Getting Back to the Idea of Hospitality

February 1, 2017

At its most basic definition, hospitality is “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers.”

The notion of hospitality has been around for thousands of years, dating back to an era where it was common to break bread with strangers and invite them into one’s home for nourishment and shelter.

Hospitality is not new.

So why have some brands stopped being hospitable?

Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed this first-hand, as I’m sure many of you have as well. The sound of crickets, or simply a blank stare from the bellman, when you walk up to the hotel’s front desk. The waiter who has mysteriously vanished while your wine glass sits empty, longing to be re-filled. The flight attendant whose eyes are locked on her smartphone instead of noticing a passenger standing next to her.

No “Let me get that bag for you…” or “It looks like you can use another glass of the pinot gris; I’ll be right back with that.” Not even a simple “Hello!”

No service. Nothing friendly or generous as you would expect, from the definition alone.

What happened to hospitality?

At a time when the customer voice is the new currency and reviews matter more than ever, I would expect that more companies (not just hospitality brands) would recognize the value of great customer experiences.

Simply put, experience has to be the differentiator, especially among boutique and lifestyle brands where factors like design have become commoditized, said Niki Leondakis, CEO of hotels and resorts for Two Roads Hospitality, during an interview with Renie Cavallari, CEO of Aspire Marketing. “You have to have programming and experiences that are memorable, differentiated and lasting, beyond the check-out. I also think that, in our segment, we’ve come full-circle back to…the art of hospitality. It behooves us…to really concentrate on the guest experience and the customer service.”

Experiences that are memorable, differentiated and lasting. We need to concentrate on guest experience and customer service.

That desire for more meaningful, differentiated and lasting customer experiences is the reason why hotels alone have evolved to come full-circle, from long-ago thermal bath houses and staging posts to today’s billion-dollar global flags (Hilton, Marriott) and, once again, back to boutique, independent properties that want to stand apart and be defined by the unique experiences they offer guests. This cyclical nature is not hotel-specific, either; think about the shift in consumer preference when it comes to restaurants, bookstores and coffee shops.

It is those truly exceptional experiences that turn first-time customers into fierce brand lovers who share their experiences with their friends and family.

It is great experiences that help boost your review scores and, in turn, make a positive impact on your revenue.

“So, if exceptional experiences are so important to my business, how do I make that happen?” you might ask yourself.

It means being friendly and generous and instinctual, which I’ve previously written about.

It means not just acknowledging your customers when they interact with your brand, but rolling out the virtual red carpet for them to make them feel like the most important person there.

It means being hospitable.

Let’s get back to the basics, shall we? All companies should prioritize hospitality—not just hospitality brands.

It doesn’t matter if your audience is business professionals, millennials or busy moms. Everyone—regardless of age, profession, media habits or household income—values great experiences.

Approach this as you would one of your customers. Go beyond “What would I expect to happen?” when you open the door to your store/restaurant/hotel to “What would blow me away?”

Putting words into action, brands can become more hospitable by harnessing the ideas we’ve explored today:

  • Be committed to a friendly and generous reception of your guests and visitors. Heed the words of the Ritz-Carlton’s famous internal mantra: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Do the unexpected that will make a lasting impression on each and every customer, whatever that may be.
  • Rally your internal team to heed this mantra, because your customer-facing employees really are the face of your brand. You may need to make some hard decisions about hiring (or firing) with this mindset, but remember that your business depends on it.
  • Learn about (and master) the tenets of instinctual service. Study your customers as much as possible to uncover opportunities to surprise and delight. Find natural ways to engage your customers in conversations that are meaningful and provide some kind of value to them. The old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” could not be more accurate. Have a detective-like mindset and dig deeper. Those three tenets, again:
    1. Observe. It starts with trusting your instincts. Take note of the details, start a conversation and deliver a memorable experience. Empower your team to trust their gut and identify those “moments between moments,” or opportunities in-between established interactions that invite you to surprise and delight your customers.
    2. Engage. Using your observations, start a dialogue with your customers that shows your interest in them and their needs. You will likely learn even more about them in the process and will be able to keep the conversation flowing.
    3. Guide. Listening to what your customers are telling you, be able to provide direction, ideas and inspiration. Think beyond what is expected or natural (they like to hike, so they need to know where the nearest trail is) and provide answers to questions they haven’t even thought about (“I see that tear in your left boot. There’s a great place nearby that repairs outdoor apparel; just mention my name and he’ll give you a great deal! How about I get our driver to take you there?”).

At the end of the day, your customers want to have a great experience with your brand. Give that to them, and you’ll see just how important (and profitable) being hospitable can be.