Colin Nagy, head of strategy at FFNY, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality, innovation, and business travel. On Experience dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across hospitality, aviation, and beyond. You can read all of his columns here.
This column spends a lot of time decoding the dark magic that goes into creating memorable hospitality experiences. Most of the time, the job is very hard, with consumer expectations in luxury escalating every year. A great experience one time quickly turns into the assumed standard. When thinking about what goes into good hospitality, however, a lot of things are also required of guests to create the perfect experience. After witnessing some ghastly behavior recently, I’ve outlined a few ideas should you find yourself on the receiving end of hospitality and service.
Respect for Ambience
Design, craft, and an impeccable attention to detail go into making refined spaces in hotels and lounges and on board planes. When others are paying a lot of money to be there, it’s worth asking the question if it is appropriate to be watching an annoying TikTok or YouTube video without headphones, allowing your child to watch Finding Nemo at the dinner table of a Michelin-starred restaurant with the sound up, or conducting that spirited WhatsApp voice memo conversation out loud. Nothing ruins a beautiful environment more than people without respect for their surroundings and fellow patrons. Simultaneously it is worth asserting that properties need to be much more aggressive about enforcing these rules of ambience. A polite “Please turn the sound off, sir,” from staff is very necessary and should be done without fear of reprisal.
One of the best South Park episodes is when the characters-turned-Yelp-reviewers go feral and become entitled megalomaniacs. Predictably it descends into a Lord of the Flies-type scenario. I always have this in mind when scanning Tripadvisor and other online reviews. For every thoughtful comment, there’s something petty, vindictive, and crass. “My toast was cold. One star.” And it’s generally asynchronous so hotels automatically have the low ground even if they aren’t at fault. I would suggest to everyone that a discreet word to the person in charge generally creates a better outcome for everyone. I recently did this at a favorite restaurant in New York that was having a rough day. I spoke to the director of service and said, “This wasn’t up to what you guys normally do.” He apologized, invited me to come back, which I did, and everything was pitch-perfect. There was no comp dangled or any other juicy flourish, but rather just the ability to make things right and show their stuff. It was welcomed, and I’ll continue to be a customer.
Respect for What Lies Beneath the Iceberg
When experiencing something stylish and unique, it is worth pausing to think about the process that went into making it so. An elegantly presented tea service at the Baccarat New York, a knockout arrival at the Aman Marrakesh, lunch at the Lambs Club, the surprise flourishes at Esencia in Mexico, a martini at the Club Room in the Lowell — all of these things take an orchestrated effort and tons of moving parts before they can be presented to the guest. So taking a second to understand and appreciate such is important. It will also make you a sharper observer of just how competitive this world can be.
Appreciation and Positive Feedback
At the same time, the human side of this business is oftentimes tough. When someone is great at what they do, make sure to take their manager aside and tell them. We need the best people staying in hospitality, and to stay, they need to understand that there is a path to the next level. That path comes with achievements and documentation of their work. So be vocal when there is great service.
Hospitality is predicated on empathy and anticipation. This works both ways, and empathy toward the staff and the people on the front lines goes a long way. Sometimes someone is having an off day. Sometimes things don’t click the way they should. Provided there is no malice or ill intent, sometimes patience is the best course of action. At the airport recently, I observed an airline employee receiving a long line of customers that berated her. Her next customer then addressed her in kind terms, showing understanding of the chaotic weather and how hard her job was at that moment. Guess what? He was on the next flight out, while the others were dwelling in travel purgatory. Kindness is still valued on both ends of the equation.