Inspiring positive guest emotions


Experiences that generate positive emotions get the best reviews, result in repeat and referral guests, and increase the bottom line.

by Roberta K. Nedry

Feelings? What role do they play in the world of hospitality? Better yet, what are the emotions of service that cause feelings? What kinds of emotion does service – good, bad or indifferent – cause in guests? Do we even want guests to get emotional about the service we are offering? Or, would we rather they keep their emotions to themselves and just let us do our jobs? How critical are emotions to the success of the hospitality experience and can they actually be managed, by employee or guest, for the desired outcome? Can they be contagious?

How you make people feel?
In many cases, we are taught that showing emotion can be a sign of weakness or lack of control. Why are so many people afraid of emotions? It may be true that being too emotional can disrupt clear thinking, or appropriate behavior, but pure emotion can also produce the most memorable feelings and experiences. In fact, most strongly held beliefs, especially loyalties, are developed in the emotional centers of the brain, not the logical areas.

Experiences that generate positive emotions get the best reviews, result in repeat and referral guests and increase the bottom line. Understanding how to orient employees to relate, understand and inspire positive guest emotions, and better manage their own emotions, as part of that process, is an intriguing and powerful guest service strategy.

Jeanne Mills, zone director of the Americas of Les Clefs d’Or, USA (the nation’s only and top association of professional hotel concierges) and chef concierge at Beverly Wilshire Hotel, says, “I always tell my team that at the end of the day, it’s how you make people feel that matters most. It’s more than just a paycheck.”

Signature of excellence?
One of my colleagues recently embarked on a two-week Mediterranean cruise to celebrate major milestone birthdays for both she and her husband, as well as their 25th wedding anniversary. To honor my colleague and these three very significant events, I contacted the reservations department to arrange for a special amenity to greet them when they boarded the ship. My first contact was by email to find out how to handle the arrangements. I learned the cruise line was confident their Signature of Excellence would surpass my expectations. Before I even made the phone call, I was pleased to know that they planned to surpass my expectations with this simple step. I was happy!

I made the call and told the agent who answered about my colleague and her special events. I was excited and could not wait for her to help me decide what to give them, especially with that promise of “excellence!” Her immediate tone was aloof, disinterested and perfunctory. She asked me what I wanted to send. I was still excited about surprising this guest and her husband so, once again, repeated the three events and asked her what she would recommend. She offered very few options and asked me to choose. My excitement started to diminish and my frustration began to build. I really had to push to come up with a creative option (champagne and chocolate covered strawberries) and get her to ensure they would be delivered. At no point did she take initiative, share my enthusiasm or appreciate the extra dollars I was sending to the cruise line.

Next, we had to draft the message. I still remember the pain of those moments. As I expressed heartfelt emotion for the message I wanted to convey, she became annoyed and told me that I must shorten it. She pulled the rug of excitement right out from under me and let me fall on my face. She offered no suggestions or guidelines on how much space I had in the first place, so I was just throwing things out and hoping they would fit. I finally figured it out and felt sad about the happy message I had created. I had to ask her to confirm everything to me and read it back. Once again, she did not offer to do anything to make my exceptional effort feel exceptional. Her attitude left me feeling annoyed, disappointed, inconvenienced and her signature was anything but excellent.

To top it off, when my colleague returned, I found out she got the champagne, got the note…but did not get the chocolate covered strawberries. My emotional dismay continued, thanks to one very uncaring employee. This agent caused feelings of frustration, displeasure, anxiety and anger when I had started out at the complete opposite side of the emotional spectrum. This employee’s emotions were nonexistent! Imagine what a happy and excited attitude on her part could have accomplished. All of us are emotionally driven to want to form relationships. Hospitality encounters are built upon a series of relationships at each touch point of the guest experience. Each point of contact, each touch point, can make a guest feel a certain way; happiness, relief, relaxation, excitement, trust and so many other emotions. They don’t want to be upset or even feel neutral when they spend their leisure or business dollars. They want to have their expectations satisfied and surpassed; the smallest things can exceed expectations and trigger positive emotions.

Emotion of appreciation
In another setting, I needed to return a rental car. I was faced with needing to drive an extra hour, even though there were closer offices, in order to avoid a steep drop-off charge. It was going to add great inconvenience to my already stretched schedule. I had tremendous anxiety over needing to make this drive and meet the deadline, so I dropped in to the rental agency’s local office to plead my case. The agent recognized my anguish and stress and said she would see what she could do. Just that effort and empathy alone made me feel better. She recognized that I was a very loyal customer, which made me feel appreciated. She also noted that what I was asking was not that unreasonable and she made the appropriate adjustments so I could return the car there without the additional charge. She saved me time, money and she made me feel so much better. My emotions were relief, appreciation and even more loyalty to a company for the way in which they recognized how they could impact my feelings.

According to Paul J. Zak, a professor at Claremont Graduate University who is noted for his work in neuroeconomics, an emerging field that combines economics with biology, neuroscience and psychology, oxytocin is the key. Zak wanted to go beyond understanding how we make economic decisions and instead explore why we do what we do. Thanks to Zak, Oxytocin, the hormone known for creating the intense bond between mothers and their babies, is now recognized as the stimulant of empathy, generosity, trust and more.

In a 2010 article for Fast Company, Zak articulates that oxytocin is “the ‘social glue’ that adheres families, communities and societies, and acts as an ‘economic lubricant’ that enables us to engage in all sorts of transactions.”

Imagine harnessing the power of oxytocin in guest experience management. This concept of what triggers emotions, feelings and what compels us to make decisions based these factors can be a powerful strategy to explore for any hospitality environment. By better understanding what specific emotions drive loyalty and what employees can do to recognize those emotions, hoteliers and their teams can deliver better experiences to their guests. Guests arrive at any hospitality environment in a variety of moods. Some are ready to relax and enjoy, some arrived frazzled from challenging travel mishaps, some arrive with special occasions to celebrate, some have specific business goals and minimal time to do so, and some just want to get away and have a respite from their demanding lives.

In today’s world of hospitality, loyalty matters. Focus more intently on the sentiments, the desires, the emotions of guests that will drive that loyalty, better reviews, repeat guests, referrals and, in turn, profitability. Focus on employees to ensure they feel like delivering exceptional service to guests.

As Maya Angelou originally stated, “People may forget the things you say, people may forget the things you do, but people will NEVER forget the way you make them feel.”        ■

Roberta K. Nedry is president and founder of Hospitality Excellence. Nedry recognized a void in creating empathetic and memorable experiences in the guest services and hospitality industry and founded the company in 1999. Since then, her team has grown to fulfill this demand through expertise training on a global scale, having trained over 40,000 employees, managers and students. To learn more, visit


Embracing  emotions in  hospitality
Each guest and employee moment is an opportunity for feelings to get better, stay the same or get worse. How can hoteliers better prepare and focus themselves, as well as their employees, on these opportunities? Consider the following:

  • Happiness, surprise, romance, gratitude, recognition. Each of these are specific emotions that can drive loyalty. Work with employees to identify opportunities where these emotions can take place and show them how to enhance positive results.
  • Value the returning and loyal guest. Ensure employees always take time to recognize and appreciate business that comes back. Feeling appreciated is powerful for both employees and guests to feel. Loyalty is what the makes the profitable difference. As stated by William Arthur Ward, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
  • Take time to notice what is going on with each guest, each employee. You can usually see it in their eyes. Do they have fear and need reassurance? Do they have questions and need answers? Do they have joy and want to share it? Do they want more details to build on their excitement? Do they want empathy for unsolved problems? Are they in love and want to experience romance?
  • Each employee can play a powerful role in making emotional connections, even with just a smile. When emotions are sincere, guests can feel them. When they are not, guests disconnect and go elsewhere to feel better. Orient employees to these emotional connections at what they can do at each point of contact to make them positively memorable.
  • Recognize the power of empathy. By training employees to just recognize how any guest may be feeling, hospitality leaders will be making huge improvements to their guest experience management strategy.
  • Consider that emotions are more than just skin deep. There is scientific proof that emotions affect economic decisions. Inspire employees to connect with guests’ hearts and define what actions will make those good or, better yet, exceptional. Recognize that negative emotions will drive actions as well. Those actions will be to go somewhere else!

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