Hospitality Is NOT One-Size-Fits-All

The question “how do we define hospitality?” should not be rhetorical.  Whether we are Cocktail Servers or CEO’s, Accountants or Asset Managers, each of us has signed up for the hospitality industry and therefore the definition of hospitality must mean something significant to us.  While there is a baseline definition of hospitality across our industry, sometimes we can lose sight of an honest definition of the term, and most importantly what this means to our guests.

Today, as the hospitality industry has become so incredibly competitive, not only in amount of inventory but also in variety of product & brand, the concept of hospitality has become blurred if not outright obsolete in the minds of our guests.  While this might seem like a bad thing, we must view this as a positive opportunity to raise the level of hospitality that we offer our guests.  How to do this, however, can be extremely complicated.

When it comes to the level of hospitality that we offer, it is easy to make the leap that “more is better.”  Not so fast!  Hospitality is about being genuine, about being sincere, and about connecting with the guest in a way that truly resonates with that guest.  Escorting the guest throughout the hotel, encouraging them at every opportunity to “have a wonderful day,” and similar behaviors may seem to be the hospitality baseline that we all strive for, but a different perspective is required. 

In our current unforgivingly competitive environment, we need to do a better job at being ‘genuine.’  What does this look like?  Genuine hospitality starts and ends with our ability to hire the right people.  Hospitality that is less than genuine has become widely accepted; it is actually easy to train people to smile, to use the guest’s name, and to say “have a nice day.”  It is far more difficult to exude genuine hospitality that involves a smile with the eyes (as opposed to a smile with the mouth), that involves engagement with the guest in an attempt to truly connect with them, and that involves a genuine concern for the well-being of that guest.

Assuming we can all agree that genuine hospitality starts with genuine people, how do we make the hiring of these genuine people a reality?  For starters, we need to look at the process by which we recruit.  This applies to all positions in our organizations, not only upper management.  Clearly, basic job application questions must be asked, such as previous work history, job skills, ability to play nicely with others, etc.  However, we need to consider a further screening element to our hiring process.  What is the true hospitality experience that these applicants bring?  This does not mean ‘how many years have you worked in the hospitality industry?’  Rather, this is directed at our gaining a better understanding of the genuine hospitality traits of each applicant.  How engaging are they in simple conversation, do they smile with their eyes, do they appear actually interested in the conversation, do they listen, have they had direct contact with guests in the past?  All of these are questions that may be difficult to answer via an on-line application, but that represent personality traits that are vital to the success of our businesses.  If we are not addressing these points in our hiring process, we should not be surprised or disappointed when we find that some of those that we hire are lacking in these key areas.

The hiring process is complicated for any industry.  Arguably, it is even more so for us, due to the fact that we need to execute against a very high level of expectation from our customers.  However, when we do successfully execute against these expectations, there is a direct correlation to the performance of our businesses.

To elaborate upon our definition of genuine hospitality, our genuine people must exercise genuine action.  It’s all about being able to gauge what the customer wants and needs to feel comfortable in order to get the most out of their stay.  THIS IS DIFFERENT FOR EVERY CUSTOMER. We need to hire staff that can recognize that some customers like being fawned over, while others prefer limited contact and to go about their own business undisturbed.  Genuine hospitality is NOT a cookie cutter formula but rather a highly nuanced process that is unique for each customer. 

By operating under the standard, “Hi Insert Name Here, Can I Get You A Car, Can I Get You a Reservation, etc,” we are essentially dictating our own view of hospitality.  What really matters is the customer’s perception, and that we adjust to that perception in order to go above and beyond and truly exceed their hospitality expectations.