If we could only see ourselves as others see us

Many years ago people went to bookstores and bought books of poetry, and read them. They would then meet with friends and talk about these new works from major poets. Those days are over now.

However those poets can still teach us one or two things.

“No man is an Island, entire of itself; everyman is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…” John Donne, British poet (1576-1631)

“Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate you are sure to wake up somebody,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American Poet (1807-1882)

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” Anne Bradstreet, British Poet, (1612-1672)

But perhaps the most famous and certainly one that has so much resonance for my hospitality colleagues, is,

“Oh, what a great gift we would have if we could only see ourselves as others see us”.” Translated, Robert Burns, Scottish Poet (1759-1796)

How often do we put ourselves in the customer’s shoes? Most hoteliers know that they should approach their business on foot, or from the car park, and experience the property as though they were first time guests. Most hoteliers know that they should experience a night’s sleep in every bedroom. But how many of us do that?

When we ask for comments, do we really listen, or do we know best? In Anthony Anderson’s blog on BeSplendid he reminds us of Alex Polizzi’s work. If you are aware of Alex Polizzi you will probably have seen one or both of her TV programmes, “The Hotel Inspector” and “The Fixer”. For those who are unfamiliar with the programmes she visits a struggling family business each episode. She identifies the main concerns and then using her knowledge and experience suggests how the business might be turned around. Strangely, many of the ideas that she puts forward are just dismissed outright because the owners know best; they have always done it that way and are not going to change. Ms Polizzi can point out litter strewn entrances, dirty signage, poor lighting, and still the owners refuse to change. The programmes point out that often many business owners can not see “the wood for the trees”, but also how important it is to step back and really look at the business in it’s entirety.

I was once taught by an eminent hotelier that to run a successful business at macro level I must learn to fly! Unless I could get up in the air, looking down on my business I would always be too involved in an individual detail and not see the bigger picture; not see how to develop the whole business and not understand the need to step back and take in the wider picture.

Honest comments from guests can be helpful and must become the basis of action. It was reported in the New York Times that in 2010, thirty-five million reviews posted on TripAdvisor revealed everything from snooty staff to filthy toilets, but they also revealed the reviewers overly picky standards. It is off course up to the hotelier to determine which is which and act accordingly, not to take a self defeating defensive attitude. We know that some hoteliers complain that TripAdvisor is not prepared to remove questionable reviews from the site, or retire older reviews, and indeed screens owner’s responses more vigorously than guest’s comments. The tension over these reviews highlights how much is at stake as hoteliers obsess over these reviews but none of this should  hide the fact that genuine customer’s comments are vital for developing the business into a customer orientated one, and not one that the hotelier deems to offer. Everyday the customers are asked, “How did you hear about us?” So many respond, “ TripAdvisor, TripAdvisor, TripAdvisor”.

So, how does the small hotelier get everything right? We can’t be good at everything, despite the fact that most of us have to wear many hats. Even so it is good to accept that you can’t be good at everything. If it becomes clear that you or your colleagues lack certain skills, or indeed time, then perhaps the answer is to bridge that gap. This is the time when a professional, non related outside advisor can fill that gap at a comparatively low cost. Incidentally that same person can look at the business with a very objective view, just like that first time guest.

So back to Robbie Burns and his famous poem,”….if we could only see ourselves as other see us”. This comes from a poem with the unlikely title of “To a Louse”, supposedly inspired by Burns seeing an upper class well dressed woman walking along unaware that she had a louse crawling over her bonnet. The next line of the poem has been translated as, “It would save us from many mistakes and foolish thoughts” Now I am not suggesting that any of my readers have a louse on their property, but oh! how important it is for us to see our businesses as others see them, knowing that it would save us from making so many mistakes and having foolish thoughts!

Clive Rowe-Evans, director, Management with Great Potential cliveroweevans@greatpotential.co.uk

Acknowledgements; Mark Sherman Ph.D,  Dennis E Coates Ph.D

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