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    The Holy Grail of Customer Service

    Sponsored by Homes and Villas by Marriott Bonvoy

    Times are changing, but the customer’s expectations are not. A large percentage of Homes and Villas by Marriott Bonvoy guests are very seasoned travelers. They spend many nights in our various Marriott hotel brands. Just as Marriott Bonvoy members, other travelers with a rich history in traditional hotels stays will base their expectations on this experience.

    These same customers are now choosing short-term rentals as their lodging accommodations. In doing so, the rental may look and feel different. The “brand” standards that they are accustomed to in the hotel world are not so clearly defined. Nevertheless, the customer has a very definite expectation in three areas of service. This is what is referred to as “The Holy Grail of Customer Service.”

    We often refer to the Holy Grail as something we want very much but is very hard to achieve. Something like bridging the gap between the customers’ expectation and our service delivery. The good news is that the best practices that Marriott has learned over the past 90+ years in the hotel business works in both environments. Let’s take a closer look at those expectations and how we can apply a few tried and tested best practices that will help us wow our guests.

    Hospitable Interactions and Responsible Service Recovery Are Still the Cornerstones of Good Customer Service

    Regardless of the medium, our customers still need to feel us smiling. We need a personal connection. When we do this, customers are more likely to give us a chance to resolve any issues with more patience than someone they have never met. Make friends first. The time you invest in these first moments can really pay off.

    Today’s technology advancements such as mobile check-in and mobile or digital key codes have replaced our face-to-face interactions. Let’s admit it, a text or email can be very impersonal and cold.

    We have to work hard to keep our touchpoint opportunities from being transactional and more interactional.

    So, how do we do this when we no longer have the opportunity to personally interact with our guest for the most part? We must evaluate all customer communication and make 100 percent certain that it is personalized and meets the G.U.E.S.T. test.

    • Is the greeting pleasant—can you sense the “smile” of the author?
    • Is the guest’s name used within the body of the message?
    • Establish a personal connection and determine any immediate needs.
    • Show sincerity in the correspondence.
    • Thank the guest.

    And when something goes wrong, we must build on that first connection we have made with our guest.

    Most of us are problem-solvers, and we move quickly from apology to resolution. We must remember to build the relationship.

    Your worst customers are those who never give you an opportunity to fix the issue, post a negative review on social media, and never come back. Often times the guest is doing us a favor by bringing the issue to our attention. We can learn from the problem.

    When we are given the opportunity to fix the issue, we must do so quickly. Today’s tolerance for service recovery is much lower than in times past. The expectation of rapid response and recovery can be attributed to the “same-day delivery” world that we now enjoy.

    Often when we are in “recovery mode.” We miss the magic of the interaction time. Remember a few minutes ago when I mentioned the value of making friends? Well, now is when that “relationship” will pay off. Don’t take short cuts in the conversation by apologizing for the issue and pledging to correction. You must show you care by empathizing with the guest; make the connection by putting yourself in their shoes. The LEARN model not only reminds us that we can actually learn from our mistakes but it also gives us an acronym for responding to our guest that can help in the recovery.

    You are building a relationship. You are building trust. You are investing in your guest. So, let’s take a closer look at the LEARN model:

    Listen to our guest. Do not interrupt them. Let them tell their story and say their piece.

    Empathize with the guest. Let them know you understand why they are upset.

    Apologize. This one’s easy; we have all mastered the apology.

    Resolve the issue. Period.

    Notify the guest when they can expect a resolution, and get the right person involved to fix the issue.

    This “fix and forget it” mentality is hard to break. Nevertheless, we must handle each service opportunity with intentional care with the understanding that we can benefit from a quick resolution. If we fail the test of time, we risk a cracked egg. The egg begins to crack when we don’t meet the expected response time or the guest can’t get in touch with us.

    The relationship is now on very rocky ground. If we can’t recover, the guest loses trust in us. The guest starts noticing things that they would have never brought up had we resolved the first issue quickly with grace. This is how we create difficult guests. Those guest that can’t be satisfied.

    Let’s move on to our next non-negotiable: cleanliness.

    There are few key fundamentals that are critical to the process.

    1. Establish the expectation. Make it easy to tell what is right and what is wrong.

    One way to do this is with a LookBook. This a simple pictorial of what is right and what is wrong. Consistency is the key. We must provide our team basic checklist of tasks that must be completed during the cleaning process. Sure, some things will be different from house to house, but many of the tasks are very routine

    2. Next is the inspection process. This is absolutely a nonnegotiable. You must inspect what you expect.

    It must be a formal process. At a minimum, a documented checklist. Best-in-class inspections use applications to log the inspection with checklist and pictures. A good app that many use is called the INNSPECTOR App. Inspections are not only a measure of quality control, but it helps in training and accountability.

    3. Teams must have the tools and products to do the job. Set product standards for all supplies.

    This can save you money and time. Using a vendor like Ecolab makes it easy. MDS sheets are supplied, and ordering is simple. Products are tested and safe for our associates and the environment. Not only do they supply cleaning products but also the tools. Let’s look at a very simple tool: cleaning rags. What are you using today? Old linen, perhaps? Investing in color-coded cleaning rags can be a game-changer. This will help eliminate cross-contamination opportunities and can maximizes efficiency when used with Ecolab cleaning products. The actual color of many cleaning products match the color of the cloth to be used in the cleaning process.

    Let’s look at the last component of the Holy Grail of service: Everything must be in working order.

    Guests expect everything that is available to them in the rental to work. If it does not work, we should fix it or take it out and not have it in the home. Maintaining the physical properties that we are renting is vital to our success in providing great service. It is referring to a scheduled maintenance plan that will help keep everything in working order.

    The basis guidelines for developing a preventative maintenance plan are to set the schedule and stick to it. Work the PM day into your availability calendar. Assessing how much normal wear and tear homes receive will help you determine the frequency necessary to maintain the asset. Most good programs have a quarterly PM rotation.

    And much like the housekeeping basics, you must have a checklist, the right tools and products to complete the task, and, once again, there must be an inspection of the completed work.

    Good preventative maintenance plans will save you service recover costs as well as major repair costs. The monies saved will more than pay for the blackout date required to do the work.

    Speaking of a return on our investment of time for preventative maintenance, what do we have to gain from not only meeting but exceeding our customers’ expectations?

    We all know it is easier and less expensive to keep a customer than it is to find a new one. Marriott has capitalized on the allegiance of satisfied customers. Marriott Bonvoy is now one of the largest hotel loyalty programs with over 173 million members.

    In addition, 52 percent of surveyed customers say that they will pay more if they are confident that they will receive better customer service.

    And what is the risk if we don’t? Before social media, we saw statistics such as “customers will tell seven total strangers about a bad experience when they must be prompted to share about an average or good service experience.” Now the risk is even greater. One negative social media review can go viral in a matter of minutes.

    Investing your time and energy to provide good customer service by mastering the service basics and providing clean accommodations where everything is in working order will pay off for you.

    Our challenges are real. Meeting our customers’ expectations is harder now than it has ever been. But we can do this. Taking care of our customers takes a lot of energy, both emotionally and physically. We must find ways to recharge and refresh. This is the only way can successfully meet the day in and day out obligations of our business.

    Let’s keep the service egg from cracking and have a few plans that will help you achieve the Holy Grail of service.

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