Whenever I need to describe great hospitality service to my staff, I always give the same example. No, it’s a not a luxury 5* hotel, Michelin-starred restaurant or business class lounge, but a small, family-run beach bungalow resort on Phu Quoc island.
I stayed at Beach Club last November, in a simple but comfortable beach bungalow which cost me $25 per night. Not the kind of place you’d expect to find memorable service you’d think, but you’d be wrong. Right from the moment their representative met me at the airport, picked up my luggage and drove me to the resort, all through the 4 days I was there until the return airport drop-off, the resort staff excelled in every area. They learned my name within 5 minutes of my arrival and used it frequently, their smiles were genuine, their food service was faultless, and whatever I wanted them to arrange – beach massage, motorbike rental, fishing – they did so efficiently, happily and with a minimum of fuss, which is very rare in Vietnam!
What’s the secret? There isn’t one. The owner, an Englishman named Mike, hasn’t invested thousands of dollars in training or recruitment – he’s simply employed naturally friendly people, made his expectations clear, and given them a stable and enjoyable environment to work in. As a result, his staff turnover is virtually 0%, and his guests are delighted.
You can see the same principle in effect on Tripadvisor. Which hotel do you think is ranked number 1 in the site’s list of most popular Ho Chi Minh City hotels? No, it’s not the Hyatt or Sheraton, but a little known hotel in the backpacker district called Bich Duyen. This isn’t because it’s cheap and Tripadvisor is frequented by budget travellers – 8 of the top 10 HCMC hotels are pricey 5* properties. It’s simply because, like Beach Club, the Bich Duyen offers a high standard of personal service. The manager makes an effort to get to know all his guests personally and goes out of his way to exceed their expectations, and employs staff who are similarly hospitable.
Many hotels and other service companies often lose sight of what makes great service. They spend thousands on training courses and recruitment, yet forget that the most important factor is friendly, happy service staff. I’ve been to luxury hotels where staff have been trained to give an identical greeting to the customer. This may seem slick and professional, but it also makes you feel as if you’re surrounded by robots. At the Duxton, we merely require our staff to be friendly and polite – how they greet the customer doesn’t really matter, as long as it makes the customer feel good. And whilst in a 200-room hotel we can’t remember every guest’s name, we at least try to remember those who stay with us regularly.
The important thing is to hire the right people in the first place, and provide a pleasant working environment. We’re lucky in that the southern Vietnamese are naturally friendly and hospitable anyway, and we have to be careful not to overtrain them and lose their natural charm!