by John R. Hendrie

We were alerted a number of years ago that we were in the Experience Economy. Of course, that needed some definition, as we moved beyond the typical transactions with our Customer. The progressive companies latched upon sensationalizing their Brands, oozing with “hooks” to our senses: escape, actualization, feel good, wanton, safe and satiated. Not bad messages! And, our audience – the Boomers, the Road Warriors, the Lifestyle Seekers – bought into it. Our product offerings demonstrated our commitment: spacious beds, high thread count, curved shower curtains, flat screen TVs, wines for all courses, celebrity chefs. Luxury and comfort – um, um, good! It is all about the Experience, shaped by our ability to build relationships. As David Kong, Best Western International’s President and CEO, stated at their Annual Meeting last week, “Our mission is to drive revenue and profitability. Our vision is to lead the industry in customer care. Service is where transactions transform into relationships.” This should become our mantra, and we want a persona to evoke that Brand.

So, we turn this business opportunity over to our marketing and sales staff along with our middle Management. They are a vigorous lot – attractive, ambitious, impatient, essentially the next generation to move Hospitality forward. Most are between the ages of 25-40, many looking to make a career in the industry, but are we assured that they have what it takes?

We think we brought our children up properly, and now they are in the marketplace, contributing, making a living. We certainly impressed upon them ethics, proper behavior and etiquette, for to be success in a sales capacity (and, we are all sales people) it starts with the ability to forge a relationship and be respectful.

I still fight my sons to put the toilet seat down. They know they should stand when an older person enters the room, particularly a female of a certain age. A proper greeting is with eye contact and a firm hand shake. What is wrong with assisting someone to be seated or opening a door in advance of entry? Not all conversations need to be casual, laced with occasional profanity. That is just lazy! By the way, my sons are perfect gentlemen, of course. Perhaps, you have had similar dialog with your offspring. This may be how they relate to their peers, but in the marketplace it does not work.

Common courtesy, particularly in Hospitality, is not a dark secret, but many times it is hard to find. What happened to civility? The Experience is very much about the Relationship and behaviors required to make the Customer or Guest interaction memorable. And, we must never forget the audience to whom we are trying to sell. Social skills and sensibilities simply cannot be expected; desired, yes, inherent, no! Business etiquette, behavior and even attire must be taught or at least revisited for this new generation of Sales, Marketing and Management personnel – the deal makers and the image Ambassadors. Of course, the emphasis must be organization wide and deep, too. Attitude and demonstrated behavior should be the top attribute we seek, as we recruit talent, for the rest can be trained and developed.

Louise Kramer wrote about what one company was doing, in her New York Times article, 10/1/06, “Adding a Personal Touch to Hotel Etiquette”. She featured a program, sponsored by Loews Corporation, which addressed the above laments, called, “Living Loews”. The program was designed to further set Loews apart in a marketplace where their competition has upgraded amenities and product, yet not necessarily the service component, which now is the differentiator, what will make them distinct. The program goes to the heart of Hospitality and Customer Service – the behaviors, personal and social. As New York based Restaurateur, Danny Meyer, notes, “What's tough still is to realize that you cannot distinguish your product until you address the human experience”.

No doubt, other companies have instituted similar programs as Loews. You certainly do not need to be a flag hotel or restaurant company to address the obvious, for behavior is the foundation for a culture of service and performance excellence. Don Farrell, Chairman of Signature Worldwide, notes that renewed attention to Customer Service has surfaced in the past year, too. He further points out, beyond the ability to ensure a hospitality “experiential” value, “This becomes a life skill, where anyone can now elevate this new communication/relationship building approach to a higher level.” Think about it. Most of us would be pleased with simple courtesies – welcome, thank you, we appreciate your business, have safe travels, and even these few words are rare.

The Experience business is driven by that memorable relationship. Take nothing for granted. Invest in all your Ambassadors, optimize their behaviors, create a standard of excellence, and become distinctive. This is absolutely critical for the young men and women we have selected to represent and sell us to the public. They become the “face”, the persona, of our business often before one step is taken onto our property. We want them poised, polished, confident and informed. Perhaps we need to create that model.

John R. Hendrie is CEO of Hospitality Performance, Inc.. The company measures the performance of lodgings, restaurants, clubs, cruise lines, attractions, time shares and retail establishments against reasonable hospitality standards through a comprehensive assessment process, and then we help market the achievement of those standards to a discerning customer.