Start the new year with a bang: surprise your guests

This is a story about teeth. Scratch that. This is a story about people with teeth. And it’s a story that has a message well beyond dentition. 

I’ll get to it in a moment. 

First: Hello. As the new Editor-in-Chief of this venerable magazine, I am honored to take the reins and look forward to delivering strong, insightful storytelling in HOTELS magazine and online.  

Now, back to the story, or should I say, the dentist. Typically, it’s not a place for a learning lesson; it’s a transaction. You get your teeth cleaned and hope the dentist doesn’t identify any cavities. But a recent experience at the dentist convinced me otherwise. It surprised me. 

It was my first time at the Washington Center for Dentistry, which I chose because it was close to my home. Location. Nothing else.  

After a thorough, agreeable cleaning from the hygienist, Dr. Pollowitz approached. I was expecting him to say, “Open wide,” and to stick a mirror in my mouth. Instead, he said, “Hi, David, I’m Dr. Pollowitz, tell me about yourself.” That stumped me: Did he want me to tell him about my dental history and somewhat sensitive teeth? That’s what I thought, so that’s what I offered. No, he said, tell me about yourself: Where are you from, what do you do for a living, what do you do for fun? 

It was a like a curveball on a 3-0 count: unexpected. 

Dr. Pollowitz went on to tell me a little about himself and explained the principle behind his practice: “We don’t treat teeth; we treat people with teeth.” 

The statement resonated and got me thinking: Hotels aren’t in the transaction business; they are in the people business. Sure, hotels are in the business of providing shelter, a bed, food, relaxation, but those are only features. Caring for the whole person is a hotel’s biggest responsibility. It’s that element that creates not only revenue, but goodwill and loyalty, which are far more valuable in the long run.  

Hotels hire for specific positions, but every employee — from front desk to housekeeping — is a caretaker, a custodian, a cheerleader for the property. And that means treating each guest, not servicing each guest. There’s a difference. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s a luxury hotel or a budget hotel. Sure, services and amenities differ property to property, but the caliber of people don’t have to. Teach your employees to surprise guests. It’s not hard: an inquiry about where they are coming from; why they came to the hotel; what they might like to do while they are here. Allow the natural conversation to flow.  

People like it when others are genuinely interested in them. It creates an indelible moment and engenders a loyal customer.  

Remember Dr. Pollowitz: Don’t treat the need; treat the person with the need.