Helping Staff Empathize With Guests Is Key To Authentic Hospitality

    With all of the online guest reviews and social media postings available to prospective guests these days, it seems like the walls of our rental company lobbies--and the vacation homes themselves--are made of glass, and that the service provided within is transparent for all to see.  

    Personally, I think that this has caused the lodging industry to focus more than ever on guest service excellence, which is certainly a good thing.  Yet many managers I encounter are frustrated that their guest service training is not leading to an improvement in guest surveys nor online reviews.  

    Perhaps this is because too many training programs are still teaching hospitality as if it were the summation of a series of communications techniques. In other words, smile at the guest, maintain eye contact, use their name three times, and they will all the front desk leave happy, right?

    True hospitality superstars know that while delivering hospitality requires good communications skills, it takes more than just that.  

    The real spirit of hospitality is centered on caring about as well as caring for the guest. When colleagues care for the guest, they take care of their fundamental needs for clean, comfortable and safe shelter. Yet when they care about the guest, they are able to provide for their needs on a deeper, more humanistic level.  
    Most guests can sense when they are encountering a service provider that is simply going through the motions and using scripted messages that mask an attitude of indifference. Kind of like the waiter who comes by to clear a plate of nearly un-touched food and asks: “How was your dinner, good?” prompting most of us to simply agree and say, “It was good.” Most of us leave and never return; some will take their complaint elsewhere such as to Yelp or Facebook.  
    When you read most negative reviews and guest surveys, most guests will say something like, “What went wrong was this, but what was really upsetting is that no one seemed to care about our situation.” 
    To ensure that frontline colleagues care about as well as for guests, make sure they can empathize and understand the various situations, stories and circumstances that play out daily on the other side of the front desk, the other end of the phone call, and the other side of the guest room doors.  

    Of course, it is ideal to just hire staff who can personally relate to your guests, or who otherwise possess the emotional intelligence to imagine what it might be like for others. Yet realistically, it is difficult to find candidates who have enough life experiences to do so on their own. Instead, make sure your guest service training program helps them gain insights into what guests are going through daily.

    If they’ve not been asked to think about it, most frontline colleagues view travel as being fun, exciting, or even glamourous. To those who not been the driver of a minivan full of cranky kids asking, “Are we there yet?” every 10 minutes, or a driver who was stuck in an unexpected traffic jam, vacations are all about fun and joy.
    If your only experience of leisure travel has been going on family vacations as a youth, it is difficult to imagine the stress that mom or dad might be feeling to have fun while on a vacation that got off to a rocky start due to their both having had to work very late the night before departure.

    Here are some suggestions for conducting guest empathy training for your frontline colleagues:
    • During meetings, discuss the diversity of reasons why guests might be visiting. This might include family vacations, reunions and birthdays, but also memorial services, the first trip after the loss of a grandparent, or a even a “bucket list” trip for someone with a bad diagnosis. Explore how badly a family might need this vacation to have time together with today’s over-scheduled lifestyles of the two-career or single-parent households. 
    • Ask colleagues to think about the more somber reasons why guests might be visiting. That it is not always for a wedding; it might be to attend a funeral. If you have medical centers nearby, it might be to receive treatments or tests or to visit family in the hospital. 
    • Focus also on the good times being enjoyed and the “once in a lifetime” events, such as special milestone birthdays and events such as baby showers, Bar Mitzvahs, and Christenings. 
    • Challenge colleagues to ask guests what’s bringing them to town during registration and then to report back to the next meeting what they found out.
    • Hold a brainstorming session regarding all of the challenges guests might encounter en route, such as airline travel delays, uncomfortable airplane seats and traffic nightmares. Then talk about how the front office team in particular has a unique opportunity to turn things around for guests once they arrive.  
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