Exceeding guest expectations has become the strategy for hoteliers wanting to stay ahead of the competition – to ensure guests book, return and recommend. Understanding and meeting guest expectations is crucial. More than 50 per cent of a guest’s experience comes from the emotions created during their stay, with ’emotional drivers’ such as warmth, excitement and pleasure counting more than ‘rational benefits’ such as location and features (study by Protean Strategies).

Focus has shifted from providing a great stay to fostering a memory-making culture. If building memories with guests is critical to success, then training staff to tap into these emotions is equally critical. Yet the People 1st State of the Nation Report 2013 cited that 61 per cent of hospitality employers believe customer handling skills need improvement, and that this skills shortage is their biggest issue ahead.

Technical training is undoubtedly vital (if a hotel does not deliver at a basic level, it will never connect on a memory-making one) but not enough. Training which builds emotional intelligence (EI) skills is needed if hotels are going to connect with today’s guests.

There are three key elements to the people side of training – attitude, behaviour and language, but these EI skills can seem harder to train for and results are often not seen until put into practice.

Our focus at Sidona Group is on developing EI, and we do this at all levels of the business from leadership programmes (with brands like Calcot Manor) to front line training (with Richardson Hotels). Just as guests want a memorable experience, so do clients.
This is why we have developed experiential training techniques which ensure learning becomes better ingrained and our recommendations are easier to put into practice.

Four of our (and our clients’) favourites are:

Movie Nights for Leadership Teams
Inviting leadership teams to participate in screenings of movies such as Invictus and Cool Runnings, both movies which have clear role models with distinct leadership styles, is a great way to unite the team and discuss various leadership techniques and their impacts. The screenings are followed by a more intensive learning session, where we find delegates highly receptive to the new leadership tools and skills they were inspired by the night before. Our role is to facilitate conversations about the movie and how learnings translate into leadership development and practical use.

Live Customer Experience Days
By taking delegates out of their comfort zone into a new, customer focused, environment, they are able to “walk in the customer’s footsteps”. We run these ourselves in city and town centres across the UK. It is vital that delegates gain understanding of the physical, sensual and emotional aspects of an experience, see the challenges of delivering this consistently, and take a fresh look at opportunities for their own business. This session works best with a customer experience guide to ensure delegates are tapping into their observational skills and using their EI to monitor the impact the experience is having on them.

Experiential learning
If taking everyone out of the office for training is not feasible, why not use the best asset a hotel has – its venue – and turn the training into an unique ‘at work’ experience? Host learning sessions in a non-work space to get delegates out of ‘work mode’. Ask them to adopt the persona of a key customer group and visit the venue with a fresh pair of eyes and observations. This generates buy in to change, improvement in ideas and a new awareness of the impact of their role on guest experience.

Get Guests Involved
No one knows the guest experience you deliver better than your guests. It can feel daunting to open yourself up to guests comments but in our experience having this involvement has only ever lead to positive change. There are two key tactics we use repeatedly to great effect. The first is to invite guests to training sessions, get them to feedback direct to teams and share their experiences and how these makes them feel. Trainers can then act on this feedback with the team and see what behaviours need to be addressed, enhanced and rewarded. If guest-to-team training is not possible, guest research can have an equally powerful effect. We conduct in-depth interviews with guests (on site, on the phone, by email) which we then feedback into learning sessions to make them real and practical.

Anne is speaking at The Hospitality Exchange in Belfast and The Independent Hotel Show in London in October on The Guest Experience. Sidona have just launched a series of free 2 minute videos, called “Leading the Guest Experience” which can be viewed on www.sidonagroup.com

Anne business 2Anne Blackburn, Customer Experience Director, Sidona Group
Anne is a director and founder of Sidona Group and her speciality is Guest Experience. Sidona Group help organisations deliver outstanding, memorable and profitable guest, customer and visitor experiences. They do this with a suite of tailored solutions including; Masterclasses, Service Leadership Programmes, coaching, strategy and measurement tools and front line customer experience language techniques.
Anne speaks at many hotel and hospitality conferences in the UK (Hospitality Show, Boutique Hotel Conference, Hospitality Exchange, Hotel Management & Design Conference, South West Tourism Conference), and is author of many articles in Hotel & Caterer, The Guardian, Hotel Industry and Travel Trade Gazette. Anne also judges the Visit England Tourism Awards and the Customer Experience Awards. Anne has created a series of brief videos for Hotel Managers called Leading the Guest Experience. These are available to view free of charge on www.sidonagroup.com.

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