By R.V. Baugus
We all know just how important hospitality is in our world of public assembly venue management. Give those guests who attend your venue a positive experience to remember and they will not only be sure to come back but will also tell their friends about their received hospitality. Living in the times of uncertainty created by COVID-19, hospitality takes on even greater significance when interacting with customers who are unduly stressed due to a myriad of hardships.
No one understands the world of hospitality better than Southwest Airlines, and Jonathan Portnoy with Southwest Airlines Hospitality (they have their own department!) stands at the forefront when it comes to discussing the topic. Portnoy will speak at this year’s IAVM virtual GuestX held from February 9-11. Before we get to some nuggets that Portnoy shared with us prior to his session, let’s make sure that if you have not yet that we get you registered for GuestX by clicking here. We want to also remind you that if you or a member of your team has been furloughed or laid off, IAVM is offering complimentary registrations for full-time IAVM members who have been impacted.
Portnoy will present on the title of How an Airlines’ Philosophy Can Enhance Your Guest Experience. Let’s let the expert on the subject tell us some more in advance of the session.
Do you come from a background in hospitality?
My professional background was primarily in product management before I moved to my current role a few years ago. I was fortunate to serve in this capacity at a number of companies including FedEx, Travelocity and Southwest. This diversity in companies and products gave me a well-rounded understanding of product management. In a very simplified form, product management is about developing and promoting a service or product to best appeal to customers. As I entered my current role at Southwest, I viewed Hospitality similarly to how I worked previously with products and services: Hospitality must be developed and promoted to the audience (both Employees and Customers) with the goal of maximizing its awareness and practice. The only real difference is that Hospitality does not involve a direct revenue stream from sales. But we attribute its practice by our Employees to retaining Customers.
We love how you capitalize several words, including Hospitality, Employees, and Customers. That tells us they are all important to you. Tell us about this thing called the people business.
Whether you work at Southwest, a venue, arena, convention center, or elsewhere, we’re all in the people business. Southwest flies planes and you host concerts or hockey games or conventions. But without people, our industries would not exist. Unfortunately the current pandemic has tested that to the extreme. The Hospitality philosophy at Southwest wasn’t created for an airline; it was created for a company whose greatest asset is its People and Customers. For this reason, the tools and best practices of Southwest Hospitality can apply across organizations and industries that focus on people first and foremost. The key to success is the amount of investment the organization is willing to make in Hospitality.
Can you define the difference between customer service and hospitality?
In our minds, as those who promote hospitality, customer service is kind of getting the job done and hospitality is going above and beyond. So we have developed three different levels of hospitality called Excellent Hospitality starting at that service or Transactional level at the bottom. Finding the solution for the customer, getting the job done and meeting the needs.
The next level is the Transformational Level, building a connection with your customer. Ask them how they’re doing, ask them where they’re traveling, ask them if they’re going to see family or why they’re traveling. Build some sort of connection with the customer. If they’re going to a specific event, a concert or a game, they’re wearing AC/DC clothes or their favorite team’s clothes. Relate to them.
The top phase is we call the Transcendental phase. That’s really about creating a memory with the customer so that customer can kick back with them after the events, after the flight and you can go tell others. Word of mouth is extremely strong. I always use the example of I was on a flight years ago from Dallas to Memphis and there was a family with a mom, dad, and little boy maybe three years old. It was his first flight and the flight attendant brought over a certificate. It was a first flight certificate given to the boy. The boy was elated, he got something from the flight attendant for his first flight and the parents were elated because the flight attendants recognized their son for his first flight. Even better, they were going to Memphis to see grandma and granddad. So of course they’re going to go tell grandma and granddad about their experience and receiving the certificate and now grandma and granddad are going to be loyal Southwest customers. So creating that transcendental level is about creating a memory.
Then one of the worksheets will be filling out what each level means for your organization. Transactional at the bottom, transformational building a connection and then transcendental creating a memory.
Can Hospitality still be showcased in a time when everything is “self-service” due to the pandemic?
Self-service is now big and just because self-service is growing doesn’t mean that Hospitality is going away. It actually provides an even bigger opportunity for Hospitality because now as employees instead of having to check a bag or credit ticket maybe interact with the customer in a different way and provide that extra level of Hospitality going back to that transformation and transcendental level rather than just here’s your ticket and go on and interact in a different way.
You are bound to have some awesome takeaways for sessions attendees. What would be the top one?
The greatest takeaway from the presentation and workshop is understanding that the transition into a company focused on Hospitality does not happen overnight. It takes intention from the organization, especially from all leaders to exhibit Hospitality in their communication and relationships with employees on a daily basis. Including Hospitality within formal employee training and orientation builds a foundational understanding of the philosophy and behaviors. But the consistent practice and advocacy of Hospitality by leaders is what makes Hospitality blossom within the organization.