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Guest Service Perfection Through Team Actualization

Perfecting your guest service delivery is a perpetual task. As consumer behaviors change and expectations rise, so too must we adapt to the times. Thus, improving guest service should be a foremost thought each and every day.

This area of operations – which I deem paramount to customer satisfaction and, directly related to this, long-term success on the balance sheet – involves many inanimate elements such as inscribed protocols, available resources and technological enablers. However, your effectiveness inevitably comes down to your personnel and their intrinsic motivations to do their jobs to the best of their abilities – primarily in this case, making guests feel satisfied with their hotel selection.

Hospitality is about people interacting with people. No new features, nuanced details or technological innovations will change this core precept. If a staff member isn’t motivated to help guests to his or her fullest, then everything else unravels.

As seasoned hoteliers, we all understand this ideology in one version or another. But knowledge is different than action. As such, when it comes to the integral relationship between staff motivations and guest service delivery, there is nevertheless a vast expanse of room for improvement.

Chiefly, when we talk about how guests ‘feel,’ we are insinuating our collective aspiration for consumers to attach a positive emotion with our properties and brands. In order to achieve this, we need to go above and beyond expectations in any way, shape or form, lest we fail to break through the contemporary guests’ hardened shell of apathy. While mishaps can result in negative press and exceeding expectations will earn you praise and loyalty, the middle zone of mediocrity – of apathy – gives you nothing.

We all need not high but remarkable levels of customer satisfaction to ensure return visits, building a healthy brand reputation, increasing our social media presence, word of mouth, accruing proper feedback and all in between. Yes, you can pluck a guest’s emotional harpsichord with new features, updated amenities and lavish gifts, but those can cost a pretty penny. Instead, motivating your staff to want with all their hearts to make a hotel’s guests feel a full range of positive sentiments is a far stronger and longer lasting option.

Many purport that new technology products like wearable devices, hyper-advanced touch-screens or service system integration tools will act as contemporary guest service panaceas. While many of these investments will undoubtedly augment your guest service delivery, human beings will remain at the center of any hotel-customer interactions (at least in our lifetimes!). Let me give you one plain example before moving on. Your guests want to watch Netflix in their rooms, and to cater to this demand you’ve installed the appropriate software and hardware so they can stream off of the shiny new 50” OLED monitors mounted on the walls. Problem is: the system has glitches and guests are complaining. When that happens, it is up to your team to quell their frustrations with calming words, attentiveness and proactive solutions. If your staff members do their job right, they’ll easily be able to turn this adversity into a positive guest experience. They likely won’t be able to resolve the issue with Netflix as this falls under the IT department’s purview, but they can get creative with their compensatory tactics. Yes, you can have situational protocols in place, but ultimately this on-the-spot ingenuity harnesses each staffer’s internal drive to give guests the best possible experience despite any hiccups.

In this sense, you must give the utmost care to your employees in order for them to want to pass this along to others in its fullest. Take care of your employees and they will take care of your guests. Simpleenough, right? With plenty of new studies in the field of organizational behavior illuminating key employment drivers, it’s time for us to reevaluate how we develop a fundamental desire for consummate success in our team members.

The Key Word is Actualization
There are many factors that contribute to one’s desire for perfection in the workplace, and while I will acknowledge a few of them in subsequent sections, one stands above the rest. Actualization – a word as ethereal as they come – is not actually a new concept, and indeed this is not the first time it has sat on top. Take a look back to the 1950s and Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs where even in this budding period of psychology, we nonetheless recognized one’s self-actualization as the apex of personal growth and development.

In a nutshell, this self-actualization describes the point at which people reach their full potential insofar as career milestones or personal achievements. As it pertains to you, your leadership and your management of a team, this developmental peak shifts into the ‘actualization of others’. That is to say, what can you do, as a leader, to help each individual member of your team to better reach his or her own life goals?

Part of any good interview or screening process should lead into a question of this sort. After all, if a person’s life goals are directionless or don’t overlap with any prerequisite hotel-minded traits (such as the intrinsic desire to help others, meet new people or gain novel experiences via new cultures, places, languages or foods) then such a candidate is clearly unfit for a career in hospitality. Obvious characteristics to look for are enthusiasm, attentiveness and curiosity. This last attribute is one I am especially keen towards as it indicates a person with a natural eagerness for self-directed learning which in turn reveals a strong intrinsic drive for perfecting one’s skills and advancing the efficacy of work processes.

Reviewing the First Four
Sadly, nurturing team actualization isn’t as easy as poignant interview questions or pulling each employee aside for a heart to heart. That’s indeed part of it – and an important part – but it’s still overlooking the foundation needed to reach this point. Namely, you have to first fulfill the four preceding levels of the Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. I don’t want to delve too far into these, as it will distract from the discussion at hand, but just so we’re on the page, let’s review these four in a hospitality context.

Satisfying an employee’s physiological needs is as straightforward as they come. Give your team enough salaried income so they can put a roof over their heads, eat to their heart’s content and afford to buy some decent apparel. A fully stocked cafeteria or team lunches on the company’s dime are nice touches here, as is a well-filtered water cooler.

The second level – safety – has quite a few overlaps with its antecedent – financial security through fair wages as well as personal security via a high enough salary to meet the expense of rent or mortgage payments in a reasonable and relative close neighborhood. Two other emerging factors that managers have some control over pertain to health and job security. What coverage does your organization provide for adequate family medical and dental benefits? What physical or verbal assurances can you offer employees so they feel secure in their lines of work? These are crucial conversations to have in tandem with any talks about one’s higher aspirations. And word to the wise, making someone fear for his or her job is never a good motivation tactic; it might work in the short run but it will eventually come back to bite you.

Third is interpersonal belonging – that is, good people and a good team. While you cannot account for anyone’s actual family or romantic relationships, you should do your best to make every team member feel like they are a part of your organization’s family. The key question to ask here is: how do you make for a comfortable and friendly office atmosphere? As mentioned above, regular team lunches are great facilitators of this. Ditto for group outings, collaborative meetings and social gatherings. Also be aware of how you organize teams to deepen collegial relationships and to dissuade the formation of cliques as well as how you spatially arrange office spaces to encourage such familial bonds.

Fourth and last is esteem. Essential words for this phase are recognition, respect, confidence and independence. So, how do you demonstrate that you value the work of others? Do you publicly praise team members, and then save the not-so-pleasant feedback or reprimands for the privacy of a closed room? How do you facilitate respect and equality amongst your team, regardless of position or rank? Lastly, how do you promote a free work environment where staff members have a certain degree of autonomy, enough to make them confident in handling their duties?

Those four covered brings us back to the pinnacle – actualization. The key to remember here is that in order for a person to even contemplate actualization goals, they must first satisfy goals in areas below. After all, how can someone develop a love for hospitality when they are constantly worried about their health or living conditions?

Before we sign off on the rest of the pyramid, it’s critical to once more acknowledge that all four underpinning levels contribute towards an individual’s actualization, especially as you move up the ladder. Many aspects of esteem are large contributors to the fifth stage. For example, independence bestows employees with the liberty to decide for themselves whether they are on the right career trajectory, while recognition gives people relevance, or a feeling that someone is important to society. A good question to ask during your heart to hearts is: what can I do to give you more freedom at work?

One of the last key words mentioned – relevance – is deceiving more vital to fostering a self-motivated team than many give it credit for. In today’s world, it’s easy to feel lost, insignificant or directionless (especially amongst millennials who are more than likely to comprise the next new entrants to your organization). There are so many great opportunities in this world, which makes it increasingly hard for someone to settle into one dedicated pursuit.

Hence, any actions you can take to belie feelings of insignificance – by bringing them into your hotel family or by praising their work, for instance – will act as great motivators for future successes in all areas, guest service included. Make your employee confident that their work is relevant, that it is significant to others far beyond the people they see on a day-to-day basis.

And Everything Else Connects To Actualization
Two other key motivation tactics worth utilization are empowerment and mentorship. The former ties directly into the esteem category as empowerment – otherwise known as inclusive decision making – will allow your team to fully explore what direction they want to take. The adage of ‘learning to love’ applies here whereby if you give an employee autonomy and freedom, they will discover how wonderful a leadership role in hospitality is and aspire to make this field their career choice. Without empowerment, you run the risk of turning your staff into drones who will wake up one day and leave in pursuit of that freedom they feel they deserve.

And to end on an inspirational note, mentorship is something that has vast potential for the development of your team. Become a beacon of wisdom for your team and give them whatever career advice you can, whether it leads them deeper into the hospitality world or someplace else. You can’t control people anymore, and if their hearts aren’t fully committed to hospitality, then you have to let them spread their wings.

Actualization isn’t something you can force onto people; it is something that grows and burns within each and every one of us. The most you can do, as managers, is smile, be kind and lend a helping hand, just as you would to any guest that crosses your path.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in Hotel Executive on May 18, 2015)

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