New York Hospitality by Vijay Dandapani
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The Yes - No Continuum for Bosses and Customers

July 30, 2015

The Harvard Business Review' has an article that reviews the difficulties faced by many managers in “getting to no” which they term as the "process for agreeing on what not to do" when dealing with tasks delegated by superiors.  The authors of the piece note that people frequently are "encouraged to be team players and responsive to colleagues" which makes it "seem counter-intuitive or even selfish to encourage managers to say no more often".  Nevertheless that is what they urge pointing out that while saying yes to every assignment may initially please the bosses it usually leaves "people over-stressed and inundated with work — a lot of which ends up half-finished or forgotten and "in the long run, no one is happy".

A key way to avoid getting onto a relentless treadmill of assignments is to learn how to "get to no" for both the individual's success as well as that of the firm. That, they point out, "requires tradeoffs as it is not possible to please everyone or even one person all the time.  "For example, if a new strategic project becomes top priority, managers need to ask what tradeoff should be made to accommodate it. And it’s important to engage in these dialogues regularly."

It is not a stretch to apply the foregoing precepts to a firm's "real" bosses - customers and deliver better service.  Too often, particularly in the Far East and South Asia customers, demanding and not, end up being promised goods and services that associates and managers fail to deliver on. That appears to stem largely from a desire to please both bosses, the employer and customer without fully considering the entire workplace framework and institutional capacity to deliver. Some hotels exemplify that gap as they strive to meet demanding customers who don't take no for an answer while also dealing with a culture that views a "no" as "disrespectful".  India and China are good examples of the latter with some Indian hotels being notorious for "over-promising" : A browse through Tripadvisor reviews of leading hotels in both countries (and a few others) easily underscores that.

Hoteliers in some of the above situations could improve upon service delivery through a combination of strategies ranging from empathizing with a customer who won't take no for an answer while not taking the easy way out by saying yes.  Empathizing requires trying to understand the customer's viewpoint while also conveying one's limitations inoffensively.  Another palliative is to offer an alternative as in a situation where a queen bed is unavailable by unhesitatingly offering another bed type with a promise to try and move them up when available. 

Asking a customer, even an irate one whose request is beyond one's wherewithal, how best to satisfy him/her the next time is a way of lowering the temperature while also serving to mitigate the situation.  In sum, as the HBR authors suggest saying "yes" in the short term leads to a no-no for the long term.

Age in the digital age: Are younger bosses more connected?

July 09, 2015

Quips about fifty being the new forty aside, chronological age does appear to matter in the C-suite if one were to go by the thesis of a new article in the Wall Street Journal on Gen X moving into the corner office.  The report notes, perhaps a bit redundantly, that as "older baby boomers retire, more companies are turning to members of Gen X" who are "generally more tech savvy".  That has led to knock-on effects on how companies go about acquiring and retaining employees with online platforms transforming the way a bench of talent is created. That said, few would differ with the notion that, regardless of age, the digital era has brought about new and more apt ways of linking talent to jobs and careers.

McKinsey and Company thoroughly explores the preceding point in a report published in June of this year that laments the missed opportunities arising from a platform mismatch as labor markets haven't kept pace with rapid shifts in the marketplace. The consulting giant suggests that utilizing better platforms would not only result in higher productivity in companies of all sizes but also increase global GDP by the trillions, a welcome game-changer in an anemically growing world economy. A creative example of a digital platform is Austin Digital Jobs, a private Facebook based network that has an online and offline social component to job searches.

However, the Journal's claim that this new (younger) breed of CEOs  "spend more time wooing and keeping younger staffers, and worrying about how to keep products and services relevant for the rising millennials projected to comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025" ought to invite more scrutiny.  Apropos, that it is pertinent that a Harvard study from last year found that many tech company founders in their twenties and thirties ended up having presidents and CEOs in their forties either as a consequence of the founder staying on or bringing in more experienced talent.

Hotels, even luxury hotels,  have historically had general managers who are in their forties or early fifties given the path to the GM's office is on average about 15 years with employees in North America ascending to the top the fastest while those in Asia (China, India) taking the most time.  The statistics portal has some interesting graphics and data on the average age of hospitality and tourism sector employees in the United Kingdom. Although, from four years ago, the data shows GMs on average are 49 years old, almost on par with tech companies in the US!

In the end,  the premise that younger C-suite occupants are better geared to drive profitability besides acquiring and retaining talent is perhaps not entirely on firm ground given the buying power and needs of baby-boomers. Too often hotel rooms designed by young, sometimes brash, designers end up with light switches that cannot be seen  or lettering on menus and instructions that require a combination of magnifying glasses and flashlights  resulting in missed opportunities at many levels.

Rating customers: feedback or blowback?

June 05, 2015

Earlier this year the New York Times ran a story headlined "Ratings Now Cut Both Ways, So Don't Sass Your Uber Driver" which suggests that the tables are being turned in terms of reviews being the prerogative of the customer. The Times article says that "companies are rating their customers, shunning those who do not make the grade." The ability to create a mutually reinforcing feedback mechanism has been the hallmark of unregulated economy companies like Uber and Airbnb.  But as the Times piece points out, the pioneer in this field was eBay which introduced it over a decade ago only to cut it out a few years later in 2008.  eBay now allows sellers to make only positive comments about buyers. It is unclear what if any benefits there are from its now censored efforts.

If the thinking behind rating the customer is that it may enforce better conduct on the part of those customers who are normally inclined to treat assets outside their home with less than due respect, a spate of stories on things going awry in the misleadingly labeled sharing economy tends to give that notion the lie. The stories also include an orgy in an apartment that resulted in an Airbnb "victim" being rendered persona non grata to landlords and some Uber drivers who ran amok

Perhaps one reason for consumers' aberrant behavior is a subconscious devaluation of the asset by the consumer due to it being more freely accessible. That likely makes them, sometimes consciously, to inflict more than wear and tear on the "shared" item. Regardless, that approach to a customer has not thus far been tried out on a systemic basis in the regulated world of hotels and airlines. One UK based hotel made a ham-handed effort at getting back at customers who posted bad reviews on Tripadvisor by levying a "fine" of £100  only to find themselves rapidly making a refund after they found themselves in the news for all the wrong reasons.

A more sophisticated and subtle essay at rating customers was tried by the Australian luxury boutique group, Art Series hotels, a company "dedicated to Australian contemporary artists".  The company called the endeavor "reverse reviews" and "invited" prospective guests to be reviewed by the hotel if they stayed between April 17th and May 31st of this year. The website termed it as a "social experiment" while noting that it was an attempt at creating a two-way street for the feedback process. More importantly, they said they sought to find out who the "best guests" are. It is, as yet, unclear how far they succeeded in the venture but following the example of the unregulated economy is not likely to produce a better feedback system.  False and misleading reviews on user generated content are an occupational hazard for hotels but increasingly customers are able to tease these out while making their buying decisions.

More relevantly, minor imperfections may actually give the establishment better credibility particularly if attempts are made to remedy them. An industry that has thrived best with a motto that puts the customer, good and bad, first ought not to try and reinvent the wheel despite the threats from the unregulated operators.


Brand overload?

May 09, 2015

The digital media site Mashable recently ran a piece entitled " Hotel brands multiply with questionable benefit to travelers".  The website pointed out that the "10 largest hotel chains now offer a combined 113 brands at various price points" of which 31 did not exist a decade ago. The somewhat bewildering array of brand names that ranges from the orthographically challenged Vib and Venu and the somewhat cockily named Moxy but it is as yet unclear, given their recent provenance, that they necessarily will lead to heightened brand loyalty. 

The recently announced Freddie awards where American Airlines and Marriott came out on top seem to reaffirm the dominance of the big brands even if the awards aren't necessarily a complete indicator of consumers preferring brands over independents as the latter don't really enter the fray.

A reaction to potential brand overload is the move towards co-opting independents into a "collection", an attempt that suggests curation and sophistication that brands hope will distance these hostelries from their branded brethren. Curio by Hilton and Tribute Portfolio by Starwood are a couple of examples. The latter company, like Choice Hotels, is seeking to eject "tired" brands like Sheraton and Comfort Inn from their stable.

However are big brands in their apparent moves to genuflect to Gen X and their successors Gen Y or Millenials who are reputed to be brand averse being hasty?  Recent surveys show that post-Millenials also known as Generation Z, a crop of workers born after 1994, are in fact brand loyal and trust big brands more so than others in the demographic continuum. That at least was the conclusion of a JD Powers report commissioned to look at this demographic in the banking sector. The US marketing research giant found that while Gen Z is satisfied with the website and mobile features of big banks they are also satisfied with the in-person experience at big banks principally because of the seamless experience across channels. 

Interestingly, these new consumers bring a range of characteristics that sets them apart even from the preceding generation (Gen Y) starting with communications where Facebook, Snapchat or texting takes primacy over email with the latter being used principally for formal contracts;  voice-mail is beyond ante-diluvian for them. Perhaps a good place to start to ensure the seamless experience these guests are looking for is to ensure that booking engines for hotels and airlines cater to these preferences. 



Managers: Imperative to a workplace or redundant?

April 23, 2015

Two respected research organizations, one from industry and the other from academia offer seemingly contradictory prescriptions for the workplace.

Gallup, the global consulting company, recently ran a piece on its website that entitled "Managers Account for 70% of Variance in Employee Engagement". It is a workplace truism that is probably widely known but far less widely acknowledged.  The article states that "Great managers consistently engage their teams to achieve outstanding performance. They create environments where employees take responsibility for their own -- and their team's -- engagement and build workplaces that are engines of productivity and profitability."  If the stats for employee engagement are at an abysmally low 30% in the US they are at even more appallingly low 13% worldwide.

Gallup's research over the years has found that "Performance fluctuates widely and unnecessarily in most companies, in no small part from the lack of consistency in how people are managed" and the way out of that is to find "great managers" who will serve to "raises employee engagement levels consistently across every business unit" resulting in better metrics across the board. Gallup recommends that companies invest in processes such as predictive analytics like talent audits and talent assessments that go towards finding a great manager,

Running almost counter to the foregoing narrative, the venerable Harvard Business Review's blog has a new age take on the role of  managers suggesting that they could be on the endangered species list. In a somewhat inartfully titled piece "Here's How Managers Can Be Replaced By Software" Devin Fidler, who heads the Workable Futures Initiative at the California based Institute for the Future points out how researchers there for the past several years "have been studying the forces now shaping the future of work, and wondering whether high-level management could be automated". They have came up with a "virtual management system that automates complex work by dividing it into small individual tasks". Further, they have completed pilot programs with their software for" assignments in sales, quality assurance, and even hiring" and claim it is sophisticated enough to use it for Amazon’s Mechanical Turk micro-work platform". 

The author of the HBR piece suggests, without irony, that these solutions could "enhance work environments, increase employment opportunities, and provide new kinds of worker flexibility, to the benefit of all". The owners of the The Henn-na Hotel in Japan created a worldwide splash, not all positive, with their decision  to "employ" robots and obviate the need for front desk staff. A hotel or other organization without managers could quickly fatten the bottom line further but whether it is to "the benefit of all" will be debated a lot longer.

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  • President of Apple Core Hotels, a chain of 5 midtown Manhattan hotels offering value and comfort in the heart of the city.

    Member of the board of Directors - Hotel Association of New York.



  • The views expressed in this blog are my own and not that of any company, association or organization.