Chocolate Pillow | Is perfection achievable in hospitality?
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Is perfection achievable in hospitality?

14 Nov Is perfection achievable in hospitality?

Well, here we are…. back in the UK after visiting the amazing sunny shores of Bali and everything the island has to offer.  Believe me, if you have never been there, put it on your list of places to visit in your lifetime as it is an unrelentingly fantastic assault on the senses!

It was an amazing holiday, and me and the hubby returned feeling extremely despondent at having left (it was tempting to steal a staff uniform from the hotel and just try and blend in!); but I really did wonder whether it is possible at all to achieve perfection in hospitality any more?

Now, at work, I can be a perfectionist and anyone who watches me wipe the fingerprints off the lift ‘call button’ or wipe dust off the leaflet rack, or have a massive freak-out because someone did not update something correctly on the system, will know that I can be very pedantic – and I mean pedantic.  My poor (but doting and fabulous) husband, will be able to swear on oath that there is not a hotel yet that I have not had cause for ‘complaint’ about, as I have always managed to somehow find something that irritates me, or that is not correct.

Those who do not believe how pedantic I am, here are some of the things I have found in past hotel stays that I do not believe should have been possible to find:

  • Plugs in the bathroom sink/bath with discoloured chains
  • Limescale discolouration on shower units
  • One curtain hook not threaded on to the curtain
  • Notepads with only one sheet of paper left on them

Now, these are tiny things, but the problem is that I always seem to notice them where many thousands of other people overlook them.  This then means that I have a lesser experience than any co-travellers.  I would like to point out that al the above are not things I found in the hotel we went to in Bali!

This realisation that I am a pedantic and very difficult-to-please guest has set me thinking and made me wonder if there is any hotel in the world where perfection is possible?  And here is why….

To please me, everything needs to be spotless.  This generally might not always be possible.  The housekeeper may have had only a limited amount of time to clean the room, and may not have been able to remove that stain or limescale because they did not have the appropriate cleaning fluids or materials.  This seems fair enough, but in my view, if you do not have the appropriate things for dealing with that stain or limescale, why not? Surely as a hotel you should hold the appropriate cleaning materials and fluids for this kind of task?  Similarly there is the one thing that I have found amongst hotels of all star ratings and all across the world; the curse of the iron and ironing board – by this I am referring to seemingly every hotel’s inability to keep an iron clean, or to keep the ironing board and cover clean.  Such a thing is unacceptable to be fair – would you really want to iron your white shirt (which in some high-end cases may be worth several hundred pounds!), with an iron covered in black gunk, or an ironing board with a burnt and stained cover?  And to find this in a five star hotel?  If I have paid several hundred pounds for a room, I may get my stuff ironed for me, but being the independent person I am, if I decide to do it myself, I do not want to be presented with an iron and board that look like they have been used non-stop without cleaning for the past 20 years.  Light switches with sweaty grime on and vents covered in dust are also bug bears!

Service needs to be effortless.  Now you cannot control your staff, and you cannot control their mannerisms or interactions;  Similarly you cannot control the interpretation of events by individuals, but you can control your staff motivation and training.  In Bali you are likely to meet some of the most hospitable people in the world, as is similar to the rest of Asia, but that one individual who just answers with a grunt, or hovers a bit too long for a tip and makes the moment go from comfortable to uneasy, can blow all that out of the window.  As  your staff numbers increase, so does your strain on time and training resources, but you need to ensure that they all sing the same song – the song titled ‘Nothing is ever too much trouble’.  Please do not argue a charge with me in determination that I am wrong when I know I am right and have proven it, and please do not ignore my request for milk with my tea.  Little things can be forgotten, overlooked and dismissed in service, but the truth is that one bad interaction can be the only one that gets mentioned – there may have been thousands of good interactions, but that one poor experience will stick in someone’s mind (psychologically this is because the bad experience has challenged their preset definition of interaction with your business).

Everything needs to work, and work as described. Please do not provide me with a fridge with no light working, or a lamp that does not work.  Worse still, make sure that all my fixtures and fittings are secure in the room – having a drawer that opens itself because the drawer unit sits at a jaunty angle, or a wardrobe door that scrapes the varnish off the frame as you close it.  I have even been subjected to the usually present limescaled kettle (I have a hatred of many hotel kettles – in particular the small plastic ones that hold only enough water for just shy of 2 cups of coffee! So you get one full cup, and one cup that only fills to about 2 inches from the top!).  There are also several occasions where a switch is in the room, but no-one knows what it does, no matter how many times you click it) so if ever you have been happily sat in your hotel room and the lights started flicking on and off, or your bath started running itself or the air conditioning suddenly turned on and off in rapid succession, then I apologise (but at least I now know what that switch was for!).  Some other examples are remote controls not working, doors not opening properly (or handles falling off!), Steam rooms/jacuzzis not working, rainfall showers being more of a leaky tap.

Information must be correct.  If your TV guide says channel 34 is cartoons, and when I tune to channel 34 it is the news channel, I will not be very happy.  Other people will just flick through until they find the correct channel and not worry about it; I will be irritated by it – the fact here being that the information given differs to that found.  Do not tell me that you have 24 hour room service then tell me where to find the vending machine when I ask for the menu.  Do not show me the picture of the bedroom from 10 years ago when I book, and do not have out of date information and advertising in your rooms (I have before seen adverts in rooms for Valentines day (14th February)….in the April after the day had passed!).  Also make sure your folders and paperwork etc in the room are ‘as new’.  I hate seeing creased, dirty and tatty tent cards, or dog-eared pages, or torn paper, or curled edges on welcome letters.  And please, for the sake of my own sanity…. stop bloody laminating absolutely everything that is printed on paper!

The other thing that I touched on is in-room literature, and I just want to touch on marketing.  Okay, so every hotel has to sell itself, but for the love of god, please sell me what I can afford, or what I don’t already have!  I do not want to hear all about the fantastic sky-suite with rooftop infinity-pool, helipad, private lift and full complement of staff, when my credit card screams at the cost of just one of your standard box-rooms without windows!  Each hotel has a USP, but when was the last time you read an article that concentrated on everything you get in a standard room.  When have you read 450 words about standard rooms in the hotel followed by a ‘oh, and they have a suit on the roof with a helipad and infinity pool’?  Also do not give me leaflets in the room advertising the same thing I am here for – staying in a room where there are multiple leaflets and tent cards etc advertising the event you are attending that evening only say ‘we have loads of tickets left to sell’ or ‘we don’t keep our materials up to date in the rooms’.

For me, as a guest, I cannot see why these things are overlooked – is it really that difficult?  As a hotel employee, whenever I see these things in hotels, I understand how it can be difficult to get some of these things done, but then realise that there generally is time if people take just that few seconds more to be more observant!

I know hospitality is difficult, but in these times of cost-cutting, can anywhere actually claim to be perfect?  The truth of hospitality is far from that of the hospitality heyday – there used to be a time where staff outnumbered guests, and where every need was catered for.  As the world has moved on, and capitalism and debt has taken hold of almost every nation, the sad truth is that for many hospitality providers, profit is coming before experience.  I was brought in to the industry, and have worked in the industry since, with a belief that profit comes naturally if your experience is great.  You can churn through bedroom stock at £5 a night, and barely break even, or you can make a premium product where rooms sell at £500 a night and you can survive for a week without bookings because your margins are so healthy!  I wonder if hospitality has also become too fickle; loyalty is really only a word that can be truly applied to hospitality as nothing is more satisfying than seeing that regular guest walk back through the door with a smile on their face ready to experience another great stay.

I will admit that I can be too pedantic, after all who really cares that you can see watermarks on a glass, or that there is slight mould in the very corner of the shower under the soap dish that cannot be reached during normal cleaning?  Well, in honesty, I care about it! But does anyone else?  But if everyone cared about it would it be worth the effort to clean it, or would hospitality do the invariable and just remove the soap-dish because its easier and saves money?  Are standards and money invariably linked?  Can perfection ever be achieved?

Maybe I am just too much of a perfectionist (although I am happy to let things go and overlook stuff because I understand why stuff cannot, or will not, be done!).  Maybe I have not moved with the times. Maybe hospitality can no longer be about every guest having a true experience throughout their stay.  Or maybe I am seeing things from the wrong angle?

The truth of the situation is that I am yet to find the hotel that can provide the perfect experience – I always find something to tarnish that golden experience just slightly, no matter how small.   As some of you as regular readers will be aware, I am working on the next BIG project – the big book of hotel standards, and knowing my impeccable desire for perfection in every square inch of the hotel, the book will take up an entire shelf in your offices; doing some more work on this is what inspired this post.

Maybe that hotel does exist somewhere where everything is perfect, and I throw down the gauntlet to anyone who believes their hotel can provide that faultless experience! If you think you can provide that faultless experience where everything is perfect, I dare you to prove it!  Get in touch and perhaps I can arrange a visit at some point!

 

Matt Shiells-Jones
matt@chocolatepillow.com

Husband, Author, Hotel Manager and ambitious 'old cat lady'



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