Getting Dimensional About Guest Experiences
By Roberta Nedry, President, Hospitality Excellence, Inc.
Tangible tasks, creative designers, innovative architects, accurate measurements and efficient operations lead to getting the physical dimensions of a hospitality environment right. Though physical, these elements have the power to evoke emotions, set the stage, and greatly impact the guest experience.
Exploring the many dimensions of service, both physical and emotional, and how to tap into a variety of experiential moments leading to the most meaningful guest experiences is about taking a deeper dive into what happens in service touchpoints and interactions. It's about exploring how your guests might react to the messages, people and environment on their experiential journey to your site or property. It's about discovering how guest emotions and senses will be tapped or untapped by what you perceive to be a connection. Exploring these dimensions is also about evaluating and managing the results when the venue misses the opportunity to proactively construct the experience itself beyond the mere physical environment and what actually may or does happen from the guest's point of view. And, when opportunities are missed, follow up with the guest to explore restoring faith in the properties ultimate goal of great guest experiences.
Getting all of the physical and emotional dimensions integrated and focused into one overall strategy and performance will yield the most desired and memorable guest experiences. Hoteliers must recognize they and their teams are the ones who must get dimensional about discovering and delivering those experiences. Otherwise, guests are left to take a stronger, more proactive (and often more frustrating) role in securing those experiences to meet their expectations when they were expecting the resort and employees to do that for them.
Top rated reviews, customer loyalty and powerful referrals are the results of getting those experiences right. Those experiences are triggered by emotions which run the gamut of positive, negative and indifferent reactions by guests. Those emotions and feelings are what the guest will take with them, even beyond the photos they take, the journey they made and the events that took place.
A recent guest experience showcases the dilemma created when the stage is set to create powerfully positive guest expectations, and yet the team and property's performance virtually misses the opportunity and requirement to guide and meet those expectations at a level, a dimension, below the surface.
"Sometimes getting good experiences and service can be so exhausting!" This comment from a recent 'über' traveler to a new luxury brand hotel in Asia revealed missed opportunities to secure not only guest loyalty but additional income and positive referrals. Several dimensions of delivering an experience that was not only expected but promised in hotel messages were missed.
This guest and her family are savvy travelers and make international excursions to luxury properties 2-3 times a year. In her professional role, her colleagues and clients value and seek out her recommendations and reviews of the international experiences she has. She researches each trip meticulously and communicates extensively with each property in advance to ensure her expectations are clear. She was exhausted trying to achieve this goal before even arriving and after a less than satisfying experience upon her return, reached out to me to ask, "is it my responsibility to create my own memorable moments, to make sure everything at the resort is in 'working order' and to expect a top level experience for a resort of this stature?"
This was a beach-pool resort in a remote yet beautiful location. Cultural activities were almost 2 hours away so her focus was primarily the resort experience, with only a few excursions due to the distance. For this particular guest, the beach and pool were key priorities for her family's style of enjoyment and relaxation in this resort's exquisite setting. The pools were beautifully designed and landscaped (physical dimension). The beach was enticing and alluring. She noted that the resort was exquisite and that the staff was lovely, but that was the case in many resorts she could have chosen all over the world. With that in mind, she went on to share her pre and post impressions and after great anticipation and expectations, what actually happened. She asked, how much of this is/was her responsibility and were her expectations out of line? Take a look at her specific issues and how a more "dimensional" approach to each situation could have changed the experience. Consider similar situations that have occurred or might occur at your property and how a deeper focus might change the outcomes and how to respond to guest perceptions that may be different than what your property delivers.
Issue One: Hotel Website, prior to arrival
At the time she made her reservations, well in advance of her visit, key information she normally secures in her preliminary research such as menus, prices, special events, tours, schedules, was difficult to source and understand and required extensive email communication in advance. When speaking with the reservations team, they could not find the information either and had to send her PDF documents of the information she desired. She shared she felt "exhausted to discover information herself and then get the detail." And though she found reservations agents to be attentive, thoughtful and responsive to her questions, she had to take on the responsibility of uncovering the guest experience. Although this may be due to the resort being a newer property, this guest had to work extra hard to get what she needed in advance.
Dimensional Insight - Hoteliers and their teams need to have that extra dimension of what guests are researching and looking for when they begin their quest. For many, the website is the initial contact and first part of their journey. For a guest, it's the beginning of their excitement and their emotions start to kick into gear. They are thinking about the new tastes, fragrances, sights and sounds that will be part of being in a new place, new land, new setting. Think about what a guest might be feeling as they consider an experience at your resort and how that feeling may begin on and through your website. How much does your website communicate about the actual experiences of staying at your property and all the ways they might be more personalized? Does the website evoke emotion, get them excited and encourage them with the possibilities? The website may be the first impression point so what should it do and convey that makes the guest experience come alive before they even set foot on the property and encourage the guest's dimension of thought? How thorough should information be so that guests can navigate easily to get the information they desire? Consider how to prepare for guest expectations, potential interests and in turn greater income with your website window to your property in a deeper way than you might previously have considered. Invite employees not related to the website, marketing or advertising efforts to review the site and see if they believe the resort experience is fully presented to guests online. Adding more perspectives adds more dimension to what guests may perceive.
Issue Two: An enticing and exotic beach/pool resort in a faraway land
Key physical features of the resort which attracted them to select this property and location were the ways in which water was featured in 2 large pools, 1 Jacuzzi and the beach. Upon arrival, this guest and her family learned the heaters for each pool were broken resulting in such cold water that no one was swimming. The beach was also a disappointment with cold water, strong ocean currents and more broken glass than one might expect in the sand in front of the resort, making even a beach walk less appealing. With new swim suits in hand, they had to adjust their expectations to looking at the water and not swimming in it for the entire trip. For these guests and what they had hoped, this was a huge disappointment no matter what the circumstances that caused them. Their teenage daughter spent most of the time in the room watching TV instead of swimming at the pool or beach, a key interest for her dimension of the experience. After approaching the Resort manager, he noted that the pool heaters had been broken for awhile, was typical for that location, and offered a minimal apology. He offered one complimentary dinner at the resort as compensation for the full week of no swimming and no advance warning of the inoperational parts of the resort.
What can hoteliers do when key features, like the beach or pool, are not working? What if construction or other unexpected interruptions take place? Guests will understand if their expectations are met in other ways and if there is empathy for their frustrations and disappointment. Many guests travel a long way and at considerable expense for vacations like this and want to find above and beyond value no matter what Mother Nature and unexpected upsets present. Perhaps the dinner and short conversation were not enough as an attempt to appease this guest. Guests want to know their opinions and reactions matter and that there is recognition for their comments and the experience they missed before, during and after their trip.
What other dimensions of service can hoteliers come up with to appease disappointed or upset guests? Is there a neighboring property to shuttle guests to where those features are working or can a free planned excursion be set up or a refreshing spa experience? Ask existing employees for ideas on how to enhance a disappointed guest's experience. You may be surprised and delighted with ideas from your own teams. Don't miss the emotional boat that may be able to take guests elsewhere and create new opportunities for memorable experiences, even if different than what they expected.
Dimensional Insight - Hoteliers cannot always forecast Mother Nature or problems that may occur but they can be honest with guests about what to expect and offer other options to satisfy their desires. Facts like water temperature this time of year, beach conditions and swimming /water options in lieu of pools are just some of the ways this guest's expectations could have been better established in advance, even with unexpected weather Service recovery in these instances also offers many new dimensions to connect on a deeper level with guests. Taking the time to empathize with a disappointed guest, acknowledge a frustrating and unexpected situation and respond with a creative solution to reinvigorate those excited emotions can make a huge difference. Guests can tell when efforts are authentic and when hotel employees really care that an experience is genuine and personal to them. In this case, the physical dimensions of service evoked emotions of dismay and disappointment in their memory of and feelings about this property that they had heard so much about, researched and anticipated.
Issue Three: Wake-up call
Gardeners outside their bedroom woke them up extra early with loud yelling as they did their work on the landscape on two of their seven mornings.
Dimensional Insight - Perhaps these gardeners were more focused on getting their job done well in the garden and not as focused on the emotional impact of the noise they were making. They did not have that extra dimension of understanding of the many ways their role impacts the guest experience. They understood the procedural side of their role and making sure the grounds looked exquisite and groomed as in all the hotel pictures. They did not understand the personal side of their role so they ended up without the deeper perception of their role in the guest experience. Training employees like these to better understand all the ways and touchpoints that might impact a guest experience is a rewarding and powerful strategy plus these employees will feel even more connected to the experience they are delivering. Telling them to stop the noise is one thing. Training them to understand the many dimensions of service and the experience are another.
Like many vacationing guests, this guest chose this property as one of two precious yearly family trips, spent considerable expense and traveled a long way. She and her family shared many great meals and moments in the hotel, indulged in the spa, loved the beautiful resort setting, appreciated the warmth of the staff and yet left feeling frustrated due to the dimensions that were missed for this highlighted week in their lives. Studies often show that it takes 11 good impressions to overcome one bad one. Make sure enough of those good impressions take place when the bad one is discovered.
The resort in this example is now making great efforts to get those good impressions back, understand all that transpired and make amends. Immediate service recovery is key when scenarios like this take place and should involve senior levels of management and attention.
Guest experience management is about recognizing all the areas that will impact the guest experience before, during and after their stay. It's about understanding all the dimensions, physical and emotional that will touch, inspire, reassure and please a guest and all those that might not. It's about anticipating, analyzing and planning for guest experiences and taking an in depth look at the impact of each touchpoint. It's about understanding how a guest might feel during each step of their journey to get there. It's about preparing for the unexpected and compensating for disappointments and areas not in working order. It's about guest perceptions and how they compare to the property's perceptions and how to ensure those both coincide in a positive way. It's about going deeper, going beyond the surface and going into a dimension of understanding to meet and exceed expectations.
Take a look at the physical and emotional dimensions of your property or business environment. How deep have you gone into the understanding of the guest experience? How well have you trained your teams to understand all those dimensions? How well do you and they know how to discover guest frustrations and recover with new options?
Is your website simply information and communication on what you offer or does it fully open a window into the many dimensions a guest will or can experience and in turn reach them emotionally before they get there?
Perhaps with an extra dimension of understanding, guests like this don't have to be disappointed and their expectations can be better established with a deeper perception of what will trigger the final results. Hoteliers who are dimensional in their approach, who go beyond the surface with both employees and guests, before, during and after their visit will inspire the delightful experiences that will inspire guest loyalty and referrals. Make sure all dimensions are in "working order" and enjoy the physical, emotional and financial rewards your guests will deliver during their stay and beyond!