A Readiness Matrix for Hotels

Every business entity must always be ready to serve its customers. Customers pay and anticipate something in return, in the form of a product or a service. These entities must live by their visions and missions. A business must do what it set out to do, such as maintaining: quality standards, good service, affordable products and services, etc. A promise is a promise. It doesn’t matter whether or not a business is operating at a loss, standards should not be compromised.

Customers come from all walks-of-life. They have preferences and tastes. It is not always easy to satisfy their needs. However, for hoteliers, certain basic things must be in place. I will call these the physical and the psychological environments. Both these factors can attract or repel a potential customers.

1.1 The Physical Environment

Hotels have their work well cut out. Hoteliers know very well that the surroundings or physical environment must be kept clean, the lawn, trees and flowers well-trimmed. The décor must appeal to their customers. Even though a customer is not into arts or sculptures, something will become attractive to them, e.g a clean environment.

According to the Diversey (2017) online survey conducted in 5 European countries, cleanliness is the single most important element during hotel recommendation:

  • Cleanliness (41%)
  • Value for money (32%)
  • Location (10%)
  • Quality of service (7%)
  • Friendliness of staff (3%)
  • Food and drink (3%)
  • Pleasant atmosphere (2%)
  • Hotel brand (1%)

 

1.2 The Psychological Environment

As soon as a customer arrives at the front desk, a lot is at stake. As they check-in, frontline staff must tune-into their customers. By understanding the psychology or moods of a customer, frontline staff perform an important task, often carried out by psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists during clinical interventions with their patients. This is called Mental State Examination (MSE).

The mental state examination (MSE) is a structured way of observing and describing a patient’s current state of mind, under the domains of appearance, attitude, behaviour, mood, affect, speech, thought process, thought content, perception, cognition and insight”

I don’t imply that customers are patients. But like patients, customers too have moods, feelings and do express themselves in unique ways. Frontline staff must become empathetic or sensitive to these feelings and moods. By so doing, the staff is able to handle unforeseen situations, which may arise as a result of customer behaviour or reaction. A Mental Status Observation (MSO) enables staff to prepare and to reach out to their customers in the most professional, profound and efficient manner.

Our customers want to be listened to, appreciated and they deserve a world-class service. MSO allows staff to answer some of the following basic questions:

  • Have you read the ‘mind’ and established the needs of your customer?
  • Do you realize that customers’ needs are emotional rather than logical?
  • Have you observed and listened to their words, tone of voice and body language?

My top 5 shocking hotel and restaurant experiences

 

I think I am faithful to the hotel and travel industry. Like so many people, I consider myself well-travelled, in South Africa and globally. Both for business and pleasure. My experiences vary from different hotels and various restaurants. I have gathered lot of wonderful memories. The ambience in some of these hotels and décor have always given me comfort and relaxation, especially when I had to prepare before the start of important appointments. In general, I have had wonderful stays at most hotels, which I still cherish today.

My wonderful experiences have translated so much into my liking for the hospitality and travel industry, whereby customer service has become a big deal right from the top senior management to the client-facing staff. Having spent many years working in the public service, I have also accepted the general notion that ‘the public sector should look at the hospitality industry for advice and inspiration on customer service because customer service is the sole heartbeat of the hospitality and tourism industry’.

Hotel chains or groups invest in their own infrastructure and staff to deliver the best customer service. Governments too, should invest in their own infrastructure such as water, electricity and road and transport networks in order to deliver a service to the public.

I believe that many of service delivery protests in South Africa can be avoided, only if the needs of taxpayers and communities can be addressed, at least on time. Most of these problems have something to do with poor operations and maintenance of infrastructure. It is also important to acknowledge that some of these problems are historical and structural in nature, thereby require appropriate resources (funding, skills, and expertise) and political will to resolve.

Although I have many positive things to say about my experiences, I also came across the following shocking experiences, which have prompted me to develop a training course on the Ten Commandments of Exceptional Customer Service:

  1. Finding a naked woman in my room
  2. Finding shit on a neatly folded towel
  3. Hotel staff accusing me of stealing cool drinks in the restaurant – mistaken identity
  4. Flies in my breakfast
  5. Finding used tea bags in a dried fruit salad

I have never looked back, but accepted that mistakes do happen. Cleaning staff are mostly overworked and underpaid. They tend to overlook certain things as they are in a hurry to complete all the necessary tasks on time. Client-facing and restaurant staff too, work under pressure and do make mistakes.

We can all learn from own mistakes, however, we need to ensure that such silly mistakes are not repeated as they can impact negatively on customers. Staff consciousness and understanding the psychology of a customer is one of the nuances which do not get taught at hotel schools and training institutions.

The Future of Local Government: From Ratepayers to Customers

It is an open secret that South Africa is experiencing ‘a culture of non-payment for public services’. A large number of municipalities and institutions are owed billions of Rands in revenue from their respective customers. Arguably, majority of these customers rely on government to subsidize basic services as they cannot afford to pay. However, the phenomenon of non-payment is not only limited to poor people, even those that can afford to pay for the services, fail to do so.

Despite major investments in new and old infrastructure, many of our local municipalities experience dire financial, institutional and technical capacity challenges, which impact negatively on sustained delivery of services.

Central government too faces extraordinary fiscal crisis, which over time, will eventually result in budget cuts due to competing public service priorities. The implication is that in the medium to long-term there will be less and less fiscal transfers to local government. If the local revenue base is weakened, then the likelihood is that there won’t be funding for new infrastructure and less budgets for maintenance of the old infrastructure. This situation will deteriorate further and eventually compromise service delivery. As we know it, poor service delivery leads to increased community protests. The manifestation of ‘unhappy communities’ will become a battleground for politicians, wanting to lure communities to vote for them.

It is clear that neither entitlement nor a culture of non-payment for services is desirable and sustainable.

So, what can we learn from the current situation and what are future implications for local government?

Indication is that timely decision-making and the speed of service delivery will drive the future of local government. Politicians will make promises and the pressure will be on officials to satisfy public expectations. Municipalities will have to attract competent staff who are able to think differently and do things differently, away from the traditional, governance and management models.

The global trend shows that the following factors/issues will matter most at local government level: That is:

  • Size of municipalities
  • Technology/innovation
  • Skilled labor force
  • Partnerships (community, public, private partnerships)
  • Community engagements (public trust)
  • Alternative funding models
  • Alternative service delivery mechanisms
  • Use of social media

The world-over, poor people are organizing themselves into localized, community-based structures to take ownership of the operations and maintenance of community water supply and sanitation systems. For example, I visited the community of El Alto in Bolivia (South America) during the year 2000 to learn about how communities there fund the management, operations and maintenance of their infrastructure. Despite Bolivia being one of the poorest countries in Latin American and the world, local communities there, own, manage and sustain water operations by making monthly contributions per household. The ownership and local control is one key lesson I have learnt and the practice has become common in many developing countries. My other recent experiences are based on field trips I undertook to other countries such as: Brazil, Ghana and Tanzania.

The underlying message is that the future customer will cease to become a mere taxpayer. Citizens will have high expectations in terms of what services they require, when, where and how. The delivery of services will become demand, rather than simply supply-driven, as it is currently the case. Local municipalities will be forced to provide a range of alternative, affordable models for service delivery. In other words, if they fail to do so, customers will do to municipalities what they are currently doing to hotels and restaurants in the hospitality and travel industry. That is, naming and shaming non-performing municipalities through online customer reviews and other means.

The institutionalization of public trust, confidence and respect of municipalities will come at a price. Municipal leaders and political parties will cease to make empty promises as they will be monitored, assessed and voted, based on their performance on the ground.

The success of future local governments is therefore highly dependent on their re-thinking of:

  • current old style, supply-driven, one-size-fits-all governance and management models
  • the way they engage their customers, and not simply as ratepayers
  • the way they deliver services, using technology to enhance the speed and reliance of services
  • the way they organize themselves to leverage alternative funding sources from private sector, and so on.

The future looks bright. By sharing this vision about local government, I am simply advocating for sound, localized public services, based on principles of trust, integrity, kindness and compassion. It is our responsibility to create a new political paradigm and discourse for an exceptional customer service. Service delivery is our way of life.

Customer Reviews, Like Customer Service, is the Backbone of the Hospitality Industry

Gone are the days when any company or business does not care what customers think about it. Nowadays, at any moment, an unhappy customer can share their opinion with the masses through social media and negatively affect the reputation of a business or company.

In this age of automation and innovation, caring for your customers has never been more important. The hospitality and travel industry is easily affected by the sensitivities and nuances underlying customer reviews. According to HiJiffy.com, ‘the world is on the move. People are travelling more than ever and according to a report by World Tourism Organization, it is estimated that by 2030 a global population of 8.5 billion people will take approximately 2 billion international Trips’.

At face value, the influx of visitors may signal boom time for the hospitality and travel industry. However, the flip-side is that the industry may also not be ready in offering its customers what they want, thereby resulting in loss of revenue.

Although there’s a lot of excitement about new technology in customer service, such as the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI); video, real-time messaging and the use of chatbots, the human touch is still paramount.

Llama Life Solutions (March 2019) carried out a review of top 60 hotels in major cities of South Africa (Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg), by analyzing customer review trends, over a two-year period. The reviews captured customer responses and levels of satisfaction with these establishments. The following service ratings were used: Good, Very Good, Fabulous/Superb and Exceptional.

 Comparative Analysis Based on Customer Reviews through Booking.Com

 

 

(N.B: Durban – 55 257 reviews, Cape Town – 43 892 reviews and Jo’burg/Sandton – 36 243 reviews)

Continuous investment and the nurturing of relationships with customers, has never been this important in growing a successful business.

The Ten Commandments of Exceptional Customer Service: The Future of Customer Service

Nobody can predict what the future holds for us, but we can study trends, learn lessons and past experiences, in order to predict what may happen in future. What we can already predict is that neither technology nor innovation, will take away a human touch in customer service.

It is clear that the hospitality industry is at the heart of customer service. By understanding the mind or psychology of a customer, we are closer to winning the hearts and minds of our customers.

Research shows that a customer wants to be listened to, taken seriously and appreciated. When their needs or expectations are met, they tend to be happy. The opposite is also true. When they feel their needs or expectations are not being met, they will go elsewhere, to your competitor, where they are appreciated and listened to.

There is also a significant growing body of evidence to suggest that meeting customer expectations consistently can have a significant impact on customer loyalty, and in turn, revenue. The following Ten Commandments can help us train or re-orientate customer-facing staff:

1. Knowing Yourself
Customer service is a feeling, a personal thing.
How can you be expected to serve others if you don’t know yourself?

2. Knowing Your Customer
Customer service is a personal covenant. How can you provide an exceptional customer service if you don’t know your customers or understand their needs?

3. Knowing Verbal Communication.
How can you serve others if you can’t communicate? Little things matter to them: tone of your voice, greetings, etc.

4. Knowing Non-Verbal Communication.
How can you communicate with people if you are not aware of your non-verbal behavior or your blind-spots. Small things matter to them: your eye contact, posture, appearance

5. Knowing the King:
Have you heard that ‘a customer is always right?’ Always try to give them what they want. Don’t trade loyalty for anything negative

6. Knowing Visual Appearance.
Your physical environment says a lot about what you think of your own customers. Ambience, décor, etc, say a lot about your business

7. Knowing Staff Empowerment.
If you treat your own employees like lemons, they will give your customers lemonade all the time

8. Knowing Extra Mile.
Customer experience is by far the most important feature or trait of any business. Give them a WOW experience, they’ll give you loyalty. Loyalty brings you the cash you want for your business

9. Knowing Problem Solving.
If you can’t solve customer problems, promptly, then you are in the wrong business. Customers expect answers. Now. 24 hours.

10. Knowing Positive Ending.
Everyone wants a happy ending. Seduce your customers. Give them something they‘ll remember as soon as they leave your premises. In return, they will give you loyalty.

The secret is now out, that companies and governments have no choice, but to invest in customer service. Not just any service, but an Exceptional Customer Service!!!!

Service is our Way of Life

Let me share with you my experiences about South America, which changed my perception about the concept of service…

I visited three countries in the year 2000: Bolivia, Chile and Nicaragua to learn about the ownership, operations and maintenance of community water and sanitation supply systems and the sustainability thereof. This study tour was sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Bolivia is a country of contrasts and extremes, with a kaleidoscope of colourful culture, the most delightful peoples in the world, with one of the lowest income per capita. Bolivians are materially poor but culturally and traditionally rich peoples of the Andes (altiplano).

This tour opened my eyes and ears, in terms of their energy, extraordinary way of life and humility.

In the middle of my tour in Bolivia, I came across an animal called a llama. A domesticated pack animal of the camel family found in the Andes. This animal is a totem. A symbol of prestige, warmth, confidence, success, strength, perseverance, communication and confidence. It is reported that people born under the llama sign are people who know exactly what their goal in life is.

Traditionally, llamas offer solutions to the local people in terms of wool, meat, companionship and transportation. Historically, llamas were also used to transport silver ore in the silver mines of Potosi.

Lessons learnt …

Since llamas serve the people of the Andes, the question is, what can we learn from this relationship between a people and an animal, their token?

I want to take you through a series of writing blogs in order to demonstrate to you that the word SERVICE is loaded with a deeper meaning. This initial blog provides a contextual background of the concept ‘service’ and draws parallels with my experiences in Bolivia. I captured these experiences in the form of a novel entitled: Confessions of a Llama.

Check out this book …

Hopefully the novel will assist you to connect the dots about SERVICE and those who serve. The llamas. These are people from all walks of life. Herd boys, a medicine man, sex workers, psychiatrists, merchants, nurses, pilots, bus drivers, a diplomat and many more.

I want to convince you that ….

– service is integral to our lives. Everyone needs a service. Globally, about 7,7 billion people either serve or are served by others.

– GOVERNMENTS service citizens through the provision of infrastructure: electricity, water, roads and transport, health, education, welfare and other related service delivery programmes. Likewise, the business community renders variety of products and services to meet the demand of consumers.

In the South African context, service delivery takes the form of a Constitutional obligation by government to address the basic human needs of citizens, as enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The Batho Pele (People-First) principles and a Thuma Mina (Send Me) philosophy, which symbolize a commitment by government to deliver people-centred services in line with party political promises.

In terms of the BUSINESS COMMUNITY, the growth of sales depend partly on the ability of a business to integrate customer service within its operations and the overall corporate strategy.

Like governments, companies which do not embrace customer service as part and parcel of their business model, are unlikely to succeed in the future as disgruntled customers will go elsewhere, to their competitors. Equally, companies which embrace higher employee engagement and strive to achieve exceptional customer service, are more likely to become more profitable, have more brand loyalty and more improved employee morale.

I also want to argue that …

– there’s a high probability for socially responsive governments to get voted back into power based on their exceptional track records and ability to address the public needs of their citizens in a sustained manner. The opposite is also true.
– meeting customer expectations consistently can have a significant effect on customer loyalty, and in turn, revenue. The opposite is also true.
– in this age of technology (automation and innovation), caring for your customers has never been more important. At a click of a mouse or a post on social media, unhappy customers do share their opinions or dissatisfaction over bad service, which can negatively affect a business or brand loyalty.

I conclude that …

– because of its closer proximity with its customer base, the hospitality and travel industry possess hidden secrets about customer service, which they hardly share with governments.
– by striving to provide quality or exceptional customer service, governments can bring about overall feelings of contentment and happiness amongst members of the public, thereby doing away with or preventing service delivery protests and violence.

Let me leave you with some of the traits and secrets of what makes an exceptional customer service:
– Focusing
– Smiling
– Greeting
– Listening
– Empathy
– Etiquette
– Cleanliness
– Ambience
– Decor
– Emotional Intelligence (EI)
– Humour
– Decisiveness

Hope you are able to follow my logic of why customer service is a necessity for the 7,7 billion people on earth. It is a way of life. It requires a different way of thinking. A different way of doing things, both in the public and private sectors.

In the next blog,

I will narrow the issue of customer service closer to the hospitality and tourism industry, by sharing with you, the Ten (10) Commandments of Exceptional Customer Service. The Future of Customer Service.

Let’s Create a Better World for the Next Generation. Without a Service, we are All Lost