Christine Trippi, Hospitality Consultant and Author of “Yes Is the Answer”, chats with Robin Trimingham, The Innovative Hotelier Podcast Host regarding the “art of saying yes” and importance of taking the time to build relationships and keep the conversation positive when addressing guest complaints.
Given the large percentage of new hires in the hotel industry who have no previous hospitality experience, Trippi believes that it is now more important than ever to invest in training that infuses staff with the confidence to employ creative problem-resolution skills which result in higher guest satisfaction levels and increased brand recommendations.
Christine: The ultimate downside, in my opinion, is word of mouth. It’s not the credit you might be comping his room or rebating. It’s not even as much that he’ll never come back again, but he’ll go out and he’ll post it on Facebook or Tripadvisor and a million people might not come back because of it. That’s why most hotel companies have changed their main metrics to intent to recommend versus your overall stay, because the most important thing is we want you to leave here having such an amazing experience that you’re gonna go out into the world and be an advocate for us. That is the biggest detriment if you do not resolve a problem.
Robin: Welcome to the “Innovative Hotelier Podcast” by “HOTELS” magazine, with weekly thought-provoking discussions with the world’s leading hotel and hospitality innovators. Welcome to the “Innovative Hotelier Podcast” brought to you by “HOTELS” magazine. I’m your host, Robin Trimingham. And my guest today is Christine Trippi, hospitality consultant and author of “Yes Is The Answer.” And today we’re chatting about why yes is the only answer.
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Robin: Welcome, Christine.
Christine: Thank you, Robin. I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
Robin: Well, I think this is gonna be a great conversation because we both speak hotel, we both worked for hotels in the past, and I’m sure you had just as many experiences as I have along the way. In your opinion, what are some of the major challenges that the hospitality industry is currently facing?
Christine: Well, we can open up so many buckets on that one. Now, I know that the number one thing keeping general managers up at night and all hospitality leaders is staffing and finding talent. That’s no big surprise to anybody. We can’t talk about that subject without bringing that up. That is the number one thing keeping people up at night. But there are so many ways we can tackle that in a more creative way. So, there are a lot of ideas we could tap into to find that talent and fill those spots. Now, I will say, also, that I’ve talked to a lot of leaders that they feel like it is improving. So, there is some hope on the horizon with our talent and staffing.
Robin: I agree with you. It’s really a global phenomenon at the moment. I think a lot of people who were forced out of the industry are just a little bit hesitant to jump back in. Will this really last? I know that in the work that you do with people and helping them perform better, you talk about there being an art to saying yes. How would you describe that?
Christine: Yes. Well, I’ll also tap into the question you just asked me as well to kind of combine these two. The second thing that if they’re not worried about it right now they should be is actual hospitality in our customer experience and guest experience and the service we’re providing. And it’s so challenged right now after everything we’ve been through in the last two years. And we need to remember that there are so many people inside our four walls right now that have never seen what hospitality looked like 2019 and before. All they know is you have to wear a mask or there’s no housekeeping, there’s no pool. That’s all they know. So, it’s more important than ever that we’re really tapping into investing in our people for service and getting back to that loving feeling. And yes, there is an art to saying, yes. We do have hard challenging questions in our day-to-day life. All of us do, no matter what industry, no matter if we’re at-home moms, it doesn’t matter. We all have those challenging questions. And you can turn those questions into yeses with the art.
Robin: You’re making an excellent point that I never really thought about because a lot of the people who have come in they are new to hospitality and they don’t understand about, you know, putting your heart and soul into everything that you do and it’s all about the guest experience. So, you talk in some of the things that you’ve written about leading from the heart. Why does that make such a big difference and exactly what is that in your opinion?
Christine: Well, first of all, I started in hospitality when I was 17. And there’s a longer story to that. But when I first started, the very first comment card I got that said I made a difference, it was when it all, like, the lightning bolt struck and I was just… I have goosebumps even just telling you now. And that’s when I realized, especially my dad helped me see this, that I can change the world one yes at a time. Every time I say yes and I say yes to serving people, I get to change the world. And through my 35-year hospitality, that is what’s driven me in every single day that I wake up. It’s whose world do I get to change today? Whether it’s an associate, an owner, a guest, the person that I serve. So, best way, in a really quick minute, I could explain leading from the heart, it’s when you genuinely want to serve and change somebody’s world, if you will, in that moment. And whether that’s just a compliment or that’s giving them an upgrade or finding out a great restaurant to celebrate their anniversary, all of those ways we are changing the world. Every time we say yes to saying, “You know what? I’m gonna serve that person,” instead of just do what’s necessary.
Robin: I think I’m gonna ask a little bit of a controversial follow-up question.
Christine: Ooh, I love it.
Robin: Because there is at least one major brand and I think more than one where the mantra of the day has been, “Never say no without offering an alternative.” And from their perspective, that is really good service. But why is that possibly not the best way to think about this situation in your opinion?
Christine: Okay. I love this. Because we could say, “No, I’m sorry. Unfortunately, we don’t have a shuttle, but you can use XYZ.” So, that’s basically saying no with an alternative. And that’s okay. That’s better than no. No dead air. The four steps to “Yes Is The Answer,” and I’ll tell you very quickly, is, one, make friends first. Two, tell them what you can do, so there’s that part. Three, offer options. And four, be creative. Now, the creative part is not always like you don’t have to always do it in the moment. That’s for leaders. If you know your hard no questions that your associates get beat up about all day long, then I want you to strategize and get creative. How do I turn that hard no into a yes to put my front line in the yes seat?
So, let me explain, though, why it’s better to start with make friends first. This right here is where all our interactions go south. So, for example, when I ask you, “Oh, I’m a platinum. Can I get an upgrade?” the anxiety of that question when you know, “Oh, okay. I’ve got no upgrades available. I’m gonna have to tell this elite guest no.” The anxiety of that confrontation gets the better of us. And what happens psychologically is our brains go into fight or flight. We either wanna fly away and get it over with real quick or we wanna fight. You either want to respond really harshly, “No, we don’t,” or you wanna fly away and get away from it and just get it over really quickly. “No, I’m sorry. Unfortunately, we have no rooms available tonight or we have no upgrades available.” And you just shrink in your confidence.
So, that is why making friends is so important. When you pause and make friends first rather than go right into the no, because once you go into the no, you go down the slippery slope. And for example, instead of saying, “No, I’m sorry, unfortunately, but…” saying, “Congratulations on your platinum status. We are so honored to have you stay at our hotel. What I can do for you today is…” Do you see the difference in the response and the energy when you have to go, “No, I’m sorry. Unfortunately, we don’t have any availability. However, we really appreciate your loyalty.”? It’s just… It’s not the same.
Robin: Yeah. It doesn’t wind up sounding very sincere. I agree with you.
Christine: Exactly. And then when you do make friends, what happens is your brain gets out of the fight or flight and it opens yourself up to the creativity of leading from the heart. And what can I do for this guest? “However, I really wanna celebrate your platinum status. How about we get you some complimentary Starbucks for you this week?” There’s always something you can do. But when we go right into the no, we shut down the creativity.
Robin: Interesting point.
Christine: Does that kind of resonate?
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Robin: If we’re talking about problem-solving, is the approach that you take different with a guest than it would be if you’re dealing with problem-solving with your team? What do you think about that?
Christine: “Yes Is The Answer” and problem solving with team and guests is exactly the same. They are our guests as well. And we always say, “Take care of your associates, they’ll take care of the guests.” If we’re not taking care of them, then that’s the example we’re setting and that’s where that chain will continue on. That’s contagious. So, when I’m working with interacting with a guest or an associate, I am always thinking about how to make friends first, how to offer the options. And I’ll give you an example. I do this in my workshops. One of the questions I’ll say is… You have an associate walk into your office and they say, “You know what? I just can’t do this weekend thing anymore. Can I get all weekends off? I really like it here, but I just wanna work Monday through Friday.” Now, in the hospitality industry that’s got, like, a, “Get off your chair and sit back down.”
Typically, we get so relaxed with our associates. We might be like, “What the hell are you talking about? Get out of my office.” But we need to be respectful to them. They are our customer too. And so in a situation like this, make friends first might be like, “Samantha, thank you so much for coming in and talking to me about this. You were such a valuable person on our team and we want to make this work. So, let’s talk through it.” Here… And then, you know, maybe you get some of the can dos. “I can make sure you’re off on the most important weekend. Tell me what that is right now.” And then my solution is that we’re all leaders and we’re a team. So, if you can go talk to your team and work it out where you can work Monday through Friday and they’ve got the weekends covered, yes, absolutely. But, you know, we’re a team. We have to work it out. But if you go right into the no, again, it’s just not hospitality.
Robin: You know what? There’s a part of me that wants to push back here and say…
Christine: Yeah, push back. Let’s do this.
Robin: Wouldn’t some people say that telling the person if they can go work it out with their team is sort of passing the buck? What’s your perspective on this?
Christine: I love that. And I don’t agree that it’s passing the buck because we are a team. And for me to just say that of a team of 20, let’s just say, “Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and give you weekends off,” that’s not great leadership. But helping associates, kids, whoever you’re leading to problem solve and to collaborate and to find solutions together, that’s a great leader. “So, you know what? Here are some ideas. You involve me where you need me. Here’s how I think you should approach it. And go forward.” Let them figure that out.
Robin: So, you’re empowering them then.
Christine: A hundred percent. Absolutely.
Christine: And again, most leaders would think, “No, we’re 3 to 11. We’re seven to three. We’re 11 to 7. We’re weekends.” “Hey, you know what? I’m not the smartest person in the world. You might think of a better idea than I have been thinking of. And I want you to collaborate with your team and see if we can maybe work something out.” And I’ll be honest with you. I’ve done this. And I’ve had associates come back with ideas that I did not think about.
Robin: Yeah. I like this approach and it kind of is a segue into my next question. Obviously, in order to problem solve on this level, you’ve got to gain clarity on what the situation really is, what the problem really is.
Robin: So, what’s your advice for people on getting better clarity around what’s going on?
Christine: It depends on what the situation is. I can maybe be more specific. But ultimately, it’s really actively listening, asking clarifying questions, understanding what the root cause of the problem is. One of the examples I’ll use in my workshops of problem resolution going through the whole LEARN or heart model. Are you familiar with those two?
Robin: Yeah, pretty much.
Christine: Okay. Great. For anyone out there who might not be familiar, let’s just do LEARN. LEARN is Listen, Empathize, Apologize, React, and Notify. That is a five-step process to solve any problem with a guest you’re working with. So, when talking through that, one of the examples I’ll use is the guest who wakes up and says, “My flight is in 30 minutes and I never got my wake-up call.” And they’re livid and they’re upset. And I’ve watched in my 35-year career associates say, “Well, who did you give your wake-up call to the night before?” Okay? And you might be relating to this. And I’ve watched it happen multiple times. And the problem in the moment is not who he gave the wake-up call to. That’s the blame game…
Robin: No. It’s how are we getting to the airport.
Christine: It’s how are we getting to the airport. So, really practicing that skill. And that’s something that I do as a leader in huddles. We take problem situations and we tee down to what is the real problem in this situation. And oftentimes we just want to go to the blame of somebody else, not me. And that really helps to practice that.
Robin: So, what’s the real downside to not resolving a situation with a guest like the one you’ve just described?
Christine: Well, the ultimate downside, in my opinion, is word of mouth. It’s not the credit you might be comping his room or rebating. It’s not even as much that he’ll never come back again, but he’ll go out and he’ll post it on Facebook or Tripadvisor or whatever, Twitter, and a million people might not come back because of it. Now, that’s the exaggeration a bit. But ultimately, that’s why most hotel companies have changed their main metrics to intent to recommend versus your overall stay because the most important thing is we want you to leave here having such an amazing experience that you’re gonna go out into the world and be an advocate for us and tell people how wonderful was your experience with us. And that is, I think, the biggest detriment if you do not resolve a problem. Now, this is an old stat, so I’m an old timer here, well, 35 years in, but it’s still relative. So, if you just hear the stat, you’ll hear it in relativeness or think about it in relativity there. For every dollar we give away we’ll get nine dollars back in return from good word of mouth and positive review. So, thinking about that, if you were to comp something or to do something special that costs the hotel money to make up for a poor experience, you were going to gain nine dollars on the dollar. So, I don’t know what that would convert to from the ’90s to today, but that is still so accurate.
Robin: I agree with you because social media never really goes away. The internet is forever, so, a bad review, yeah, that could last a lifetime. You were talking about the return on spending money. We are at a time where a lot of hotels, yes, they’re having a good summer, but because of the situation with the past couple of years, they’re still really, you know, just scraping to make ends meet. Why would you say to them that it is really important to invest in training staff at the same time that they’re looking for any old way they can to cut costs or operate with less staff?
Christine: Oh, gosh, this is such a big one. But bottom line, if guests come and do not get a great experience, they’re not coming back and they’re telling millions of people because literally, a million people could read that review. So, it is the utmost important that when a guest is inside your four walls or just calling your hotel, experiencing your service in any way, shape or form, they’re getting excellent guest service. And it’s sad to say that I just came back from a two-week vacation and we need help. We need to get back to the hospitality. And again, it’s because we are stressed right now. We are short-staffed. We are struggling with supply chain and all of those things. And I understand that. But there are ways to get that training in and to make improvements. It might not happen overnight. And I will share the very best thing. There is nothing you can do in your operation that will drive results more than huddle. Your daily standup, whatever you call it, but it’s that daily culture of training, information, goals, and recognition that’s gonna drive results in every aspect.
Robin: I couldn’t agree with you more. And I think maybe that is a great way to wind this one up. Christine, thank you so much for taking time to chat with me today. You’ve been listening to the “Innovative Hotelier Podcast” brought to you by “HOTELS” magazine. Join us again soon for more up-to-the-minute insights and information specifically for the hotel and hospitality industry.
You’ve been listening to the “Innovative Hotelier Podcast” by “HOTELS” magazine. Join us again soon for more conversations with hospitality industry thought leaders.