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The guest experience

In this article, Anthony Bennett, owner and director of Bennett Hay, the bespoke hospitality business, explains the role of the guest experience in delivering facilities management excellence

More and more businesses are turning to the hotel and hospitality sector to gain an insight into how guests should be treated while they are on the premises. Industry research suggests that more than 70 per cent of a guest experience is about meeting the emotional needs of guests. Ensuring that guests feel great when they’re on the premises creates a powerful impression of the business. In the words of the author Maya Angelou: “… people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The guest experience does, of course, factor in meeting the guests’ physical needs. Visitors expect a reception area to be clean, attractive and well-designed. They anticipate that there will be comfortable seating, a range of reading material, perhaps a live news stream and attractive flower arrangements.

What they don’t (always) expect is to be called by their name as they walk in the door by a receptionist who smiles and looks them in the eye; for their favourite newspaper to be handed to them as they check-in; to be taken to their preferred meeting room – the one where they commented on the stunning view last time – or to be presented with a meal which conforms to their specific dietary needs. It is those types of experiences that create memories, make the guest feel valued and ensure the visitor leaves with a positive impression of the organisation.

Responding to and anticipating your guests’ emotional needs really sets an organisation apart because it is emotions that make memories.

Start by researching your customers: what are their expectations when it comes to your organisation? What do they value in their interaction with your organisation? What does a great visitor experience look like from their perspective? What could the organisation do better to personalise the current approach and better engage guests? Where else do they go (whether for business or leisure) that they would recommend to others, and why?

By understanding what they want and expect, you can deliver, and exceed, that. And it’s straightforward to discover this information. It can be done formally, through customer feedback, market research and visitor segmentation exercises, or simply by talking to your guest during one of the many typical interactions during a guest experience. Customer feedback doesn’t have to mean a formal survey, a tick-box exercise. Many guests prefer a more personal, informal approach through a conversation at a convenient moment.

The facilities management team is the gatekeeper of the client’s brand and can either reinforce the client’s values or undermine them.

To provide the ultimate guest experience, look at where facilities staff interact with visitors and building occupants. By understanding what happens at each of these guest touch points (where the guest can form a view of the organisation, either good or bad), the facilities management team can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations. Touch points include: arriving at the reception desk, being greeted and checked in; using the washroom facilities; and having lunch in the company restaurant or fine dining facilities; and many more.

A survey of the guest touch points helps organisations to capture how guests currently perceive their FM service throughout their building and indeed how they compare to top London hotels and their business peers. Or an exercise can be undertaken, either internally or by a mystery shopper offering a fresh pair of eyes on the facility. Results from the survey or exercise should be reviewed, and used as an opportunity to brainstorm with the team how each touch point can be improved or enhanced.

Each touch point should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that the organisation continues to deliver consistent, exceptional service.

A bored receptionist, a lackadaisical concierge or a grumpy housekeeper can completely change a visitor’s experience of an organisation for the worse, ultimately affecting that company’s commercial success.

Achieving great customer service requires having engaged employees. Asking employees to deliver exceptional customer service is often requiring them to go above and beyond the call of duty. Money is clearly a great motivator for people, but a recent employee engagement study by the gamification company Badgeville revealed that 70 per cent of workers don’t need monetary reward to feel engaged and motivated. It found that employees are more motivated by recognition and virtual rewards compared to financial incentives.

A well-defined training programme, for example, reassures employees that the company is serious about personal development. Also, making employees feel that they matter – through reward programme, team days, social events etc – is as important as financial reward. Good performance management is also key. A performance review process must be designed to identify colleagues delivering excellent service. Good service is a given but excellent service should always be recognised – and rewarded.

Five star service doesn’t happen overnight and all facilities teams will need training to understand exactly what they need to do to deliver the ultimate guest experience. And while some of that training will be skills training – improving people’s specific skills in areas such as security, cleaning, catering and post-room – much of it needs to be about attitudes and behaviours.

Skills training ensures that every colleague knows what they are doing. They must have the right skills for all aspects of their job. They should know what is expected of them and the impact they have on delivering excellent service.

Training that works on attitude and behaviour leaves staff with an appreciation that simply “good enough” service is not enough. Every colleague must know what excellence is and feels motivated to strive for it each day. “Dropping the ball” is a common problem in FM, where several people may be involved in dealing with a request or providing a service. Each colleague must be equipped to take ownership of every guest request and follow through to completion. Managers might work alongside their teams to coach them in great attitudes and behaviours or professional coaches might even be brought in to help to transform teams and individuals and to measure the success of the transformation.

About Sarah OBeirne


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