Hospitality survey: Facilities here top-notch, workers not
By April M. Havens
Miami ranks high in appearance and restaurant ambience and food quality but hospitality workers lack courtesy and personalization of services, a customer service survey commissioned by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau found.
Maria Sastre, chairwoman of the bureau and vice president of international sales and marketing for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises, pushed for the research, performed by the Freeman Group in Dallas and presented to the bureau July 31.
"I think it was important to establish a baseline of what we feel are the key issues around ensuring we have a successful travel and tourism industry," Ms. Sastre said.
The survey found that hospitality employees fail to acknowledge guests, often do not use guests' names during exchanges and do not hold eye contact. These factors often separate an employee from being perceived as courteous or rude, Ms. Sastre said.
William Talbert III, president and CEO of the bureau, said personalization goes a long way in the hospitality industry. "[Using a name] means I know who you are," he said. "Customers get … a warm fuzzy feeling, and it shows that we care enough about them to use their name."
Ms. Sastre said the benefits of interacting with guests cannot be underestimated because "the human side of [tourism] really completes the picture of Miami." Providing tourists with directions and having the right attitude to take ownership and follow through with complaints are examples of basic customer service, she said.
Freeman Group researchers assessed customer service by taking 50 taxi rides, visiting more than 50 hotels, dining at 10 restaurants, shopping at three major shopping malls and evaluating Miami International Airport, Ms. Sastre said.
The group also evaluated the visitors bureau, Mr. Talbert said. The results of the survey were shared with bureau members but not released to the public.
Cheryl Carter, an instructor at Florida International University's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, said the perceived rudeness of some hospitality workers could be due to cultural differences.
"Some of these employees come from countries where they have never been treated as good customers or even as equals, and some are actually quite fearful of being treated as an equal," she said. "We must educate our employees to their rights, what is acceptable, what our standards are and what is expected of them in the tourism and hospitality industry."
Overall, Ms. Carter said, Miami's services fail to meet visitors' expectations.
Ms. Sastre agreed the bar should be raised. "Miami as a destination is extremely successful, and we've become a preferred destination with a great brand image," she said. "But we felt we had an opportunity for improvement around courtesy."
The survey yielded positive results for employee knowledge and restaurant standards, Ms. Sastre said. Ms. Carter said she has seen "enormous change in the quality of physical product available," noting that facilities in 1985 were "far inferior" to what Miami has now.
Mr. Talbert said the surveys indicated service levels were "probably across the board a bit higher than we thought they were, but they are nowhere near where we need them to be for a world-class destination."
The next step, Ms. Sastre said, is to team with a national communications company to "put a rally cry" around the need to improve customer service. The marketing effort will be targeted at hospitality workers.
Mr. Talbert said the results of the survey will be used to develop a customer service program, currently being developed and refined, that will become a permanent department in the bureau.
Ms. Carter suggested efforts should target employee satisfaction, possibly through workers of excellence award programs, because "happy customers begin with happy employees."