Putting hospitality back in the hospitality industry

Mariana Clark, an industrial psychologist, shares a personal experience and some professional advice.

I was recently invited to spend a weekend at a 5 star, luxury lodge. They cater exclusively for international travellers and I was excited to experience our hearty South African hospitality from an international tourist‘s point of view.

As you are probably guessingly know, the experience was luxurious and pride inducing, but also disappointing and embarrassing. When people evaluate an experience or event the whole package is considered. Having a wonderful setting and all the trappings of luxury does not make up for a lack of friendliness or professionalism.  True there are always two sides to consider. To deal with demanding guests and sometimes outrageous requests, whilst struggling to understand (presumably) English words that are pronounced to sound like an ancient Russian dialect is extremely taxing.

After lengthy reflection, I came to the conclusion that the attitude of the personnel was the greatest contributor to my final impressions of the weekend. And this brings me to the importance of putting hospitality back in the hospitality industry. The hospitality industry is tasked with the act of providing a service, such as providing food, accommodation, entertainment, etc. “Hospitality” can be defined as the cordial attitude of the person providing the service. The business definition of an attitude, is a mental position consisting of a feeling, emotion or opinion or evolved in response to an eternal situation. An attitude can be momentary or can develop into habitual position that has a long – term influence on an individual’s behaviour. A person with a positive attitude sees and finds opportunities while others do not. They choose to view the demanding customer as an opportunity for delivering service and not as a problem.

Not everyone has a natural service attitude. The service attitude starts with a fundamental attitude of helping others and can be observed in everyday acts.

The underlying characteristics of a service attitude are:

  • A genuine interest in people and their unique needs
  • Respect for and liking of people. This is especially important when you interact with people from different cultures
  • A passion for your work and the willingness to go the extra mile
  • An appropriate disposition, encouraging people to ask you for assistance

Now, what do you do if you realise that you are not blessed with a natural service attitude? Change can be accomplished in one or two ways. The one is to simply change one’s attitude, which even with the best of intentions is difficult to accomplish. Another way to change attitude is to change one’s behaviour.

It takes 28 to 30 days to change a certain behavioural  trait or learn a new behaviour. The good news is that news is that you can change your behaviour or learn new behaviour. The good news is that you do not feel like it! For the purpose of cultivating a service attitude, even initially ‘faking’ a specific behaviour is acceptable. Research has shown that physical changes can bring about mental or attitudinal changes.

A service attitude manifests itself in various behaviours, such as:

  • Smiling. A smile is probably the most obvious and universal indication of a service attitude. There’s something magic about a smile. First of all, it brightens one’s own spirits. If you’re having a bad day or feeling down, try to put on an act for an hour and smile. Have a “smile” in your voice when you’re on the phone. Never walk by a person without saying “hello” with a smile. Look at yourself in the mirror with a smile – you’ll notice the difference in yourself
  • Interest in people, which can be conveyed through the use of specific questioning and listening techniques. Give your undivided attention to the person, make eye-contact and rephrase what the other person said. This indicates that you listened and want to understand the other person’s point of view. One – ended questions (starting with what, why, and how?) are good conversation starters and will encourage the other person to tender more information.
  • Approachability can be achieved by using the correct body language. By adopting a relaxed, open posture with good eye contact and a friendly smile, the impression is created that you are pleased to welcome your guests and would like to ensure that they enjoy their stay. Ensure that you follow through on this created impression by getting to know everything about your trade. The knowledge will enable you to truly assist your clients and build your confidence.
  • Respect for your client is essential if you want to have a service attitude. The way you present yourself is subconsciously regarded by the other person as being respectful or not. A professional appearance, created by an appropriate outfit and good personal care can determine the decision between a good and bad service experience.

We do not think our way into a new way of acting, but act our way into a new way of thinking.

Article written by: Mariana Clark