I hope I do not offend anyone by going “Back to Basics” on this post but recently I was reminded of the importance of “active” listening. A guest, let’s call her Mrs. Garza; recently called a property my company manages and asked that I call her regarding an upcoming event, Cowboy Poetry. This event is very important locally and had been weighing heavily on my mind for some time. The event sells out the city every year but the property in question had always been poorly positioned to capitalize. The year before I had made some rate adjustments that were not universally well received and, as a result, I had fielded many phone calls regarding these new rates. Most guests were insistent that we MUST have one more room available or that SURELY they would receive a discount, seeing as how they had attended the event, and patronized our hotel, for years! In any event, when I saw the message I almost dismissed it out of hand and passed it along to a desk clerk , surely they could handle the nay saying just as well as I could! Luckily, I listened to the little voice inside asking me, “surely you’re not too busy to give a guest five minutes?”
So, I grabbed a phone, dialed up Mrs. Garza and prepared to waste five minutes or so listening to the standard sob story. From the start, I was convinced I was right, she mentioned how she had always stayed with us in the past, how much she loved our property, how she understood our company was new to managing the property, etc. I was waiting for the punch line, ready to break in and say “I am sorry Mrs. Garza but there’s really nothing I can do for you about the rate…”, when I realized she had just mentioned dates later in the year…
HUH??? Did I miss something, I quickly pieced together what I had heard and found that she was asking to give me MORE business, not complaining or demanding anything! Whew, that was a close call, I had actually opened my mouth to interrupt, and I might have blown the sale. I had almost not called her personally at all. That is when it struck me; I had stopped “actively listening” to people when it came to this event and these dates!
I am sure you have all heard about the L.A.S.T. technique for customer conflict resolution (Listen, Ask, Solve, Thank), and it works perfectly well. However, while working with Best Western International, I was introduced to their “I CARE” program which, among many other valuable insights, expanded the listen part of the LAST technique to “Actively Listen” or “Listen to Understand”. Most of us have mastered the listening part by the time we make manager (we seem to be listening all the time, praise, complaints, excuses, instructions), yet if we do not make an effort to listen actively, to really hear each guest as a unique conversation, we are opening the door to failure!
As managers we live the talk, at least to our employees, whether we mean to or not. We “set the culture” and our employees are paying attention. I had been spending several months at this property, looking for a new full time manager, and my bad listening had affected the staff. I started noticing that a lot of my phone messages sounded vague (“some lady called about rooms or something”) and uninformative, forcing me to go into the calls cold and uninformed. I realized that there was plenty of listening going on, but not very much active listening.
The staff, taking a cue from me had started assuming they already knew what the guest wanted (you know what they say about assuming) and were doing a sort of mental shorthand in their customer service. Fortunately, this staff was very proficient and friendly, so it had not as yet hurt the property and, believe me; I made it a point to demonstrate some serious active listening, with both our internal and external customers from then on!
So, have you ever “paid lip service” to listening, or misjudged a guest’s intention? Have you found your staff enthusiastically picking up your bad habits? I would love to hear your #Hoteltales (go ahead and use that Hash tag as much as you like, by the way)!