Ah, the hospitality business! The name speaks volumes and makes one think of friendly people, warm smiles and open arms. Advertising creates visions of beautiful resorts, clean sparking rooms and delicious food. Vacations and meetings are planned with the highest hopes for wonderful, relaxing experiences. Then reality hits.
Airport parking 42 miles away from the terminal, shoe removal at the security check point, delayed flights and surly flight attendants, screaming babies, surly shuttle drivers who stop at 43 properties before yours, and finally the moment of truth – you arrive, exhausted and bedraggled at your gorgeous hotel and the front desk clerk haughtily ignores you while he speaks to someone on the phone. Your luggage weighs 700 pounds by now and you wish laser beams shot out of your eyes so you could sear that haughty look right off his face. Hospitality, anyone?
Anyone who travels a lot knows exactly what I am talking about. Now, I have had some fantastic experiences, and I cherish and remember them. At the Doubletree in Columbus, Ohio, they gave me a HOT chocolate chip cookie at check-in, I had a gorgeous room and they treated me like royalty. I travel alone all the time and the front desk personnel at the hotel quickly befriended me and made me feel very welcome. I was there for the Arnold Classic, a fitness event (Arnold Schwarzenegger would be the Arnold) attended by tens of thousands of fitness enthusiasts from all over the country. I had no impression of Columbus before that trip. Now I’m convinced the friendliest people in the world are there. I don’t know how they did it, but everyone was briefed – the cab and shuttle drivers, the hotel personnel, and all the staffers of the event venues – everyone I came in contact with was friendly, helpful and enthusiastic about the event. This was good not just for the individual properties, but for the economy of Columbus as a whole. I don’t know the financial impact of this event on the local economy, but I’m sure it was significant. And if Columbus can turn out this kind of warmth for every group and event, meeting planners and individuals will want to return there again and again.
Now let’s talk about you. Do you know what happens when you’re not around? How many businesses have you been in where a sales clerk or a secretary or a front desk person ignored you? Or seemed completely put out at having to help you? Most people I talk to have this happen much more frequently than they receive a warm smile and a sincere greeting. Just how hospitable are your front line people? The food in a restaurant might be good, but if the waitress is rude, the customer won’t come back. The behavior of your people can make you or break you. Their body language and facial expressions set the tone for your customer’s entire experience.
Do you take great care of your employees? Do you truly like them? If not, either hire people you do like or find a new line of work. If you don’t like them, they know it. And they will pass whatever you’re doing to them straight on to the customer. Treat them badly and the customers will suffer.
What do customers experience when they come to your business or property? Is the outside well lit? Attractive? If your entranceway is dirty, carpets or mats are worn, glass is filthy; you are not hospitable. Get someone who will be brutally honest with you to visit your place of business. Pick someone who has the characteristics of your ideal customer and turn them loose. Two caveats: you cannot get your feelings hurt (this is just business) and you must reward them for their service – take them to lunch, send them a gift, etc. And don’t fool yourself by thinking those little comment cards are giving you true and accurate feedback.
Being hospitable is not hard – we do it whenever someone we like comes to our home. Our faces light up in a warm sincere smile and we greet them. We don’t roll our eyes and sigh at their arrival. We pay attention to them and do what we can to make them feel comfortable. We don’t ask them to wait in the foyer until we are ready to deal with them. We clean the house before they arrive. And if we really like them, we hand them a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie.
Denise Ryan, MBA, is a professional speaker and trainer who specializes in lighting fires under the complacent. Her Web site is www.firestarspeaking.com.