Lyn Aoki, Senior Director of Guest Services & Brand Standards, Corporate, for Aqua-Aston Hospitality, an Interval Leisure Group Company, found that creating a guest service culture pays off—and can be measured and benchmarked. Learn how she benchmarks her staff’s soft skills, find out why she calls housekeeping “the heart of the house,” and read her ideas for creating great experiences not only for guests but also for her own team.
Senior Director of Guest Services & Brand Standards, Corporate Aqua-Aston Hospitality, an Interval Leisure Group Company
Lyn Aoki went to hospitality school to be a dutiful daughter. She found her passion.
Growing up in Singapore in a traditional family, Aoki was guided by her mother to enter Singapore’s International Hotel & Tourism School. It was pretty tough—students in the two-year diploma program in Accommodations Operations serve two separate month-long apprenticeships at hotels in the first year. In the second year, the apprenticeship is based on a 32-hour work week at a hotel plus an eight-hour day in the classroom. During rotation as an apprentice, Aoki counted cleaning guest bathrooms among her duties.
“Guests value staying at a place where they feel a
sense of belonging.”
“As a teenager, that’s not something you want to do,” she says. “But through this lens, I saw what the real world was like. I learned that you don’t take things for granted, and you work your way up. It was humbling.”
Aoki learned to consider housekeeping as the “heart of the house.”
“It’s the pulse and heartbeat,” she says. “It’s the core and foundation of the hotel. With the largest staffing of any department, expenses, capital items, brand expectations and even Six Sigma projects; there has to be a sense of pride in everything you do. Communication, staying connected and being a good listener is paramount to being an effective leader.”
As Aoki’s career took her through a four-year degree in Communications at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa along with certifications as a Six Sigma Green Belt and a Registered Executive Housekeeper, and then working with world-class hotel chains in Hawai’i such as Hilton, Starwood and Wyndham in executive positions to include Director of Rooms and Director of Operations at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, a Luxury Collection, an iconic landmark and luxurious resort on the island of Oahu and General Manager at Wyndham Vacation Resorts Royal Garden at Waikiki, she became more and more attuned to people’s emotions and the way that putting people first enabled her to accomplish what she wanted.
Standards and values
In her current position with Aqua-Aston Hospitality, Aoki is charged with creating Brand Standards for the company’s four brands while uniting them under the corporate mantle. Aoki credits her in-depth knowledge of brand standards to having worked at 3 of the 4 premier Starwood Hotels and Resorts in Waikiki for nearly 20 years. From an operational stand-point, the first-hand experience of being involved in an $85 million dollar renovation of the prestigious Royal Hawaiian Hotel from time of closing to re-opening meant understanding, studying and questioning the brand standards. “This truly cemented my knowledge and comprehension of how important brand standards are to define and distinguish the business model, operating supply and equipment and services” Aoki says.
With the wealth of knowledge and expertise, Aoki paved the way at Aqua-Aston Hospitality in research, design and conducted many meetings with general managers and department heads. After multiple rounds of feedback over 12 months, Aoki implemented the Brand Standards. A year and half later, Aqua-Aston Hospitality partnered with Here and Now Consulting to help design and launch its Guest Service Culture Program.
“We didn’t want a cookie cutter program but rather, something that was unique and tailored to the needs of our guests and teammeates.”
“We didn’t want a cookie cutter program but rather, something that was unique and tailored to the needs of our guests and teammates,” Aoki says. The program was broken into four phases: Research, Design, Pilot and Launch. Aqua-Aston Hospitality’s Brand Standards defined five promises:
1. Be a gracious host
2. Make a connection
4. Creating memories
5. Own it
To inculcate these values, eight modules were designed, targeting topics such as brand history, the five promises, problem resolution, building confidence amongst our teammates, making connections and building our Hawaiian values. Each module gave the teams the knowledge and skills necessary to enhance their service levels and improve their service benchmarks. It’s clear that these are influenced by Aoki’s own ethos of putting people first. But the results of those soft skills can be measured, and Aqua-Aston relies on Revinate Reviews and Revinate Surveys to do that.
“When we created our Guest Service Culture training program, we felt it was important to measure our success. We use Revinate to determine whether we experienced a guest problem and, if we do, whether it has been resolved.” Aoki explains.
The hotelier tracks guest satisfaction and guest experience using Revinate’s Reputation and, through Surveys, it measures whether guests felt welcome, comfortable and relaxed, and whether the staff was friendly and helpful. Revinate keeps track of scores for the brand, individual properties and competitors, as well.
That benchmarking has paid off for Aqua-Aston. From the time the Guest Service Culture Program training was launched in 2016, its scorecards have increased in a variety of measurables: Overall Positive Reviews have increased year over year from 63 percent in 2015, to 67 percent in 2016 and 68 percent in 2017. TripAdvisor Popularity Index also increased from 54 percent in 2015 and 2016 to 57 percent in 2017. Service Reviews have increased from 4.02 in 2015, to 4.08 in 2016, and 4.14 in 2017. Review Ratings have increased from 3.85 in 2015 to 3.96 in 2016 to 4.1 in 2017.
Finding the unique guest experience
Aqua-Aston Hospitality uses Revinate’s data for its demographics. It segments guests in its database, showcasing the different types of guest personas in its portfolio, thereby creating the quintessential memorable guest experience.
For example, promotion for guests who book directly through the Aqua-Aston website called the A-List lets these guests take advantage of exclusive benefits and rewards such as special discounts plus a branded tote and water bottle and the best selection of inventory.
Aoki comments, “The small gesture of the signature A-List gift provides a high-value unique experience with exclusivity. We strive to personalize our Hawai’i destination and provide them with a unique well-thought out gift they could use when they are back home, rekindling and re-acquainting the guest’s memorable experience and destination with their family and friends. Guests value staying at a place where they feel a sense of belonging.”
Aoki is working to extend her philosophy of personal connection to the next generation of hoteliers by partnering with universities to provide internships within Aqua-Aston. She serves as an ad hoc instructor at Kapi’olani Community College for the school of Hospitality & Tourism Education and serves on its advisory community board of professionals.
Aoki says, “Being able to mentor and nurture young adults outside the classroom helps get them ready for the real world. As a mentor, I am able to provide them with competencies such as social and technical skills, experience and knowledge. I didn’t have that mentor when I was an apprentice, and I see the value in one now.” Since 2014, Aoki has mentored 11 interns from the University of Hawaii, Arizona State University, Loyola Marymount University and Kapi’olani Community College (one of ten branches of the University of Hawai’i system anchored by the University of Hawai’i at Manoa). She stays in regular contact with her interns, guides them through mock behavioral interviews or dialogues with them as they make their journey into the workforce. She also coordinates internship placements of students with Aqua-Aston properties. Finding a good match is critical to the success of the internship program.
Tips for hotel marketers
“Guests value staying at a place where they feel a sense of belonging,” Aoki says. “Extend the aloha spirit that is unique to your property.” This means listening and responding to guests so that you can offer personalized experiences to the different travelers who visit.
Here’s some advice Aoki offers to hotel marketers:
1. Learn to be agile. Inevitably in this industry—and in life—things don’t always go your way.
So, what do you do? The essence of agility is being resourceful and not limiting yourself to preconceptions. This goes for your team as well. Agility enables you to make quick decisions and jump those hurdles as they appear. Therefore, your attitude has a lot to do with the outcome of each situation. Making the right choice is important.
2. Create the experience not only for the guest but also for your teammates. Listen and connect with one another. In our high-tech world, make use of technology like Revinate and social media to understand what your customers are saying, and to measure the results of your efforts to improve the guest experience.
3. Be very passionate about what you do—go all in. Deliver results and be accountable for your actions. Own it!
4. Networking is key throughout your career. Build relationships, continue to learn and grow. People skills are important as well as hard work, agility and integrity all come into play.
Revinate Heroes is a series of articles profiling successful hoteliers who are moving the hospitality industry into the future.
Aqua-Aston Hospitality manages hotels and resort condos in Hawaii, the continental U.S., and Central America. For more information, visit aqua-aston.com