Going off script to improve guest experience
06 JULY 2015 9:37 AM
The time for rehearsed responses to guest inquiries has come and gone, and now hoteliers are hiring for personality in order to provide a more authentic experience for guests.
REPORT FROM THE U.S. —While hoteliers used to embrace consistency and stuck to a script when it came to guest relations, now companies are encouraging staff to let their personalities shine—online and offline—to create a more authentic experience for guests.
For example, at the Hotel Indigo Pittsburgh East Liberty, the team’s motto is “throw the script out,” said Kathy Kolar, director of sales and marketing.
That makes hiring the right personalities all the more important, she said.
“We take a long time to hire our staff because you’re not just hiring somebody who knows how to work at a hotel,” she said. “A lot of people might not have ever worked at a hotel. You can teach someone how to check guests in, but you can’t teach someone how to have a personality.”
“Our goal is to make things less of a transaction and more of an interaction. … You can almost tell when people are going through the motions. Engaging the guest is the most important part,” said the hotel’s GM, Jordan Bartels.
That becomes particularly important during periods of high volume, he added.
“Monday night is typically a very large check-in night. You might be checking in at one in the morning. You don’t want that story,” Bartels explained. “There are other folks that are tired of the same old mundane boring routine. It’s really up to us to read our guests and take that time.”
Social media, unscripted
The need for authentic conversation also holds true on social media, where guests increasingly are interacting with hotels pre- and post-arrival, sources said.
That can at times be a problem for the big-box brands, said Daniel Edward Craig, founder of online reputation management firm Reknown and a former hotel manager.
“The challenge for hoteliers has been to control their brands’ images and communications. At the same time, social media isn’t conducive to that,” he said. “Traditionally, the big brands did a lot of scripting on how staff communicated with guests and handled complaints.”
Some of big brands have specific guidelines for managing social media while others are sort of “figuring it out on the fly,” Craig added.
“We have no scripts for any situation,” said Piper Stevens, senior director of brand loyalty and marketing communications for Loews Hotels & Resorts, adding that such freedom is possible because of the company’s size. (Loews Hotels has 23 hotels open and another two under construction.)
Loews likes for its employees to include certain information on social media, such as when responding to guest reviews, that lets guests know they’re talking with a real person and not a robot. However, it’s up to the individual to make the review response as personable as possible.
To foster better guest relations, the company in spring 2013 deleted its property-specific Twitter handles and now manages its requests, complaints and kudos under one brand handle (@Loews_Hotels), Stevens said.
“When a guest is having an issue or needs a quick response, we wanted to make sure the guest knows where to go,” she added.
During that process, each property was assigned a “social lead”—a social media manager, the GM or even someone from the sales team who volunteered to take on the role, Stevens said.
The brand leaders, including Stevens, spent a considerable amount of time training the team of social leads to ensure they really understand Loews’ strategy and to make sure they feel comfortable responding to customer inquiries or complaints.
“We don’t want something sitting out on Twitter for too long. Knowing that they have the support at the brand level is helpful. We provide feedback on the content, time of day they’re posting, how they’re approaching certain situations. We’re definitely in the trenches with them,” Stevens said.
Typically, Loews’ social leads will handle anything property-related, while Stevens and her team will step in on brand-focused questions.
Savvy social media tactics aren’t being implemented across the board, Craig said.
“Whoever is involved in handling (social media), it’s a challenging job and it requires training and guidelines and social media policy,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, there’s a real lack of that support. They’re not getting the same support the sales manager is getting or the customer training.”
As it stands, there are no established guidelines on social media for many hotel companies. That runs in stark contrast against the rules that dictated front-desk interactions for decades, such as the three-ring rule for telephones, Craig explained.
He said that needs to change, and hoteliers need to evolve much like they did with revenue management.
“Some brands are really not willing to relinquish control to on-property staff,” Craig said. “A brand can give a manager responsibility for running a hotel and complaints on-property, yet they won’t give them control over social media responses. I think it’s a matter of adding that to the required skill set.”
HNN's Alicia Hoisington contributed to this report.
HNN's Alicia Hoisington contributed to this report.