Building better customer satisfaction in a world of technology

By: Christopher Anderson, professor
A girl pours bright green drinks

As the hospitality and service industry makes greater use of computer applications and virtual technology, personal contact with employees becomes increasingly important for customer satisfaction. In a recent report from the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research (CHR), we explore how those customer contact employees can be trained in the “how” of service, especially when employees are involved in service recovery. We are specifically looking at training in the key skills of employee engagement, communication, and attitude, because they have a strong effect on customers’ evaluation of service effectiveness.

What we found in our study is that direct involvement of managers in the training process improves employees’ service effectiveness—and guests notice. As explained further in our study, we compared two training approaches for front-desk employees at two hotels. The study, “Customer Satisfaction through Service Excellence: The Importance of Focused Training,” is available at no charge from the CHR.

To set up the experiment, front-desk employees at both hotels studied modules from eCornell’s Service Excellence On-Demand Training Course. One of the hotels did no further training as part of this test, while the other hotel set up a series of meetings where the front-desk employees and their supervisors reviewed the training materials. The training content for the eCornell course focuses on critical thinking skills and strategies to boost behaviors that promote positive interactions between the service provider and guest.

We tallied guests’ ratings of the hotels during the course of the study. All hotel overnight guests with a valid email address on file were emailed a link to the survey questionnaires through Revinate’s digital survey platform. We found that the hotel with the blended training (electronic and face-to-face) saw improvements in all three behavioral attributes, that is, engagement, communication, and attitude, while the other hotel (electronic training only) saw no change.

More important, we found that the guests seemed to notice the effects of the more intense training effort. We examined changes in five guest-satisfaction measures: the net promoter score, the Travel Advisor Overall score, the Travel Advisor Service evaluation, helpfulness of staff, and satisfaction with problem resolution. The hotel with the blended training experienced increases in all five guest satisfaction measures. Morever, the improvement in helpfulness of staff was statistically significant.

Let’s look more specifically at service recovery, since this is a critical moment for all service operations. In our study, 119 guests had identified themselves as having experienced a problem, issue, concern, or special circumstance. We did a before-and-after comparison attitudes of guests who reported problems at the hotel with blended training. Looking at guest evaluations before training and after training, this category of guests experienced a statistically significant increase in satisfaction with problem resolution, helpfulness of staff, and NPS Score. (The outcome of these 41 instances can be compared to a significant increase only in helpfulness of staff for the whole sample.)

To be fair, this is a small study, with just two hotels involved, and it is limited to employees at the front desk of each property. However, we all know how critical the front desk is to guest interactions. In this study, we see a clear indication that training intensity has a favorable effect on employee behavior, particularly in the “nuts and bolts” of service—engagement, communication, and attitude. More important, there’s no question that guests notice when employees are making the effort to provide excellent service.

This post was co-authored by Elizabeth Martyn, who holds a master’s degree from the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. Anderson and Martyn thank Revinate and eCornell for their support of this study.