It’s one thing to set out to achieve improvements in the level of service in your hotel, but quite another to maintain those service standards once you’ve got there. Some might say that getting there is the easy part – and one reason for this lies in the problem of expectations. Customer satisfaction is often simply a by-product of exceeding expectations, but once you have already established high quality service levels and a reputation for excellence, customers can become much more demanding. In short, they expect you to be at least as good as you were last time, if not better. So how can you live up to these expectations?
Good service must be consistent and repeatable, so it is important to set out service standards defining what is to be done and how it is to be done. However, many leading hoteliers will tell you that customer service is not entirely something that can be delivered with a standard operation procedure manual. There has to be an infusion of the hotel’s own personality and vision through which staff have the freedom to act as they see fit with the aim of upholding that vision. Nevertheless, a strong training programme is very important to ensure that staff not only understand that vision, but also understand the standards which must be achieved. A blend of consistency and flexibility is the ultimate goal.
One defining standard of good service quality is not so much perfection, but that when a problem arises it can be addressed very quickly, leading to an outcome which is to the customer’s satisfaction. This is certainly one area where a degree of staff autonomy can enable decisions to be taken rapidly without the delays which can be introduced by the need to follow a rigid chain of command.
Another useful way of keeping standards high is to introduce a system of internal audits which can reveal where resources are not being used to greatest effect, whether they might be material resources, or human resources.
Standards will inevitably slip if staff are unmotivated, untrained, or inexperienced. In contrast, as in other industries, if you look after your staff, they will look after your guests. One key to eliminating turnover problems and motivating staff is to develop open two-way communication channels so that managers can involve front-line staff in all decision making processes. This will ensure that employment issues close to the hearts of staff can be quickly addressed, while operating issues which staff may understand better than managers in some cases due to their direct involvement can be smoothed through a co-operative approach to problem solving.
One further idea which can help to maintain standards when staff are new and lack experience is to have these novices accompany a more senior staff member when they are learning their new role. This allows feedback to be given by colleagues, which is potentially less threatening than receiving instructions from senior managers, and allows the hotel’s cultural perspective to be inculcated in the new employees so they understand the service ethos and the standards required. Being involved in such a scheme can also benefit senior staff, since they feel more highly valued, and also get to review their own training; people often develop a better understanding of their work when they take on the challenge of teaching others.
The final area which demands constant attention if high standards are to be maintained is customer feedback. Your customers are a wonderful source of data, especially today, when they willingly provide online feedback via social networks. It is therefore important to monitor social media channels very carefully, with two main objectives in mind.
The first reason is that today’s guests will often complain through a review site before they would consider complaining to the hotel’s front desk or General Manager. This means that an unhappy customer may still be on the premises when the problem first comes to light online. Monitoring social media means that such issues can be spotted and resolved quickly. If the customer has already left, the least that a hotel can do is make a positive response online to the comments to reassure that guest, and other potential guests, that the problem will be addressed.
The second reason is that customer feedback, whether obtained directly within the hotel, or through online reviews, can alert managers to issues which may not meet the required standards. If one aspect of the hotel’s service levels falls short, feedback can provide an early warning. It can also provide inspiration or guidance to make further improvements.
Maintaining high standards requires the co-operation and understanding of everyone working in the hotel, so that everyone pursues the same vision. Communication must be encouraged so that shortcomings can be reported and fixed, and the ultimate goal should be one of continuous improvement.
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