Spokane Journal of Business

Harnessing hospitality to enhance guest services

Creating edge by tapping into consumers’ values

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Tourism and hospitality constitute one of the largest industries in the United States today, generating an impressive $118 billion in tax revenue nationwide and $1.1 billion in Washington state alone. In the city of Spokane, the industry accounts for more than 10,000 jobs that benefit the local and state economy. 

But with steep competition, rising costs, and rapidly changing consumer needs and expectations, hospitality businesses must find ways to move beyond traditional notions of hospitality to create innovative experiences that will, in turn, establish a competitive advantage. 

According to global consulting firm Deloitte’s Travel and Hospitality Industry Outlook 2017, modern guests crave authenticity and personalization in their hospitality experiences. Particularly in recent years, consumers have veered from a value-in-exchange approach to purchasing goods, to a value-in-experience approach that gives rise to purchasing more experiences. 

This trend signals a larger shift in consumer values away from passivity toward the notion of interactive, co-created experiences between the consumer and the service provider. Adjusting to this new notion of service quality will enable hospitality businesses to thrive.

At its core, the concept of “co-creation” is a dynamic process to create an experience through two-way dialogue and input between the customer and hospitality service provider. Organizations that embrace co-creation devote attention to designing experiences tailored to an individual. 

Interactions between customers and staff can range from hotel concierge and guest services, wait staff and housekeeping, restaurant hosts, servers and bartenders, or even travel agents and tour guides, among many others. 

The most successful businesses aim to foster a culture of rewards and recognition for superior service, and they encourage employees go above and beyond to address customer needs and solve problems. This is where employees’ skills, knowledge, and levels of motivation and commitment bring the most value to the creation process. 

Moreover, the practice of sharing information and taking into account customer feedback and recommendations can improve staff’s understanding of customer needs.

Whether face-to-face or electronically, every customer touchpoint presents an opportunity for hospitality businesses to enhance the guest experience and create a competitive advantage. Food and wine pairing in a restaurant, for instance, can be used strategically to appeal to guests’ senses of sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing, giving them an immersive encounter with the brand. Other factors such as eating location, light, ambiance, music, and dialogue can also play an important role. 

Understanding these synergies can boost service providers’ confidence when providing recommendations to customers, and can even significantly increase the average check and thus bottom-line profits. It can augment guests’ perceptions of professionalism of the service and make their dining experience more satisfying, resulting in more return business and positive recommendations.

This type of co-creation of the guest experience affords even greater opportunities for organizations committed to engaging and empowering their staff to play a role in the process. Within this context, employees feel pride and support, and are fully engaged through an emotional commitment that trickles down to all whom come in contact with that employee.

Internally, the business must strike a balance between standardizing their processes and systems and meeting the needs of employees in terms of culture, flexibility, learning, and development opportunities.

Organizations also must keep pace with current hospitality and tourism trends, particularly those tied to escapism, entertainment, education, sustainability, health and wellness, or a combination of these elements.

Consumers are taking shorter but more frequent vacations, excursions, and even staycations, which allow them to escape from the mundane and enjoy quality restaurants, shopping, arts, culture, and other experiential activities. 

Ultimately, people are seeking experiences that will have a positive impact on their quality of life, whether they need a digital detox, a spiritual retreat, or a getaway from the humdrum of daily life. These trends offer countless new ways to enhance service quality and co-create experiences with customers. 

It also is highly likely the customer has engaged online, through social media or mobile apps, before ever setting foot in the building. AdWeek reported last year that 85 percent of people surveyed about their travel planning habits reported using their mobile device to research and book travel activities. In this regard, hospitality businesses increasingly are leveraging technology to create more seamless interactions.

River Park Square in Spokane is a good example of a local destination that takes an innovative, hybrid approach to the tourism, hospitality, and retail experience. A hub for visitors and residents alike, the center offers quality shopping, causal and fine dining, entertainment, and seasonal events. It also partners with local hotels to offer “shop and stay” packages, making it even easier for guests to experience nearby attractions, arts, and culture.

It’s important to mention, however, the importance of managing customer expectations. A core tenet of hospitality is simply ensuring that a customer is happy. But, there is a fine line between over-promising on the experience just to attract people and then under-delivering against those expectations. 

The gap between what is expected and what is received can make or break the way a customer feels about the experience overall. Without a doubt, finding ways to exceed customer expectations is most likely to improve the perception of service quality, overall satisfaction, return business, positive recommendations, and reviews on social media. 

Robert J. Harrington is a professor of hospitality business management and wine business management in the Washington State University Carson College of Business.

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