By Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D., J.D.
Faculty Director, School of Business
This is the sixth article in a 12-part series, adapted from my dissertation work at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, on the discord between academe and industry over the role of hospitality education and the purpose it serves in career development for hospitality professionals.
In the previous article, we discussed the argument that social and emotional intelligence are more important to professional hospitality careers than the intellectual skills taught in formal hospitality education programs. In this part, we’ll look at the specific reasons why.
Why Social and Emotional Intelligence Are Critically Important to Hospitality Career Success
According to many hospitality professionals, social and emotional intelligence are critically important to hospitality professional career success for several reasons.
First, the core product of most hospitality companies is customer service. With that in mind, it is critical that hospitality professionals properly understand the perceptions, thoughts, and emotions of their guests and respond in ways that promote positive experiences for their customers. An example will serve to illustrate.
Of all the positions in a typical full-service, large-scale hotel, the hotel manager must have dexterity of emotional and social intelligence. In most properties, the hotel manager is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the entire establishment, from rooms to food and beverage to ancillary offerings such as spas, casinos, and entertainment.
When there is a problem with a guest’s experience, and he or she requests — or occasionally demands — to speak with someone in charge, the hotel manager is called. In a sense, this position also represents the “face” of the property, or even the company; it is rare that guest issues go beyond the authority of the hotel manager because, as the saying goes, “the buck stops” with the hotel manager. Therefore, the men and women who serve in these managerial positions across the hospitality industry are constantly challenged with situations requiring careful social and emotional tact, so as to rectify negative impressions and resolve issues in the eyes of customers.
A common situation warranting hotel manager involvement might be a guest being told upon arrival that he or she is being “walked” to another property because the hotel oversold its room inventory. This is a difficult situation. It’s understandable that the guest would be upset after learning that the hotel with which he or she previously entered into an agreement refuses to honor its obligations to provide accommodations.
Tensions are further escalated by the fact that hotels are in the business of providing basic, physiological needs, such as shelter and other necessities. So it seems much more egregious that a hotel would deny a customer such needs than, say, if an electronics store were to refuse to sell a customer a television. Irritation can also be magnified by the fact that many guests check in at the end of a long and stressful day of traveling.
Using Social and Emotional Intelligence to Resolve Guest Problems
So let us imagine a hotel manager in just such a situation. If our hotel manager is socially and emotionally intelligent, he will understand the emotions of his guest and can empathize with the perspective of a frustrated customer.
Certainly, from the hotel’s perspective, overselling is a very common and accepted business practice in the interest of maximizing revenues. Additionally, the “fine print” of a hotel reservation almost always includes the disclaimer that the hotel reserves the right to refuse accommodation under just such circumstances.
However, if he is competent, the hotel manager knows that while these arguments may be meritorious, they will fall on the deaf ears of an irate customer who is being denied a place to sleep. Instead, if he is talented, our manager will rely on his tool kit of social and emotional skills to manipulate the outcome in the hotel’s favor.
A warm handshake and a smile may serve to break the ice and de-escalate tensions. Active listening can go a long way toward conveying respect for the customer. Showing attention and concern with facial expressions, eye contact, and body language can create the impression that he cares and has the guest’s best interests at heart.
Speaking with a tone of authority may also be necessary to ensure that the guest knows he or she is dealing with the person in charge. Finally, in order to remedy the situation in the eyes of his customer, the hotel manager may choose to assess the magnitude of the grievance against an arsenal of compensatory options at his disposal, including “comping” the guest with a night or two of free lodging. At the same time, he must be mindful of his fiscal responsibility to not “give away the house.”
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it serves to illustrate how social and emotional intelligence are vital to the interactions between hotel employees and customers in order to maintain positive customer experiences and promote business prosperity.
In the next part, we’ll look at another reason why social and emotional intelligence are critical to hospitality business success — the unique reliance on people and human interactions.