Luxury can be a tough sell. Sure, there will be a small client base that consistently wants the luxury option, regardless of price. But for most people, luxury has to mean something tangibly different and better, well worth the hard-earned money they will spend on it. For luxury hotels, that feeling of luxury may start as you approach the building. Perhaps the building's architecture is beautiful, with a lobby that's inviting and warm. However gorgeous, nothing can kill the luxurious mood faster than a cold, uncaring hotel employee. Whether it's the doorman who greets you warmly and helps with your bags, or the front desk attendant who efficiently checks you in and makes sure all your needs are met,
YPO member Laura VanTil grew up in the heart of the hospitality business. After her father helped found Days Inn, he developed The Kessler Collection, a network of boutique luxury hotels. Laura prepared herself to join the family business, graduating from Cornell's School of Hotel Administration and earning a MBA from Emory University. She gained real world experience in a variety of positions in the real estate development sector and eventually joined The Kessler Collection. After 12 years as President and COO of Kessler Collection, she was recently appointed CEO of Kessler Hospitality, which oversees the Collection's 9 boutique luxury hotels across the Southeast and in Colorado.
On an episode of my podcast 10 Minute Tips from the Top, VanTil shared her company's focus on customer service, and how she works to make it memorable in all the best ways:
1. Recognize the opportunity to add value.
To maintain their success, luxury companies must continually offer something compelling and different that's worth the price. Part of what has made The Kessler Collection successful is their dedication to customer service. "Operations is an opportunity to create value in the asset, as well as make sure that the delivery of what you originally intended in the development plan is executed all the way through," VanTil says. Customer service has a direct impact on your bottom line, and great customer service adds real value for your customers. The Collection even has a special name for employees: "We call them Grand Performers," VanTil says, indicating their importance to the foundation of the company. You can use excellent customer service to distinguish yourself from your competitors and keep your brand reputation strong. Plus, happy customers become repeat customers and your best marketers.
2. Make it an asset - before it becomes a liability.
Customer service can make or break you, especially for a luxury brand. "When people ask me what I'm most concerned about in our entire company, I say, 'It's negativity, and having people that don't get it, don't feel it, don't have the passion,'" admits VanTil. "You have to find the right people," she says, asserting, "Your people are your greatest asset when it's the right person, and they're also your greatest liability. It's what keeps me up at night." It matters down to every last employee. "That one employee interacts with so many guests on a daily basis, that if they're negative, if they don't understand your mission, your culture, your vision, it really spreads through to your guests," she laments. You need to ensure you have a system in place to evaluate, monitor, and continually improve customer service.
3. Remember it's ongoing.
Customer service is not a single event. Instead, it's an ongoing effort to keep your employees sharp and stay on top of customer desires. That means it requires constant attention. When asked about the hiring process to ensure her Grand Performers can provide the level of service The Collection expects, VanTil states, "It's an ever-evolving process. We give them personality profiles...with very targeted questions. We try to get a lot of that in the pre-screening, to make sure that the questions that they're giving us are consistent with our culture." But it doesn't stop there. "Then we try to teach our HR professionals and our teams in the field exactly what we're looking for," she says. She admits it's an imperfect science, but "Hopefully you catch it between the pre-screening, the incoming questions, and the in-person interview," she explains. You cannot let down your guard. When you can do the hard work for your clients, they will value you more, and become repeat customers.
4. Listen carefully.
Part of making sure employees give good customer service is making sure the company provides their internal customers - their employees - good customer service, too. For VanTil, this is especially true in her line of work. "The hospitality industry is a very difficult industry to work in, to some degree. It's a lot of work, and you have to love it," she argues. It's critical that the employees are told, and then regularly reminded, of what a critical role they play in the company, and how their treatment of customers has real impact. Make sure they know you appreciate them. VanTil advises, "The best way to show employees appreciation is spending time listening to them." Further, as front line employees, they may have useful insights to offer leadership on operational improvements and customer expectations.
On Fridays, Kevin explores industry trends, professional development, best practices, and other leadership topics with CEOs from around the world.