Guests Want Service, Not Gadgets

If you haven't done so, check out The Front Desk Blog at our website, www.LHonline.com. In it, the editors of Lodging Hospitality comment on a variety of industry issues. The real beauty of a blog, of course, is the ability of readers to instantly respond to our musings. And, boy, do they respond when a topic, opinion or rant strikes them.

A good example is a blog entry I wrote on Aug. 22 titled “Guests want service, not gadgets.” In it, I commented on a new study from D.K. Shiff-let & Associates that shows hotel guests are less interested in supposedly hot service and ff&e items like flat-panel TVs, luxury bathrooms and free high-speed Internet access than they are in both the basics of hotel keeping — a hassle-free experience in which everything works well — and in a 21st-century phenomenon — entirely smoke-free hotels.

The point I made is that for many owners and operators it's certainly easier — and in many cases cheaper — to load up hotels with gimmicks and gadgets than it is to recruit, train and retain the kinds of employees who can provide warm, caring and responsive service.

Here are a few of the 16 responses I received to the blog entry, along with some comments from me:

As Todd Beck noted, in summing up the issue, “Just as guest expectations haven't changed in hundreds of years, neither has management's preference for projects it can accurately plan, execute, and measure.

“Even the variability of the economy or construction costs is easier to stomach than the thought of trying to change the behavior of 20,000 (or even just two) humans. That's why CRM technology gets funded but training doesn't, or why it's easier to get money to put a new face on your lobby than to get money for helping the human faces that work there to smile more often.”

Sam Granata expressed the frustrations many franchisees feel as they're forced (in their opinion) to add costly and sometimes-hard-to-justify amenities and services: “Who will make franchise service managers understand this fact? All they want from hotel owners is to just spend more money, no matter (whether) it really matters to customers or not.”

And MaureenBridget Gonzalez reiterated what guests expressed in the survey, as well as the feelings of most people who really care about the profession of hotel management: “I agree with you 100 percent. The art of hospitality still is the most valuable asset we have at our fingertips. Practicing this ancient art is what makes a hotel great…‥The gadgets are fine and the 600 thread-count sheets are nice, but nothing beats a morning greeting with a smile from a hotel employee who remembers your name.”

A few readers found flaws in the survey and in my opinions on it. As Andrew Hill wrote, “If this survey was done with baby boomers, then I agree 100 percent. We boomers have always expected exceptional service, responsive staff, a warm friendly smile and a staff that goes the extra mile.

“But the most recent survey by YPB&R (Yesawich Pepperdine Brown & Russell) shows that the next generation leans more towards style, good hangouts outside of the guestroom and edgy design.”

As I concluded in my blog item, now is a good time for hoteliers to be thinking about the role of service in their operations. As you develop your budgets for 2007, consider taking money from the upgrades and extras and putting it into management training and employee coaching. It's a tougher approach, and it's often more difficult to measure the ROI, but apparently it's what guests want.

Also, take the time to visit our website and blog and post your own response to our opinions. Again, the address is www.LHonline.com. Click on Front Desk Blog. I want to hear your thoughts.

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