Secret sauce for increasing guest satisfaction in hotels: Common sense

NB: This is a viewpoint from Carla Caccavale, a brand strategist at TrustYou.

I’ve always been a big fan of common sense – indeed, everyone should be, right?

At the core of common sense is the opportunity to deliver exceptional service. And, of course, exceptional service brings us to increased guest satisfaction, loyalty, more positive reviews and, ultimately, increased revenue.

Unfortunately, common sense isn’t as common as its name would lead you to believe it is.

Being in the hospitality industry we tend to dissect every service interaction, whether we are working or not (at least I do, as I shared in my previous post about my shoe lady).

All about cucumbers, right?

It was cucumbers that recently got me thinking once again about common sense and how it relates to service. It doesn’t just relate to service, it’s at the core of good service.

At a Greek restaurant I ordered a salad, hold the cucumbers and a grilled chicken dish served over mixed greens (no mention of cucumbers in the description). The grilled chicken came out over mixed greens with cucumbers included.

I picked the cucumbers out and thought it would have been intuitive service if they didn’t include the cucumbers since they knew I didn’t like them in the first place. Actually, forget intuitive service. There’s no mind reading or crystal ball involved here. It’s really just common sense.

I have another favorite common sense application that I would love for hotels to consider: the bottle of wine as a VIP amenity when traveling on business. I love a glass of wine as much as the next person. We all know the drill though when you’re on business.

It’s a 14-hour day: meetings from morning to night, followed by dinner and drinks, followed by getting back to your room and going through the 400 emails that you couldn’t respond to because you were in meetings from morning to night, followed by dinner and drinks. And you probably already had one glass of wine too many (you know you did).

You can’t bring the bottle of wine with you because you want to carry on your luggage and get home as fast as possible. The best amenity I ever received while traveling on business? Small stuffed animals for my kids. I was able to skip the last-minute dash for a present at the airport and return home a hero sans working-mom’s-guilt.

The bellman who takes a look at the nametag on your suitcase and call you by name, the concierge who hands you a running map when they see you in the lobby decked out in your workout gear ready to head out the door. All signs of good service. All signs of applying common sense.

Reality

Whether it’s cucumbers, wine a running map, or any host of other scenarios, common sense has a huge payoff. It sends your guests a message: I get you and what you need matters to me. And when you get your guests, do you know what you get in return?

Increased guest satisfaction, loyalty and positive reviews. All of these things turn into revenue, whether via repeat stays, word-of-mouth bookings or a glowing review that prompts someone to book that hotel after reading about it.

When you combine common sense with compassion the payoff is immeasurable. I have always been a fan of Kimpton Hotels & Resorts. In celebration of its 33rd birthday this week the brand asked guests to share favorite Kimpton memories on Facebook.

I went from fan to life-long admirer after reading this leading example of common sense and compassion:

Palomar Arlington, where I booked a room during the height of “flowering cherry festival, DC” – when I was NOT a tourist but participating in honoring the burial of my uncle at Arlington Cemetery.

Kimpton not only gave me non-high season rate, upgraded me to a suite, put flowers and a very kind note in the room…and spent two days treating me as family, offering help, condolences and a smile when needed.

Every staff member knew why I was there and made an effort to speak to me about my family member; an honored medal recipient and member of the “greatest generation” to serve his country. It was a patriotic and genuine effort on Kimptons’ behalf to do so; and as all know, word of mouth is indeed the best review.

Thank you…

REAL rewards

The bottom line is that there is an ROI to common sense. Common sense is at the core of exceptional service. Exceptional service leads to higher rankings:

Hotels with a TrustScore higher than 90 have shown an increase of about 10.5% in ADR when the TrustScore increases by 1% (which happens based on more positive reviews, which of course is a result of the great service, which of course stems from common sense).

Hotels with a TrustScore lower than 90 have shown an increase of about 4.6% in ADR when the TrustScore increases by 1%.

As my CEO Ben Jost recently said: “It’s half man, half machine” of the philosophy behind reputation management and what he calls The Reputation Machine.

You can have the highest level of technology, monitoring, the fanciest suites and the best food. If you’re not delivering on the service end, the rest is virtually meaningless.

The next time you’re racking your brain on how to impress guests stop trying so hard. It’s common sense. And common sense is about doing the right thing, which leads to good karma, which leads us to a post for another time.

NB: This is a viewpoint from Carla Caccavale, a brand strategist at TrustYou.

NB2: Rocket science image via Shutterstock.

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Viewpoints

About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.

 

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  1. Bob

    I find it disturbing that you should even have tell people what common sense is! I don’t care how much you pay or train you can not execute for them. I would say its time to thin the heard on this one!

     
    • RobertKCole

      @ Bob – not sure if you have ever worked in a service business, but for a significant portion of the travel industry, performance is based on consistently satisfactory service delivery. In a majority of cases, the service is executed by line employees serving in relatively low compensation roles.

      Even in higher paid roles, for example flight attendants, you better train them well because all that damn emergency equipment isn’t located in the most obvious or intuitive spots…

      I spent eight years at Four Seasons Hotels & can tell you that the single most important job in that company is housekeeper. A failure to adequately clean a room or public area is not easily overlooked and dramatically impacts the guest experience more than any other single aspect, except a life-safety crisis.

      Properly training, motivating and rewarding a housekeeping staff to maximize productivity, reduce turnover and sustain guest satisfaction is an exceedingly difficult challenge that may be more art than science. If you are interested in finding & keeping a sufficient number of individuals who are capable of flawlessly cleaning 15-20 rooms EVERY day, you better damn well be focused on how you select, train, compensate and motivate them – especially when you may not have access to an ample supply of qualified candidates.

      In a true luxury hotel, a vast number of the candidates for entry level positions have never experienced a luxury hotel experience as a guest. How could they possibly gain the necessary “common sense” that requires understanding a context that may only be available to those in socio-economic tiers with disposable income for luxury travel experiences?

      In reality, “thinning the herd” needs to start at the level of management that believes “thinning the herd” is a viable solution to service delivery issues.

       
  2. Miramon

    I think it’s not actually common sense; it’s giving a damn about your job. This is not something that can be taught. Some rare people have it even for low-paying crap jobs, and good for them; but really, the solution is to pay employees enough that “common sense” is part of the assumed course of business; and in some businesses, it’s just not possible to do it.

    So let’s say your waiter — if this was in the US, odds are it’s someone who doesn’t really want to be a waiter and just has the job part-time or because they absolutely have nothing else — serves 30 tables in a 4 hour shift for an average bill of $20 a meal of which they get let us say $4 as a tip. Maybe they have to split it 50/50 with the host and cooks, so they wind up, if they’re lucky, with $60, or $2 per table. This is just not enough in the US to guarantee a very high level of service. There’s no way an average low-end Greek restaurant can afford to pay waiters enough to provide a luxury experience for the clientele.

    True, if this restaurant is competing with another place across the way that happens to have a better service staff, they will waste away and not ever be able to figure out why, but if they’re in a typical strip-mall situation, with equally crappy olive gardens and red lobsters and diners and so on to compete with in their area, well that’s just par for the course.

    So I feel kind of ambivalent about the example. On the one hand, yes, it would indeed have been nice if the staff was encouraged to think about the consequences of a customer request like that one; but on the other hand, in most sub-luxury restaurants, just getting timely service that actually responds properly to explicit requests without sullen disinterest is rare enough. And for most of the staff, the difference between a 20% and a 25% tip is so modest that the only thing that matters to them is rapid throughput of a large number of tables.

     
  3. Vasilis

    Common sense is a good point raised but as mentioned common is not the same for everyone thus makes it difficult to be pursued. I would also critique the cucumber scenario because the staff can’t make assumptions and generalisations based on there judgement…. If in doubt they should ask!

     
    • Christel

      “If in doubt they should ask.” Exactly … that would be a prime example of applying a dose of common sense. It truly seems that common sense is a rare commodity indeed.

      Thanks Carla for a refreshing read!

       
      • Carla Caccavale

        Thanks, Christel! I think it’s interesting that the comments are debating common sense. The bottom line is to be in touch with customer needs and wants, especially when they TELL you they don’t like/want something (such as cucumbers). I appreciate you reading! Carla

         
  4. Salil

    You’ve misspelled “it’s” on the chalkboard 🙂
    Nice post, though.

     
    • Carla Caccavale

      Tnooz selects the graphics and I let them know about the error. Thanks for reading!

       
  5. RobertKCole

    Completely agree that common sense frequently appears to be missing in travel/hospitality industry traveler-supplier interactions.

    However, for the organizations that rely on the ability of their staff to successfully engage with guests, providing great service delivery involves much more than simply telling the team to use their brains.

    The key problem is that for many, staff are placed into task-specific roles, trained only to perform that task (with that training step is often skipped or minimal) without any further context. They note the need to put an order modifier into the restaurant POS system, but stop there.

    A well trained server will know the ingredients and preparation methods for every item on the menu – an important perspective for food allergies, or other dietary preferences.

    I see it as five distinct functions:

    1) Hiring the Right People
    The right type of people need to be in customer-contact roles. They need to have a customer service orientation and sufficient attention to detail, depending on the sophistication of the operation. I’ve seen senior executives use little tricks like putting a small piece of paper on the lobby carpet, then walking GM candidates over that area – If they don’t pick up the paper, they don’t get hired. The Sr. Exec wanted a GM who set an example – picking up trash themselves, not looking searching for another staff member to do it.

    2) Creating a Customer-oriented Culture
    This starts from the top – The customer IS always right – They are the ones who pay everybody’s salary.

    3) Continually Anticipating Challenges & Creating/Refining Processes to Eliminate Them
    Training – Everybody, top to bottom.

    4) Empowering Staff to Make Mistakes
    One caveat – as long as those mistakes are in support of helping the customer accomplish their goals.

    5) Creating Careers for Employees as Opposed to Simply Providing Jobs
    If the staff member is respected by an organization that is investing in their future through fair pay, appropriate benefits and promotion opportunities, chances are the employee will be more motivated to provide great service.

    If these five areas are addressed, there is an excellent chance the employees will be demonstrating exceptional use of common sense. They are a good fit for the role in an organization that cares about both the customer and them in an environment where continual improvement is expected…

     
    • Carla

      Sorry! Posted this above instead of here:

      Great examples above; I agree 100%. It’s not always as easy as “use your head,” but I do think sometimes we overlook the obvious. The obvious (and using common sense) is a good place to start. There are many other factors that go into it, as you rightly pointed out above. Thanks for reading! Carla

       
    • Raveen

      Absolutely right.

       
  6. Andrew

    Common sense is a misnomer. The cucumber anology is not a good example.

     
    • Carla

      I agree common sense is a misnomer. Per my above comment, I do think the cucumber analogy is a good example of common sense. Thanks for reading and commenting.

       
  7. Nick Vivion

    Nick Vivion

    As a restauranteur, I try to imbue common sense into every interaction my staff has with guests. The disturbing truth is that this is one of the hardest things I do! It’s amazing how little common sense the average person has, and it’s even more amazing when you realize that common sense is purely dependent on culture and background. Not every person was raised with the same ideas as others; in fact, the “common” in common sense is a misnomer.

    I’ve taken to thinking of it more as a the “sixth sense,” a sense that people either have or they don’t. Are tehy intuitive? Intelligent? Thoughtful? Aware? Perceptive? These are all qualities I look for in staff, as those are the key ingredients to common sense.

    Common sense dictates that you would not put cucumbers in a side salad of someone who has already asked for no cucumbers. But it’s really more like perceptive awareness, and the ability to make connections between two things – by having that sixth sense, my staff can succeed in providing exceptional service.

    However, as frustrated as I can get with staff – just use your common sense! – I’ve realized that saying that just doesn’t mean the same thing to each person. So I try to encourage them to pay attention to the guest, be in tune with their needs, and to simply pay attention to their surroundings.

     
    • Carla

      I like your description of it being a “sixth sense.” In the hospitality industry I don’t think it’s an optional sense. In my opinion it is common sense that you need to pay attention to people’s needs to deliver exceptional service. The pursuit of exceptional service is what this industry is all about. So while people might argue that the cucumber analogy is not a good example, I beg to differ. If I don’t want cucumbers on my salad, I don’t want it on the salad under my chicken. If there is any room for questioning it, then common sense is to ask the question. I think that sometimes the obvious eludes us and it’s the obvious that can often lead to an excellent experience. Thanks for reading and commenting! Carla

       
    • Carla

      Great examples above; I agree 100%. It’s not always as easy as “use your head,” but I do think sometimes we overlook the obvious. The obvious (and using common sense) is a good place to start. There are many other factors that go into it, as you rightly pointed out above. Thanks for reading! Carla

       
 
 

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