Bolstering Links in the Service-Loyalty Chain

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Customer Service
Customer Service
Jeff Smith, vice president, operations and loyalty services, Omni Hotels and Resorts, champions programs that promote flawless service, which builds customer loyalty and improves financial performance.

As one of the architects of Omni Hotels and Resorts' Moments of Service, Jeff Smith is a long-time proponent of taking a customer-centric approach to business. Smith, vice president for operations and loyalty services, continues to build on the culture of service that program ingrains within the organization.

The Moments of Service program, which was rolled out in 1995, defines expectations for each of the hotel's 47 customer-facing positions; it provides explicit guidelines on how each associate is expected to perform when dealing with guests. The program goes hand-in-hand with the hotel's Power of Engagement training, which Smith was also instrumental in introducing. The training-an extension of the company's Power of One philosophy, which empowers employees to do what is right in any situation for the benefit of the hotel's guests-demonstrates how associates can maximize every guest interaction to create an emotional connection between the customer and the brand, turning one-time visitors into loyal customers for life.

"It's all about giving people the responsibility and authority to ensure the best experience for the guest," Smith says. He is deeply involved in the Power of Engagement training and works diligently to ensure that the message to associates is coming directly from him.

As part of that training, Omni requires all associates to practice the service expectations of their position through role play with management, who can identify any weak points and coach associates on how to make improvements. "This is not punitive; it's simply our commitment as leaders to work with associates to improve practices," Smith says. "Just like athletes have to train before a game, we have to practice our service."

For more than a decade Smith has been touring Omni's 47 hotels every year, speaking to management and frontline employees about their crucial role in ensuring that the hotel's service philosophy is put in practice. He says that while Omni is proud of its physical assets, nothing can be accomplished without associates. He describes his visits as a more personal way to give Omni's staff support and recognition.

But his customer-centric involvement with guests doesn't stop with training and encouraging the hotel's staff. He was instrumental in the company's 2003 decision to roll out free Wi-Fi across the brand, as well as revamping the hotel's loyalty program in 2009, which has since nearly tripled in size. He also demonstrates the company's commitment to customers through his own customer interactions. For example, after reading about a bad experience a Tennessee lawyer had at a competing hotel, Smith tracked him down, contacted him personally, and offered him the highest-level status in Omni's loyalty program-surprising and delighting the lawyer, and winning a customer for the company. "When I see an opportunity, I won't hesitate to pick up the phone and contact that person," he says.

Most important, Smith believes that customer centricity happens by ensuring that employees are well taken care of. "If we take care of our associates' needs and give them the tools to do their job, we can maximize their performance and have satisfied guests," he says. "This leads to repeat business that will ultimately translate into good financial performance while enhancing our brand."

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION