SAFETY & SERVICE: A BALANCING ACT
A New Training Tool Can Help
A picture is worth a thousand words. Excited and Cautious, Ready and Scary sums up the attitude of guests who may soon be walking through our doors for the first time in a year.
Increasing numbers of home-bound travelers are tentatively scheduling vacations while many take-out diners seek to enjoy a meal somewhere inside other than home. Still, top of mind for most people who have stayed home since the pandemic’s first lock-down is safety.
Tripadvisor's research on travelers’ booking criteria in 2020: 92% said “Cleanliness is the most important factor in selecting accommodations.” According to an OpenTable survey, a high percentage of consumers indicate that they make their dining choices based on the comfort level they have with a restaurant’s safety protocols.
YOU may be confident about the procedures you have put into place, but how can you help make your potential customer feel comfortable enough to venture out for the first time? Research shows that how you communicate pre-arrival is exceptionally important to ease concern.
Best Practice: Just as you have probably expressed on your own website, both Tripadvisor and Yelp have added space for businesses to describe their Covid safety practices. Balanced messaging is important, however. Having an enjoyable experience is, as it always has been, the motivation for travel and for dining out. While using the word ‘contactless’ can convey a good safety practice, might it also sound sterile to someone who is yearning to break out of forced isolation? Describing what guests can expect in terms of safety and enjoyment is consistent with hospitality that distinguishes a property.
Read remarks from a few properties that are highly ranked, and you will notice comments such as, “though the confirmation said that amenities could be limited, we appreciated they told us that the pool was available by reservation so social distance could be maintained and we could still use and enjoy it....” Or, perhaps, “because of Covid, while it wasn’t the same busy and high energy atmosphere we had previously enjoyed, our server went out of his way to be extra-friendly and the food was as delicious as always so we will continue to return."
Emphasizing that you seek to provide both a safe and enjoyable atmosphere is the balance that many customers seek not only to make, but to keep, their reservation. Ensuring that guests experience both will boost confidence and return intent.
What If? Have we ever been as aware of the CDC or FDA as we all are these days? With this kind of emphasis, you can anticipate that many guests will be very observant about how closely your team follows recommended safety practices and even compare yours to other locations they have visited. Being a germaphobe is not as nerdy as it used to be.
A friend shared with me that, after observing how hastily a bus person wiped down the table when a diner left, she decided not to stay because it did not seem very thorough for Covid cleanliness concerns. Another friend told me that they chose a hotel based on the property’s Covid Safety Health Pledge. After noticing some cobwebs in their room, however, they felt nervous about how closely that pledge was followed, and they regretted their travel plans. She has not traveled since.
I wondered if their reactions might have been different if they had conveyed their concerns to a service person who was able to respond and re-instill confidence? I realized that the situation was similar to any complaint about a misstep and that confidence may have been recoverable if handled correctly. At least there would have been a chance, anyway. The walk away is probably a forever lost opportunity and the potential word of mouth even worse.
Best Practice: While cleaning used to be something we did in the background away from guest sight, we now realize that allowing customers to see it in action can be a confidence builder. Seeing is believing. What plans do you have in place with your team members to address guest observations that may be similar to the concerns voiced by my friends? No matter how much we plan and practice, there are bound to be at least a few protocol missteps and/or encounters with highly sensitive guests. Are your associates as confident with words and actions they should take to address a guest’s safety concerns as they would be with typical pre-Covid complaints? Anticipating challenges and preparing credible responses can help repair a guest’s confidence and ensure that your safety goals are met.
New Resource: The Oregon Hospitality Foundation, ORLA’s nonprofit 501c3, has just released a new and on-demand video-based training tool, Providing Service While Supporting Safety. The course addresses opportunities like those mentioned above.
Four challenging scenarios are portrayed, communication, credibility, compliance, and creating a positive experience. Participants first watch an example of an ineffective service response which results in a negative guest experience. This is followed with narrative coaching and a more effective service approach is portrayed ending with discussion questions. Both restaurant and hotel versions are available, each with helpful worksheets, and both are offered with a Spanish subtitle option. Since time is a premium, scenarios can be viewed individually in less than 15 minutes. Course access is via sliding scale donation, group codes and tracking are also available. See more at OregonGuestServiceSafety.org.
What’s next? A recent Destination Analysts report provides rational optimism about our industry’s recovery, with all momentum tied to the lessening of safety concerns. In the February 22, 2021 report, they note “Each week more Americans have been vaccinated as well as know others who have, more trips in the short term appear… As COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to decline after their January peak, Americans’ optimism about the month ahead soared an additional five percentage points in the last week, reaching another record high. Now 44.2 percent feel the pandemic situation in the United States will improve over the next four weeks...”
While we all realize that turnaround will take time, earning and retaining consumer confidence in our industry’s safety practices, as well as creating positive experiences, will be essential to continuing momentum. | WENDY POPKIN, OREGON HOSPITALITY FOUNDATION
Wendy Popkin is the Executive Director of the Oregon Hospitality Foundation, a nonprofit 501c3 dedicated to providing educational, training, and philanthropic support to Oregon’s restaurant, lodging, and tourism industry. Wendy is a 35-year career veteran who describes herself as “fanatically enthusiastic about helping others enjoy the same type of fabulous career opportunities I have enjoyed in the hospitality industry.” OregonHospitalityFoundation.org
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