Fortunately for me, I already knew that I wanted to be the manager of a 5-star hotel at the age of 10. The aim wasn’t even focused on financial reward. I consider myself still fortunate today that I have the same passion, commitment and drive for the industry, just like the very first day I started. In the early days of my career I had the luck to have been mentored and to become a close friend by one of the best General Managers I have met in my life and the person that ultimately made me addicted to the hotelier life. I speak of Giuseppe “Bepi” Kamenar, a sprightly elf of a man who, at an age when most others are content to sit back with folded hands, was the life, breath and soul of Villa Cipriani in Asolo.
In some of the best times of my life, we would sit late in the evening and talk about everything. I would mostly listen to his hotelier tales about members of the British or Dutch Royal Families, famous actors and actresses, or his personal friend Freya Stark, of whom he told me only one tale. He embedded in me the need for discretion with names. Bepi used always to tell me, “Rocco,is good to know, bad to broadcast”.
One night I asked him, “Bepi, how can I be the best at what I do?” The answer he gave me was short and sharp. He told me simply: “Rocco, the day that you do the “Right thing” rather than ” Things right” and you come to work smiling and whistling, that day you will know.”
The next day he gave me a small booklet that I still have. Remarkably, it was the very first employee handbook written by Harry Gordon Selfridge for his famous store in London. The first page struck me and influenced me so much that today I still try to live and operate by this principle. It said:
Get the confidence of the public and you will have no difficulty in getting their patronage. Inspire your whole workforce with the right spirit of service; encourage every sign of the true spirit. Treat your customers as guests when they come and when they go, whether or not they buy. Give them all that can be given fairly, on the principle that to him that giveth shall be given. Remember always that the recollection of quality remains long after the price is forgotten. Then your business will prosper by a natural process.
To offer a remarkable and memorable experience and to be great, a hotel needs a team of both management and staff with emotional intelligence; a team of people who quietly make guests feel comfortable and important. To sum it up in one phrase, this means intuitive people who can connect with others, with empathy and genuineness.
Aiming for excellence is not a task – it can only be achieved by those who made a lifestyle choice, rather than a career, in hospitality. I’m sure most of my colleagues would agree. To me it is not about “success”, but the sense of fulfillment and pride in making people feel good. My focus throughout my career has always been in creating memories, trusting that the financial results will always come. As Harry Gordon Selfridge use to say, “Excite the mind and the hand will reach for the pocket.”
The hospitality industry has never been more challenging and exciting than it is today. Our industry is highly competitive, and to prosper you need to ensure that your operation is best in its class. “Being remarkable” is what makes the difference today, and what will ultimately end up improving your operational bottom line. Offering a remarkable experience pays dividends by increasing loyalty and word of mouth.
This is why I believe and actively practice, day in day out, these four timeless principles, that are to me, “the four main pillars” of our industry. They will stand the test of time, no matter how technological, connected and automated hospitality becomes. Actually, in this social media era where everyone acts as a publisher, there is additional marketing value to being remarkable.
My four pillars fall under the acronym SNAP:
- Sense of urgency
- No excuses
- Attention to detail
- Pride of ownership
Sense of urgency
I believe this to be the key of hospitality. Our business just naturally attracts a high percentage of people with a sense of urgency about them – there is just too much to be done! The truth is that guests staying in your hotel are counting on you and you should never disappoint them. A sense of urgency is an unrelenting push for results, or identifying matters of pressing importance and acting upon them immediately. You must avoid resting on the laurels of success. Everything in hospitality is designed to meet the discerning needs of our guests. Ultimately, it is what defines our operating standards – check out times, turn-down service, dining reservations and minutes to delivery quoted by room service, are all designed to meet guests’ satisfaction. When practiced with a sense of urgency, our intention is to exceed guests’ expectations. In hospitality, a “sense of urgency” is a good thing. Yet many hoteliers confuse this with a “sense of emergency”, which insidiously saps the life from their operations.
I love the motto: Offer no excuses and accept no excuses. It tells you a lot about someone who makes excuses and tells you a lot about someone who refuses to. When we host a guest at our establishment, implicitly we make a promise. Delivering this promise should be done consistently at all times. There are no shortcuts in quality and we all learn from our mistakes. One often hears excuses from managers when they have a bad result from an inspection. The chef or the restaurant manager was off, the head housekeeper was on holiday, and so on. There are often legitimate reasons why these mistakes happen. You can explain to customers why things went bad, but what guests really want is the mistake quickly fixed on the spot, long before their stay is ruined. So forget the excuses, and have a plan in place to fix the problem – and I mean any problem that may arise. Speed and efficiency during a crisis saves the day. Most guests will deal well with a problem if they know you’re doing your best to fix it. What they don’t want to hear are excuses.
Attention to detail
True hoteliers know that small details exemplify their service and make guests’ stays more comfortable. There’s a delicate balance between proactive and presumptive service. The guest should feel in command and not dictated to. Hoteliers should think things through, have a sense of priority and attention to detail, be practical and follow-through. Hoteliers should ask questions, give options, and the let the guest decide. No matter how elaborate your turn-down service is or how packed with technology your hotel rooms are, it’s the staff that really make the difference. Engaged staff are intuitive to guests’ needs and go out their way to help. They surprise the guest with their knowledge of their likes and dislikes (“Would you like a glass of the white wine you had last night, Mr Brown?”), open doors, and deliver service with an unwavering smile, no matter how tired, fed up, or busy they may be.
Pride of ownership
As well as focusing on the guest, hoteliers should trust, nurture and recognize the ability of every staff member. Empowering them and instilling a pride of ownership will make them go beyond their job tasks and adapt and modify their services to meet guest’s needs. They will add those little touches that go beyond the usual, taking pride in their craft and giving that crucial, ultimate edge in the competitive hospitality business.
The bottom line: SNAP is simply the way to create a memorable experience and make a guest know great service when they do find it. It feels brilliant and rare, but at the same time completely natural. It is an experience guests will want to repeat and tell their friends, colleagues and online reviews about – the way things should be.
About the author
Rocco Santopietro is a mentor and coach who focuses on building new business, securing guest loyalty and forging strong relationships. Rocco has many years operational experience in five-star properties and a strong track record of providing excellent customer services improving quality scores and overall performance.