Analyses - December 20, 2004



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December 2004


Print Human resources, Management,

Front-line ambassadors: a valuable resource

The tourism industry is one sector in which the human element is absolutely vital to delivering the promised brand “experience” the customer expects. This is particularly true in the hotel industry. Employees – who really should be called “front-line ambassadors” – usually handle the initial contact between customers and the organization; these individuals make the first impression on visitors and reflect the official image of the company. Is this key element of the hospitality industry receiving the attention it deserves?

Communicating the message is not enough

According to William Fitzgerald of Hotel and Motel Management magazine, a hotel's performance – measured by revenue per available room (RevPAR) and average daily rate (ADR) – depends directly on its ability to make its front-line employees true brand ambassadors. However, few tourism-based businesses know how to engage all their workers in this internal branding effort, which is the ideal opportunity to provide a concrete example of the values associated with the brand.

Today's consumers are extremely sceptical when it comes advertising. In 1987, the Yankelovich Monitor estimated that approximately 13% of Americans had any confidence in the ads they see or hear; by 2002, this percentage had dropped to a mere 7%. Although many businesses emphasize their brand in their advertising, very few of them, unfortunately, make the necessary effort to ensure that all employees work together to deliver on the brand promises customers come to expect.

Happy employees mean satisfied customers

Front-line employees are not the only ones who are key to making a visitor's stay unforgettable. It is a group effort, from the desk clerk to the housekeeper. Of course, it is difficult to wring stellar service out of employees who dislike their work.

In the US, the situation is worrisome. A survey conducted by HR Magazine showed over 75% of US workers are either “totally turned off by their jobs” or “do just enough to get by”. It goes without saying that such attitudes are unacceptable in a service industry.

Performance evaluation measures

Some businesses set up performance evaluation mechanisms to verify whether their goals are being reached. Before defining quality standards, it is a good idea to consider the types of customer demands one must deal with (in other words, concrete examples of what a company promises its customers). For example, festival organizers could decide that a quality standard would be to respond to any information requests within five working hours, either by phone, fax or email.

The variety of customer demands must reflect the clientele's actual expectations. For this reason, visitor surveys can be an effective strategy for accurately determining what customers want.

Delivering on the promise

Even if we properly train our employees, deliver motivational speeches and hire the best talent available, we cannot be certain the employees in place are acting as true brand ambassadors if we do not assess whether service quality standards are being observed.

One way to do so is to hire “mystery customers” to evaluate service delivery. Corrective measures can then be adopted, according to the observations gathered. This approach also has the advantage of enabling employers to set up a reward system for star employees. By instituting quantifiable, measurable performance goals, the employer can occasionally offer performance bonuses to employees who attain service quality targets. Another, more traditional, tool is to conduct regular customer satisfaction surveys.

– Conseil québécois des ressources humaines en tourisme. “Enquête sur les pratiques de formation,” La pause RH, January 2004.
– Huigens, Bill. “Customer Service: Will somebody please define this?”, HVS International, August 25, 2004.
– Fitzgerald, William. “Successful hotels teach employees to be brand ambassadors,” Hotel and Motel Management, No. 219, June 21, 2004.
– Conseil québécois des ressources humaines en tourisme and Emploi Québec. “Diagnostic des ressources humaines en tourisme – Horizon 2004-2009,” October 2004.
– Pan, Crystal. “Human Element of Customer Service – Personal touch is the golden key,” Hotel News Resource, November 9, 2004.

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