On our theme of ‘getting started’ this month, we always recommend listening closely to the ‘voice of the customer’ to understand the experience of using products and services from their point of view. Catalyst Director, Mark Jones, recently had a holiday in Cuba but couldn’t switch off completely prompted by his experiences, as he explains in this blog by using the GEMBA.
A few weeks ago, we took a week’s holiday in Cuba to escape the UK winter weather and relax. We spent four nights of the holiday in Varadero, if you’re not familiar with it, imagine a twelve mile white sandy beach that pokes north of Cuba into the Caribbean. It has recently been rated by Trip advisor as one of the Caribbean’s five top rated Beaches.
The hotel we stayed in was excellent, all-inclusive and well-known for its service. At several points during the stay we were asked to provide customer feedback. One of these opportunities was a one-to-one with a senior service manager…. Here is what happened…..
Using the Gemba
I was asked to attend an interview in the hotel lobby at 11:45 AM, which I did, and I made myself known to a member of the reception staff. By midday nobody had come to talk to me, so I went back to the reception desk to give them a final chance before I went back to enjoying the bar and grill! Five minutes later, the reception manager appeared with a notebook in her hand and we started the conversation.
“What do you think of the restaurants, what do you think of the facilities, how is your room, what do you think of the bar, how is the food…..? The questions went on like this for a few minutes, all standard stuff, but none of it earthshattering or really important and all of it missing some fundamental thinking.
I couldn’t resist going into consultant mode explaining the importance of being in the place where the customer experience takes place to get the richest feedback – the Gemba. Ask me about the food in the restaurant, ask me about our room in the room, let’s have this meeting in the bar and talk about the bar service and experience. Fundamental truths about the guest experience are less likely to be surfaced sat in the lobby. Above the reception desk is the office of the General Manager and I could see him while we were talking, I wondered how many hours a day he spends in there?
I presume the staff at the hotel are reasonably paid by local standards, but they clearly appreciate tips from the guests. I made the point to the manager that they don’t make it easy for guests to reward staff. When money is changed at the hotel, like most hotels and Exchange Bureau, you receive a lot of large notes and being an all-inclusive hotel the opportunity to get smaller change is limited. I was told that guests can go to the Bureau and ask for change, but I didn’t know that and it’s not exactly easy or in the Gemba. I made a suggestion that at one end of the bar (not the reception) they put two small plates, one with a couple of larger notes and the other with many small notes and coins; above the plates would be a small sign highlighting that guests can simply obtain change here without having to ask a member of staff or make it obvious….. put down your large note and take some change. The business risk would be small, the cost of setting it up would be negligible and it is a quick win experiment…. Why not try this and see what happens? Ask the staff if they see a change, and if not fail fast and take away the plates…. I think a week would do it!
How to use your Staff for feedback
We talked about how ideas for improvement are solicited from staff; I can’t remember the answer, which tells me it wasn’t very inspiring. Early in December the hotel was busy but nowhere near full….. if a staff member is highlighted for exceptional service, or suggests a great improvement idea, why not say thank you by letting them stay in the hotel with a partner for a couple of nights? They would get to have the “guest” experience and customer journey, be recognised for their contribution, be served by their colleagues and managers, have some fun and a new experience, and perhaps relax a little as well. The cost to the business would be small and the only requirement would be that the staff member and their partner provide some detailed feedback afterwards. Again, a short experiment would easily show the value (or not) of this concept.
I did give them some more traditional feedback of the kind they were expecting, about specific restaurant issues and some great staff members. However, the point I was trying to make was that this sort of feedback, although useful, doesn’t tend to create lots of innovative ideas and make a step change in performance compared with using a Gemba approach.
I finished our 30 minutes, which I actually enjoyed (I can’t stop myself), by pointing out to them that during any particular month they probably have hundreds of experienced business people from across the world staying at the hotel. Why not set up a facilitated session, maximum 60 minutes, and invite them to share some of their knowledge and ideas that could relate to their experience of the hotel……. it might just make a nice change from the beach and the spa!