In the ever-accelerating race for competitive advantage, many hotel operators are focusing on guest service as a way to differentiate their properties from the competition. Hilton’s Customer Information System, Sol Melia’s service customization and Marriott’s “Wired Rooms” are all examples of this trend. A further indication of the industry’s renewed focus on service comes from Barry Sternlicht, CEO of Starwood Hotels. “The world is changing rapidly. While we own superb physical assets around the world, it is our 30 million customers who represent the critical and unrecognized asset of our company in this internet age.
We are determined to build a customer-centric organization, a company that will take advantage of unprecedented advances in technology to improve nearly every facet of its core operations” A statement like this from a major hotel company shows that the service revolution of the 21st century has already begun. But technology is only a tool to create differentiated service, not the goal. The most “revolutionary” companies have already embraced the tools of technology and are moving on to a concept called the “guest experience”. The “guest experience” is the overall impression guests have of a particular property or company based on all interactions they have with its people, products and processes. This focus on the “guest experience” has caused the most progressive companies to rethink, reevaluate, and restructure their operations in the quest to be truly “customer-centric”.
Another aspect of 21st Century service is delighting guests by individually customizing services to meet their specific needs and desires (something some progressive properties already do).
Hotel companies vying for the business traveler will provide a variety of additional electronic services such as flight, room, and car rental confirmation via email, pager or cell phone. Many hotels will use a new technology called “collaborative filtering”. In short, collaborative filtering assesses an individual guest’s preferences, and based on those preferences, suggests new services that particular guest might like.
But along with all the new technological innovations will come the real challenge for hospitality leaders who expects to differentiate their properties and succeed in the coming millenniumcreating a foundation of well-trained, skilled and motivated staff who willingly and competently deliver the flawless service necessary to create a positive guest experience. These leaders must embrace a new mindset and understand that their role in this new world of service is truly one of coach, mentor and motivator. These managers of the future need to understand that they must create a positive environment which attracts, recognizes, and keeps the best people.
Recent research has shown that the most financially successful companies first create satisfied employees who then become loyal and productive. (Hilton’s Balanced Scorecard and Harrah’s employee bonus program are two examples of hotel companies moving in this direction.) These productive employees provide the crucial guest experience that, in turn, creates satisfied and loyal guests and resultant growth and profit.
So 21st century hotel service is not about the newest revolutionary technology but rather it is about revolutionary ways of thinking, acting and managing. Those who can create, innovate, and lead their team of employees, vendors, and guests will be the leaders in the coming millennium.