Hospitality might seem like a timeless concept, but in fact the type of customer service demanded by modern customers, including the important millennial demographic of travelers (born circa 1980-2000) is constantly changing. The urgency of adapting to these desires cannot be overstated.
Millennials are now the largest group of travelers, and even non-millennials are heavily affected by the millennial outlook and are pretty quickly "becoming millennial" themselves in their attitudes toward authenticity and technology.
In his book, The Heart of Hospitality, customer service expert and consultant Micah Solomon explains exactly how great hotels deliver the highest levels of service to their customers--24/7.
Here, according to Micah Solomon, are five ways great hotels are winning over millennial customers.
1. Accommodating the "alone together," latte-and-laptop, traveler
One customer preference that hoteliers and restaurateurs are accommodating today is that of guests who want to be around other people, though not necessarily with them: the desire of many customers, especially business travelers, for "alone together" time, the paradoxical desire for a communal setting in which to do private work. As designer David Rockwell puts it, today's customers "want different options to work and socialize," and "don't want what they do to be predetermined by inflexible architecture," preferring "flexible public spaces and open layouts." Many hotels, including Hotel Indigo, a boutique hotel on New York City's bustling Lower East Side, are doing away with the sad, lonely, loserly feeling traditional business center, and instead building open, multi-purpose spaces where loose, ad hoc congregations of these "laptop and latte" travelers can work.
2. Applying the concept of "terroir," or localization, to the hospitality experience
One signifier of and authentic customer experience is what can be called localization or terroir, to use the French word for the convergence of factors--geography, climate, and so forth--that go into making a local wine or produce, and that I find applicable in a broader context as well. While 30 years ago it might have been okay for The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead to look like Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel or even Ritz-Carlton Osaka, today, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company takes the opposite approach: its Kyoto property, for example, is designed so that it couldn't be anywhere else in the world but Kyoto. For example, the lighting fixtures at the Kyoto hotel are lanterns made by a small, local, ninth-generation family business. "It's a business that hand made the parasols the geishas use, which is, as you can imagine, a dying market," Lisa Holladay, Ritz-Carlton's vice president for global brand marketing, tells me. "This company said, 'We need to reinvent ourselves.' Now, they take what used to be handmade parasols and turn them into beautiful lanterns. All of that history and heritage now informs a simple furnishings detail that for us localizes our Kyoto property."
3. An authentic, unscripted customer service style
Scripted service, pretensions and formality, the white-gloved, "tea at the Plaza" style of customer service, are too mothball-scented for today's hospitality customers, including the important Millennial generation of travelers. "We don't want an imitation of a waiter" - with white towel on the arm and a faux-French accent - "we want the genuine article," says Patrick O'Connell, the double Five Star, double Five Diamond restaurateur and hotelier who helms The Inn at Little Washington. That style of service, says O'Connell, is archaic, silly, and, worst of all, artificial. What customers today want, continues O'Connell, is that you "put people at ease and make people comfortable in how you act and in the language that you use." Even at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, which a decade ago was known as the bastion of "My Pleasure" scripted formality, the new rule is this: no scripting, no pretensions; just deliver authentic service.
4. "Eye-level" design and furnishings
Smart hoteliers and restaurateurs today are moving toward what I call "eye-level" approach to design and furnishings that supports better customer engagement. Mark Harmon, CEO of Auberge Resorts (Auberge du Soleil, Calistoga Ranch, Esperanza): "Customers have a visceral Pavlovian reaction when they walk up to a high desk with employees lined up behind it," he says. "They instantly feel like they're going to get hammered. So get your people out from behind the counter! If you have to have a desk, bring it down to a normal desk height and really engage the customer directly--go to the customer (instead of the other way around) and make it personal."
5. Multi-generational and special interest group travel
Maybe you'd think today's travelers want to be isolated by generation, but so a significant extent you're wrong. The millennial demographic is, as a rule, more interested in interacting with and doing activities with their parents and other relatives than were previous generations, for whom this was more or less anathema. More generally speaking, customers of all ages are, more often than ever, coming together in groups other than romantic couples and nuclear families to consume travel, lodging, and food service. The types of groups that travel together vary widely: from marathon runners to hunters, from religious groups to salsa dancers. Not to mention the impossible to overlook Red Hat Society (or as The Simpsons memorably renamed them: "The Last of the Red Hat Mamas").