As I often say in my conference presentations and private workshops, conveying authentic and genuine hospitality during guest interactions is the single most important task that any lodging company can do to stand out from the competition.
This is especially true in the VR space, as traditional differentiating factors such as location, décor, and amenities, fail to separate you from your competitors. In other words, that VR company down the road is renting accommodations of a similar size and style, appointed with the same amenities, in the very same neighborhood, development, or building. With new technologies, their homes are likely priced the same as yours, and guests are booking on the same OTA and receiving the same automated text messages on arrival.
In this increasingly homogenous industry, what can one company to do stand out from all of the others? Too many VR managers think the key is to “out-tech” the competition or to put more company-branded gift items in a logoed tote bag.
The reality is that the best way to stand out is to obsess on people and not just process.
Touching the hearts of guests ensures repeat business and converts otherwise anonymous guests into social media apostles. This is especially true in the VR side of lodging, where the number one objective of virtually every guest is to create memories that will echo through time as children grow up, couples grow old together, and Facebook memories pop-up on the home page 5 or 10 years down the road.
Although connection opportunities are decreasing in frequency, the opportunities for VR companies who truly understand and embrace the heart of hospitality: human kindness, especially to strangers.
Let your competition be in the “unit rental” business and make sure your staff knows your company is in the vacation memory creation business.
After 30 years of training frontline staff on the essentials of guest service, I intuitively just knew it was time for a new approach to conveying the concept, especially to a new generation who was not yet born the year I started my first training company. So I picked up on the favorite word of many young people these days, including my own Generation Z children, which is the word EPIC.
Before creating EPIC, I came to realize that too many guest service training programs obsess on teaching hospitality as if it was merely a series of communications techniques. Perhaps this is because hotel rating services such as Forbes and AAA put so much weight on specific, scripted phrases to the point that many staff are so nervous about such using rigid, standardized phrases that they sound insincere.
Yet when you only teach politeness and obsess too much on rigid scripting of guest conversations, the end result is fake, disingenuous service. Therefore, I decided it was time for a new model for training through the heart and not the head.
E.P.I.C. Hospitality is a philosophy for how all vacation rental staff touch the hearts of everyone they encounter. Yes, the end game is how your staff interacts with guests, but authentic, memorable guest hospitality is rooted in intercompany culture. EPIC Guest hospitality begins when we greet our first co-worker each shift and continues on through every connection we make, with everyone we encounter, whether that person is a colleague, co-worker, home-owner or a vendor/contractor.
As my mentor and friend Howard Feiertag, who at age 91 recently had the Virginia Tech School of Hospitality re-named in his honor, said at his acceptance speech, “Hospitality is simply making people feel good.” Conrad Hilton, the iconic founder of Hilton Worldwide, said it more formally: “It has been, and continues to be, our responsibility to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality.”
Perhaps the great poet laureate said it best in her famous quote: “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
To paraphrase this, I’ll just say “Guests will forget the text message you sent on arrival, the amenity you delivered, the automated email you sent after check-out, but they will never forget how your maintenance worker or welcome center staffer showed interest in their child, dog or aged grandparent.”
Here are train-the-trainer ideas you can use as a roadmap for training your own VR staff at in-house meetings.
- Rehumanize your guests. Often, frontline workers in the VR space may not have themselves experienced the vacation situations and circumstances that those who are planning and paying for the vacation are experiencing. Therefore, find creative ways to help staff imagine the guest stories playing out every day in your homes. One fun activity is to select pictures that represent your guests; you can use actual guest photos taken from social media or those purchased for media use. Assign staff to work in pairs and pass out pictures representative of different demographics. (Traditional families, couples groups, friends getaways, extended families, etc…) Have them come up with stories behind the traveler’s plans that explain why this vacation is so particularly important. (Last trip with the high school senior; first trip with the baby; possibly the last vacation ever due to terminal illness; first reunion in 10 years, etc…)
- Assign staff to write up their own definition of Empathy and share with the group, then show definitions from Google. Now ask half of the group to think of guests they encountered who had mean, harsh personalities. Ask the other half to think of guests they have met who were going through difficult personal challenges. Then ask each to alternate sharing their examples. Is it possible there is a back story behind that difficult guest?
- Search Facebook for user groups with words such as kindness and compassion and then subscribe to their feeds. When you come across memes that are impactful, download them as images and share at during your hospitality discussions.
- Search YouTube for videos on each word in the EPIC acronym and share the good ones.
- Create a reporting system whereby staff can identify heartfelt gestures and actions taken by coworkers and colleagues. Then celebrate these occurrences on intercompany social media (such as a private Facebook group or celebratory email.)