Hospitality workers have a critical job as the customer-facing representation of your brand, but they’re in desperate need of support and enablement to deliver guest experiences.
But providing that support isn’t always easy. So today we’re sharing a little inspiration: five hospitality organizations that are going above and beyond to empower their staff to deliver next-level guest experiences.
1. Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company’s three-step approach to guest experience
Gold standard service goes hand-in-hand with the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company name. The century-old company is known for being able to “fulfill even the unexpressed wishes and needs” of guests.
But they don’t just expect their Ladies and Gentlemen (their internal term for their employees) to be able to provide this anticipatory customer service on their own. They’ve built trust and skill development directly into their Employee Promise so they can develop the confidence and skills to perform.
“At The Ritz-Carlton, our Ladies and Gentlemen are the most important resource in our service commitment to our guests,” the Employee Promise reads. “By applying the principles of trust, honesty, respect, integrity and commitment, we nurture and maximize talent to the benefit of each individual and the company.”
Ritz-Carlton’s Three Steps of Service also makes it clear how all staff, from housekeeping to management, should interact with guests daily to create memorable, unique and personalized experiences:
- Give them a warm and sincere greeting using their name
- Anticipate and fulfill their needs,
- Leave them with a fond farewell, addressing the guests again by name as they head out the door
Our takeaway? If you want your people to do something, tell them. Clearly and directly. This three-step plan gives Ritz Carlton employees a clear understanding of what next-level guest service means, down to greeting guests by name.
2. Disney Institute’s common purpose
Disney Institute helps train business leaders and professionals to improve their own organizations by treating Disney parks and resorts as “living laboratories” for professional development. They say their key to making magical moments for their guests stems from their Cast Members’ alignment with the company’s common purpose: “We create happiness by providing the best in entertainment for people of all ages everywhere.” In an article for Harvard Business Review, Bruce Jones, Senior Director at the Disney Institute, recalls an example of Cast Members who did just that. A family brought their autistic son to Disneyland, where the noises and crowds can overwhelm him. “‘In the past, we’ve had to leave Disneyland before noon because the stimulation was too much,’” father Keith Sharon shared in the article.
This time, when they arrived their son noticed a clear balloon with a purple Mickey Mouse inside that he wanted, and his parents told him they would get it for him at the end of the night if the day went well. The day went great, but at the end they couldn’t find the balloon their son had seen that morning. They learned from a cast member that they had sold out.
“This could have been the end of this interaction. Nancy could have delivered the news to her son, and one of the happiest days could have quickly turned into a challenging and frustrating night. But that is not the way the night ended for the Sharon family. Instead, the Cast Member clearly saw that Nancy was in distress, so he called a fellow Cast Member, and together they were able to create happiness. One of them disappeared behind a door only to reappear a few minutes later with a purple balloon. ‘Nancy hugged the two Cast Members because she didn’t know what else to say,’ Keith recalls. ‘To us, that balloon, that day, that ending … will always be priceless.’”
Despite the busy and demanding nature of the Cast Member role, Disney’s employees feel empowered to get creative and find solutions to guest problems to ensure a day at the park always ends on a happy note because they know creating happiness is their brand’s primary goal.
3. Marriott International’s focus on empathy and authenticity
Marriott International, a major American hospitality company boasting 31 brands and 8,500+ properties across 138 countries and territories, believes that if you care for your associates, they’ll take care of the customer. On the Shep Hyken podcast, Julius Robinson, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at Marriott, spoke on the importance of the company’s TakeCare culture and how it helps them provide the great experience guests expect from their brand.
He explains that there are two significant things organizations can teach associates to get them to create standout customer experiences, and they’re both about listening, having empathy, responding with clarity and delivering on the customer’s expectations.
First, Marriott’s associates need to know how to ask the right questions and be educated on guests’ expectations. Customers don’t always verbalize what they want, so anticipating their needs is especially important.
Second, associates need to be empowered to deliver a great experience by tapping into the customers’ end goals. For instance, if a family hasn’t traveled since the onset of the pandemic and is concerned about health, employees need to have the information and tools to give the customers confidence in a safe travel experience.
“Enable your teams to overcome problems authentically,” says Robinson. “Empower them with broad guidelines and proper training, and they will do great things for the customers.”
4. Hyatt Hotels Corporation’s connection to the emotional experience
Hyatt Hotels Corporation is a global hospitality company with over 65 years of experience focusing on empathy, sometimes prioritizing it over service scripts and consistency. In an interview with Fortune, CEO Mark Hoplamazian said, “making sure that [corporate] is connected to the emotional experience that [their] colleagues and guests are experiencing, and then designing their experience so that it is fulfilling for them” has been a key driver of the brand’s success.
What does tuning into the emotional needs of staff and customers look like in practice? Hyatt leaders allow employees to be themselves during guest interactions—no service script required. They have the flexibility they need from their leaders to create more authentic customer experiences, so when guests approach them for help, they can establish a personal and genuine connection.
Empathy also plays a role in the employee experience at Hyatt. The Housekeeping Flextime Program is a perfect example, as it allows housekeepers to leave if they get their work done early or to clean additional rooms to make extra money. Another benefit that employees actually want and need is their Family Assistance Leave program, which offers primary caregivers at least 8 weeks of paid leave.
5. Southwest Airlines’ commitment to employee autonomy
Hyatt isn’t the only brand encouraging staff to be themselves. Southwest Airlines is known for encouraging their frontline employees to find their ‘superpowers,’ and it often helps them make the headlines. Some employees are naturally funny. Some are great at interacting with people. By drilling down on their lighthearted and friendly workplace philosophy, every Southwest employee knows they have the trust and respect of their leaders to play into their strengths and create great customer experiences.
Another great example from the Southwest team is from 2016 when they asked 48 crew members to contribute design ideas for their new employee uniforms. They knew it was important for it to reflect their employees’ personalities and have them be proud to wear their uniforms to work.
Overall, Southwest Airlines has maintained their legendary culture for over 50 years by making it their mission to put the needs of their 47,000 employees first—even before customers and shareholders—because they believe happy employees lead to success elsewhere.
As we look at what some of the top brands in hospitality are doing to deliver quality service, a few common threads appear. Bringing empathy into the employee experience, offering opportunities for empowerment and autonomy and encouraging your people to be their authentic selves can all be tactics that can help drive next-level guest experiences.