Improving Performance #05

Hotel Guest Engagement.

The majority of hotels will have put some effort into making their staff more energy-aware, but even the most advanced hotel chains will admit that they have difficulty engaging their guests.

We’re all familiar with the notices in hotel bathrooms which encourage guests not to have their linen changed unnecessarily. But these are generally accepted as useless and irritating, so they do not offer a reasonable model for motivating customers to be less wasteful of heating, lighting, hot water and air conditioning.

People who regularly stay in hotels often say that housekeeping staff ignore the ostensible policy. This gives us an important clue about how we can develop a better approach for energy use: any message needs to be seen in the context of a coherent scheme. It also reminds us how important it is to avoid self-defeating behaviours, because if staff are seen to flout the rules, it is worse than having no campaign at all.

With that in mind we can easily identify six high-level steps that we should take when encouraging guests to be less wasteful of heating, lighting, hot water and air conditioning:-

1. Get the engineering right.

Make sure that the services work properly, and will respond as required when the guest acts in an appropriate manner. Nobody will want to comply if their heating is inadequate, for example, and it is demotivating to change a setting and not know if your action had any effect. Guests will also want to defeat keyswitch power controls if their computer or electric toothbrush fails to recharge when they are out.

2. Inform the guest about what behaviours waste energy.

People will not necessarily know what to avoid doing. The trick is to provide the information in a way that doesn’t patronise those who are already aware. We also need to avoid alienating those who see it as their right to use whatever they want. But remember we are not limited to the period of the guest’s stay: our engagement with them starts before they even make the decision to book with us rather than a competitor, and extends at least until they respond with feedback after checkout. Information given to them before or after won’t compromise the quality of their actual stay.

3. Make things easy for the guest.

If you want a classic example of how to make things hard for people to help, look at the typical room air-conditioning control. They are often hard to decipher (and sometimes even hard to see because of being small and poorly-lit); and generally there is nothing to tell the guest what, if anything, is happening as a result of them changing a setting. Consequently we should not be surprised if people enter extreme high or low-temperature settings.

4. Avoid self-defeating behaviours.

If the room lights and TV are on when guests check in to their rooms, if they were given extra key cards to leave in the keyswitch, if there is a toast machine wasting power all through breakfast, or if housekeeping staff replace towels regardless… You could be sending many signals, some quite subtle, that conflict with your anti-waste messages.

5. Encourage guests to engage.

This, of course, is the big challenge but it is easier if we have taken care of the four preceding steps.

Firstly we need to accept that we have customers with three distinct mindsets. There are some who will regard themselves as entitled to use as much as they wish of the utilities they have implicitly paid for. There will be others for whom their stay is a treat which they wouldn’t want to be spoiled by being preached at about energy waste or the environment; and a third group who are already converted and will behave in the desired fashion without needing special encouragement (provided that they know what to do).

A one-size-fits-all programme is therefore unlikely to work, but remember that we can engage the customer before and after their stay, as well as during it. If we are sensitive about irritating or alienating them we might opt just to ask them, as part of the feedback process, whether they felt we had done all we could to help them avoid energy waste. Or we can try subtle normative messages along the lines of “other guests do this…” or “in surveys, over half of customers now say they want to know about hotels’ environmental credentials”. Some hotels publicise what efforts they make behind the scenes in the interests of economy and environmental impact. Informative messages work indirectly and are less likely to be seen as directives.

Don’t feel constrained to use written messages. We can use subtle cues, like having automatic light controls in common areas, to underline our hotel’s commitment. If we fit clear, intelligible room controls with visual feedback (like the current temperature) that in itself, apart from being directly helpful, signals that we care. In fact everything visible like this that we do has the secondary benefit of the guest not feeling they are being asked to shoulder the whole burden.

6. Use automation to relieve them of the responsibility.

This will work in some buildings but not others, and it adds complexity, so not every hotel can fall back on this option. But remember that where there are automatic systems, determined guests will try to defeat them, and your guests are not just inventive but also much more numerous than your engineers.

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