and relay it to the kitchen, then bring them the appropriate condiments and eating utensils and eventually a hot meal. In any customer service business, it basically means we do our job of completing the task to deliver the physical product or intangible service.
Essentially, when we only care for guests and not about them, we act like a human service delivery machine, and quite frankly, if that’s all we do in this industry, most of our jobs will soon be replaced by automation, robotics, self-service kiosks and various forms of artificial intelligence.
When we care about guests, we remember that they are our fellow human beings. We remember that the seemingly detached person on the other side of the front desk, or across from us at the bar, or waiting behind the guest room door, or speaking to us on the other end of the phone call is someone’s father or mother, sister or brother, son or daughter, neighbour or treasured friend. Caring about as well as for others means that you realise that each is a completely unique individual and not a number.
In my training workshops, I have always encouraged participants to stop and think about the many travel stories that are playing out each and every day on the other side of our guestroom doors.
In the hotel business, as in many other customer service businesses, corporate cultures have allowed customers and guests to be steadily “dehumanised” over the years. This is why at most hotels these days we really don’t have “guests” any more. For example, the reservations department talks about “the caller on line one” and how many “arrivals” for any given day. These arrivals become “check-ins” to the front-desk clerks, who then hand them off as “fronts” to the bell staff. Once fully registered, these “fronts” literally become their room number for the rest of their stay. You can hear the hotel staff calling out:
- “701 wants a late check-out;”
- “206 needs more towels;” and,
- “105 has a problem with the Wi-Fi.”
When dining at the hotel restaurant they are referred to as “table 13,” and when they show up at the spa desk they are identified thereafter as their appointment time slot as in “I’ve got to go, my three o’clock is here.”
It is time to re-humanise our customers, whether we call them hotel guests, restaurant patrons or sales prospects. Re-humanising means knowing fully that the human being on the other side of the desk or phone line could be you, albeit but for a few different twists of fate along the path of life. Our work is much more important than we might sometimes think.
Let’s look at the reservations agent who thinks he is in the business of booking rooms for callers who don’t know how to work the internet well enough to book online. Yet those who call these days are probably planning a trip that is important enough to verify a few key details, or who have special needs and requests. It might be the mom of a child with a disability or a person whose spouse is coming to town to undergo surgery or chemotherapy at the hospital.
It might be just a weekend getaway the caller is planning, or they might be planning a military send-off (or reunion after deployment), or that “needy caller with all those annoying questions” just might be planning what they hope is the perfect “save the marriage and reconnect” weekend getaway.
So the next time you greet a customer, whether dining at your table in the restaurant, checking in at your front desk, or calling your phone extension, remember their name is not “table six” or “some guy on line three.” They are not the “the next customer” in the queue at your reception desk or workstation. Think of them as being a real person just as you are and imagine the story playing out in their own reality as they share the same place in time with you at this very moment.
When we care about as well as for those we call guests, then we evoke the true spirit of hospitality, which is treating guests with warmth and generosity.
Doug Kennedy is the President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. – a leading provider of hotel sales, guest service, reservations, and front desk training programmes and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotelier Maldives and its affiliated companies. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.