The Mask – Hospitality’s NEW Superpower! | By Roberta Nedry

Superman has his cape! Black Panther has his Vibranium! Wonder Woman has her Lasso of Truth! Thor has his hammer! These superheroes capture our imaginations and our hearts with their adventures and special gifts but what about the rest of us?

What, if anything, do our hospitality teams have that catapults them to Superhero status?? Could it be…Their Mask?? Consider that ‘the Mask’ is no longer a barricade to human interaction but an opportunity, a special gift, to capture guest hearts and imaginations, to become a guest experience superhero despite the pandemic!

Recall how Stanley Ipkiss (played by Jim Carrey) transforms from a young shy man who works in a bank into a manic superhero. In the 1994 movie, Stanley does crazy things and amazes people when he discovers a special mask and puts it on. And, while Stanley’s antics while wearing the mask go quite a bit awry, the symbolism of his new powers with the mask on are incredibly relevant and timely for today’s masked hospitality leaders and teams.

As the mask continues to be a new part of our wardrobe, and a part of daily life and interactions, how can we transform from simply putting it on to turning it on? When looking at the original purpose of a mask, normally worn on the face, it is for protection, disguise, performance, or entertainment. We all know that the current primary focus is protection, and we understand and value that purpose. Yet it is not easy to work all day with this ‘disguise’ over our smiles and our facial energy seemingly masked. What if, we transform when we put it on? What if we recognize the entertainment and performance angles of the mask and use it as an excuse for ‘enhanced’ powers?

The team at Plaza Beach Hotel, a modern 1950’s retro beachside resort, in St. Pete Beach, Florida, has been and is doing exactly that! When the pandemic hit, General Manager, Robert Czyszczon, made a company decision not to lay off or furlough any employees to show his commitment to the team and that the hotel family would stick together. With occupancy dropping to 50%, since he did not reduce pay or hours, he challenged his team to take extra care of the guests that did come, giving 150% through service, attention to details and extraordinary cleanliness.

It worked! While many hotels remained closed or struggled with minimum guests, Plaza Beach Hotel rose from number 6 rating on Trip Advisor at the start of Covid to their current ranking of number 2 for hotels on St. Pete Beach, even with lower occupancy! Now that is a superpower approach to the downsides of the pandemic.

Furthermore, he empowered the team to be creative with their masks and have fun with the new restrictions while also respecting them. Once again, an unexpected bonus resulted with the mask’s new superpower approach. Because guests felt even more comfortable with the double and triple safety efforts, employees were able to give hugs when wanted, walk around the protective glass barriers, shake hands after becoming ‘sanitizer brothers’ (another version of Blood Brothers, a fun term coined by the hotel team) and reinforce a ‘we are all in it together” feeling while still embracing hospitality. Guests loved feeling safe, happy, relieved, relaxed, appreciated and more ‘normal’ during this stressful time.

Guest AND employee loyalty skyrocketed!

Emotional intelligence (also known as EQ, Emotional Intelligence Quotient) has always been a critical part of the hospitality world but this powerful phrase jumps to an even higher level as we evolve our service behaviors through this challenging time. When we use our EQ, we are using our emotions to think and enhance our reasoning. And our reasoning has had to adapt on so many new levels to greet the increasing diversity, desires, needs and anxieties of guest expectations.

As we work extra hard to physically create healthy environments, we need to also realize that recognizing emotions can lead to healthier environments, especially now. EQ is another facet of channeling enhanced power with the mask, especially as those with higher EQ are more adaptable to change. As hospitality leaders continue to be challenged with lower occupancy, concerned guests, and reduced staff, they need to inspire their teams with leadership EQ and challenge their teams to be emotionally smarter.

“Connecting with guests on an emotional level is the best way to make an impact on the guest experience,” says James Ridenour, Chef Concierge, Next Hotel Melbourne, Australia, and a leader of Les Clefs d’Or International, the prestigious association of hotel concierges.

“I have about thirty seconds to one minute to determine the emotional needs of my guests to frame my service delivery. Visual clues, conversation, intuition, and deduction all help me to determine how to proceed. Once I have determined the type of guests I am dealing with, I put them at ease by tailoring my approach to their specific health, safety and experience needs. Only then can my guests feel welcome and comfortable. ”

James is applying his superpower of ESP, his Extra Service Perception, using his emotional intelligence, to intuitively anticipate and serve his guests while exceeding evolving expectations in the Covid environment.

James notes that it is imperative that guests feel safe before any connection is made. “This connection is what exceptional service is all about, a real connection forged by bonding together over what really matters to them. The true art of luxury service is the ability to discover what matters to your guests and then being able to form an authentic emotional connection with them by creating a shared experience.”

The mask may be an unexpected new excuse for hospitality teams to become more empathetic to understanding the ‘why’ for the guests that are coming. With less people arriving for now, there may be more time to proactively understand the feelings or emotions that motivated a guest to show up. Like the Plaza Beach Hotel, it is an opportunity to demonstrate more focused appreciation on both employees and guests and reinforce loyalty from all angles.

Marama Nengel, Les Clefs d’Or Concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas is taking EQ to a whole new level with her mask on! She knows her guests want the real thing, not a generic masked person answering questions. “Warmth comes from the eyes,” says Marama. “I need to make my guests feel welcome at each point of contact-they want the genuine me!” To compensate for her masked moments, she added new body language like holding her hand over her heart to show meaning in guest conversations.

She walks around the desk to greet guests, still maintaining social distance. The simple movement of coming toward a guest, makes them feel like they are worthy of personal attention and a welcome beyond the formality of the desk. She notes she spends more time text messaging with guests before, during and after their stay to add another level of safe yet personal communication. Before the pandemic, text communication after a guest left was rare, now it is part of her regular routine to reinforce appreciation to guests and to let them know she is ready when they want to return. Marama has embraced the mask and boldly presents her service excellence superpowers at each point of contact.

And most superheroes learn they cannot do the job entirely on their own. Marama noted how collaborating with vendors in new ways, who she now calls ‘Friend-ors”, has yielded more special and personalized touches for guests. “Restaurants need our guests, so we are working more closely on seamless guest experiences. They win, we win and the guest wins!” she concluded. Even though guests are moving from one masked environment to another, a united team of masked heroes can deliver out of this universe service!

As the mask continues to appear on faces everywhere, hospitality leaders need to inspire their teams to embrace the superhero power of the mask.

As Batman once said, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” Employees have a choice to ‘do’ for guests and channel their creativity, sincerity, clarity, energy, and engagement by seeing the mask as limitless instead of limiting.

As Spiderman said, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

Our masked hospitality teams need to recognize how returning guests may be craving communication and connection. Being able to speak clearly and articulately through the mask so guests can hear and ‘feel’ the message will be a key responsibility. Sometimes speech can sound muffled so speaking more slowly and more concisely in a solid tone of voice will make the messages easier understood. Be wary of the mask causing poor communication and frustration and mobilize extra awareness for superior communication results.

And, perhaps one of the most meaningful powers of the mask is to use it as an excuse for empathy at deeper levels than ever. Each returning guest will have a quarantine or pandemic story, each with challenges and unexpected moments. Hospitality workers need to be ready with compassion, reassurance and understanding in addition to a spirit of welcome. Guests may just want a nod of the head, a comforting comment, a willingness to relate to what they have been through-give it to them! Be part of the emotional rescue team!

And Zeus, a superhero overlord once said, “A true hero isn’t measured by the size of his strength, but by the size of his heart.” Employee hearts must convey empathy through and around the mask to reach guest hearts. Guests want to feel like they can finally relax, enjoy leisure and business moments, and finally feel okay. With empathy guiding guest interactions, employees become heroes of the heart. Using emotional intelligence, the mask becomes almost invisible for positive and heartfelt guest reactions.

The mask presents a catalytic opportunity and excuse to take service up, up, and away into the skies of exceptional service. As guests begin to return, competition will be stiff to attract them. Hospitality teams can swoop in and save the day by transforming into guest experience superheroes using the ‘gifts’ of a refreshed mask attitude. The mask’s superpower actually reveals itself the most by unmasking service excellence, guest loyalty, and welcoming opportunities like never before!

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