by Dave Wisland | May 22, 2014
When it comes to selecting the right destination for your organization's incentive trip, a site visit is a crucial step. Even more crucial is paying attention to the service. All else being equal, the employees who contribute to a property's service level provide a key factor in your participants' lasting perception of their experience. How many times have you had a great dinner spoiled by an indifferent or even surly waiter? When you did your site inspection well before the operation, they knew you were coming. So, what is your assurance that your participants, a year later, will receive an experience anywhere near yours? 

Branding might provide some comfort, but even then, how can you hope that the participants' raised expectations will be exceeded? Experience, as well as the latest neuroscience findings, confirms that positive surprises sear trophy value into people's brains and motivate them to make sure they're included in the next trip. So, is there a specification that can help you determine what properties will likely have superior service levels for your guests? There is. 

Ask management what they do to engage their own employees. How they treat their employees has a huge effect on how they will treat your participants when no one's looking. 

When hotel personnel are recognized and rewarded, they are engaged and are looking for opportunities to delight your guests. The best assurance is to hear that strategic performance improvement is a regular practice for your hotel supplier; creating a passionate company culture is a process, not an event. 

In a celebrated Harvard Business Review case study, "The Employee-Customer Profit Chain at Sears," Sears managed to demonstrate near irrefutable evidence of a direct link between employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and profit over a decade. 

Trip participants always remember how they were treated. Front desk clerks and the concierge are trained to be customer-centric, and that is to be expected. However, when the housekeeper or the groundskeeper makes you feel welcome, it surprises you, and you remember it. The strength of a property's brand is always equal to its weakest link. Conversely, the greatest opportunities for strengthening a brand are those moments of chance encounters that provide employees with an opportunity to delight a guest. 

When I was at La Samanna in St. Martin, celebrating my 40th wedding anniversary with my wife, I saw that firsthand. My wife loved the room toiletries; on the first night, she placed all of them in her suitcase. They were all dutifully replaced the second day, and she packed those as well. On the third day, the housekeeper doubled all the amenities! My wife went crazy and has told the tale to dozens of friends. La Samanna's owners, Orient-Express (now known as Belmond), was coincidentally observing its 40th year in business. To commemorate, they produced a beautiful coffee table book that recognized and celebrated their dedicated employee family. Their employees, in turn, ensure that guests feel at home; our housekeeper even told us she hoped she would see us again soon. She will. 

So, if you are an incentive planner, ask properties what they do to recognize and drive engagement for their employees. And if you are a property manager, be assured that studies show a direct, measurable relationship between the employee and customer perceptions of the hotel brand and customer spending behavior.