In 2019, starting 1st of August I had the opportunity to become a member of the very professional and hardworking team of Hotel Continental Forum Sibiu as part of my internship, finishing October 31st. Having chosen this company for my internship based upon the fact that the hotel chain has over 25 years of tradition imbedded in operations across its locations all over the country, I was fully aware of the great chance I had to not only learn about the hospitality industry in Romania, but also be challenged everyday by the very dynamic and energetic work environment.
When talking about what sets a company apart from its competitors in such an intense market where people can easily choose any other hotel while travelling, it most surely comes down to the core differences of what the company stands for (see Appendix 1 through 4) and the way guests are treated from even before physically stepping into the hotel. Customer experience begins long before ever reaching the location, so it is of utmost importance to learn and anticipate certain needs and expectations guests might have in relation to their accommodation of choice.
This is precisely why Continental Hotels, as in the entire corporation, is determined to not only ensure the perfect high quality accommodation options in Romania for a number of large market segments, but also services that ought to reach the highest quality possible while combining comfort and elegance.
Moreover, the Romanian hotel chains goal to cater to all types of travellers, from business to leisure and everything lying in between, is also reflected in their large portfolio of brands, having the following hotels under ownership (see Appendix 5. Brand portfolio).
Their main goal as a company is to make every minute of their guests time in the hotel count and turn every second into a memorable unforgettable moment. Moreover, they constantly make efforts towards maintaining the high reputation of all their hotels and they understand that arguably the most important factor and the basis of satisfying all their guests is human interaction.
This is why the joint motto they have chosen to mirror what they stand for when it comes to the atmosphere and work environment all the staff members conduct daily operations in, is the following: More than a team, were Continental Hotels family. And I myself, can vouge for that statement. Aside from their outstanding work ethics, every single one of the staff members sets out to ensure the best communication possible between departments, good collaboration between colleagues and that home-like feeling when being at work.
However, the good aspects of the work environment, common goals the company sets up and inspires everyone to aspire to, objectives etc. all of these cannot ensure good service quality. People are fundamentally unique, different, therefore work ethics, motivation and keeping up with everything that has to be done in the hotel cannot be a one size fits all situation. This leads to the company being vulnerable to human error, as is any other business that caters to people.
That being said, Hotel Continental Forum Sibiu is and will be focused on delivering the highest quality possible in regards to their services in order to acquire both new clientele and keep their existing returning guests loyal to the brand. However, that is no simple task.
2. Problem statement
Nowadays, customer satisfaction is not only an important aim of successful businesses, but also a vital aspect of day-to-day operations in any existing company, including hotels worldwide. In that sense, what are the current levels of customer satisfaction within Continental Forum Sibiu and what are the strategies the hotel can use to ultimately improve customer experience and therefore satisfaction?
In order to have this paper be more focused on the chosen subject, these are the sub-questions that will be answered gradually thought the paper:
1. What is the guests perception on the quality of services provided in the hotel?
2. What are the unseen gaps between guests expectations and the quality of services delivered?
3. What measures could be taken to ultimately close these gaps?
4. How can Continental Forum Sibiu keep their levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty as high as possible while also gaining new customers to further increase profitability?
Service quality and customer satisfaction are, generally speaking, wide subjects, therefore, this report will focus on analysing the main problem areas, as they will be pointed out by the questionnaires, and providing solutions to these problems as a way of keeping already loyal clientele, loyal to the brand and attract new guests the same. What also needs to be noted is that the analysis I will conduct, as well as the conclusions that I will have at the end of my internship, will only be limited by my experience in one hotel of the much bigger chain. Therefore, the information provided in this report cannot be generalized to the entire corporation.
Service quality is an assessment of how well services are being delivered by staff members to customers. Generally speaking, business owners can use this assessment to acknowledge problem areas and heighten customer satisfaction by improving the way operations are carried out in their companies.
SERVQUAL is a dynamic, multi-dimensional tool that provides the means to measure service quality, by highlighting the differences (if existent) between customer expectations and customer perception of delivered services, in the form of a questionnaire.
Customer Expectations mean the value of a service or goods purchased as perceived by customers based widely on first impressions and previous experiences with similar services or products.
Customer Perception refers to the judgements and impressions that a customer draws as conclusions after processing the factors that lead to his personal experience, such as expectations and satisfaction.
The 5 Gap Model is a framework that shows the five gaps that businesses must address regarding customer satisfaction, when exceeding customer expectations is a goal in that specific organisation.
5. Method and Theory
In the making of my project, the methodology approach that I have chosen will be focusing on gathering both primary and secondary data, using the following data collection methods:
5.1. Desk research
Desk research has been carried out for the purpose of acquiring secondary data that will provide the theoretical basis of my report. Theories and models presented throughout the courses will be used in order to understand the concept of customer satisfaction and analyse it thoroughly. OTAs websites such as booking.com were also a great source of acquiring data on customer opinions about the hotel in general, as well as assets and problems.
5.2. Field research
Field research will consist of gathering quantitative data through using the SERVQUAL Model. The questionnaire is the method chosen to collect data from the hotel guests and it will be structured as followed: based on the five dimensions of the SERVQUAL model, twenty two 5 point Likert scale variables will be formulated for guests to fill out, while also having to answer questions regarding demographics (gender, age etc.) The questionnaire is elaborated based on the theory associated with the model used and it will provide the evaluation of the main differences between what is desired and expected, and what is experienced by the guests.
In addition to that, observation is another method that I have used for data collection regarding operations in the hotel, communication between departments and their relationship with their guests.
6. Source criticism
Relevant literature sources have been used throughout the making of this project with the aim of setting up the basis for the analysis, conclusion and recommendations. Articles, websites and reports used are mostly published in recent years, however data may vary in relevance due to constant changes the hospitality industry is subject to worldwide. Questionnaires and interviews conducted, as well as the data and conclusions drown based on the answers, are subjective. Firstly because of guests personal preferences and expectations and staffs past and present experiences with guests, and secondly, due to my own interpretation of the data collected.
7. Customer satisfaction
The assessment and understanding of what drives tourists and, in this case, guests satisfaction is one of the most relevant, although sometimes overlooked, areas of research for the tourism industry as a whole. Satisfied, happy guests tend to share their experiences, recommend the location and come back periodically, as a result of a post-experience evaluation that leads to his conclusion of the experience reaching a level of satisfaction (Bign?, Font & Andreu, 2000).
Looking at the customer satisfaction levels in the Romanian hotel industry, a mystery shopping study conducted from April to May 2018 by 4Service Group Romania shows that approximately 90% of four and five-star hotel guests in Romania are overall satisfied with the services provided and the rooms that accommodated them. The data they were analysing generally covered the following areas: overall impression of the hotel rooms, check-in and check-out procedures, dinner and breakfast etc.
From a marketing perspective, customer satisfaction is the number of customers, or percentage of said number, whose experience with a firms products, services and staff exceeds specified satisfaction goals (Farris; Bendle; Pfeifer; Reibstein, 2010). Since product differentiation is arguably the main strategy for businesses operating in a competitive market, customer satisfaction is a key element in that process.
But taking a more in depth look at the subject, satisfaction as a concept is deeply complex and is highly dependable on some variables that not only affect the guests, but the particular service or services provided alike. Numerous literature works have been written regarding customer satisfaction, and amongst all the theories and research conducted, some notable names are always referenced in relation to the subject: Parasuraman et al (1985), Gronroos (1990) and Williams et al (2003). They have all concluded that in order for a guest to be satisfied, two different factors play a role: customer expectations and customer perceptions (as previously defined).
7.1. Problems in the hotel. Meeting expectations
It is more than normal for a frequent traveller, business or leisure alike, to have certain expectations of a hotel, especially since they have lived through numerous similar experiences.
For example, when talking about a 4 star hotel anyone would normally expect higher standards regarding the staff, amenities, services, rooms to be properly cleaned, modern equipment etc.
In the case of Hotel Continental Forum Sibiu, there are numerous guests who have taken to the power of the internet to let their opinions and expectations be known through booking platforms such as hotels.com, booking.com and TripAdvisor. While the overall majority of their reviews received after peoples stay is fairly good reviews, the ones that should count most to the people in leadership positions, are the bad ones written by deeply disappointed guests. If we do not account for them, dismiss them and think that things can work out on their own without hearing guests out and without caring and valuing their feedback, than we cannot talk about such thing as improvement. From there it is just a downwards spiral to increasingly lower quality of services which could automatically lead to customer dissatisfaction and that is precisely what nobody wants to happen in their hotel.
The number one thing people expected was for the rooms to be larger and more modern. One review is actually titled the not so lavish hotel (see Appendix 6). The businessman was in the city for one night and expected that the room booked was bigger and added that the actual photos on the website do not attest the real size of the rooms.
Similarly, more guests have higher expectations regarding parking or the spa. This is in fact one of the most popular complaints Hotel Continental Forum Sibiu gets after the previously mentioned issues with the rooms. Generally, guests expect the spa to be open all days of the week and the schedule to be longer so they can have access all throughout their stay, as opposed to it being closed on Sunday and Monday and the working hours being 16:00 to 22:00 (see Appendix 8.Complaint about the spa).
These are just some of the many reviews the hotel has gathered across various booking platforms in time. Why these are important is because everything happens online now. Many guests no longer call reception for a reservation, they go online and inevitably they willingly or unwillingly stumble upon reviews listing the good, the bad and the ugly. There is no way to hide bad experiences people had in the hotel in the digital era. This is why, I personally believe these reviews and the ones to follow in this report are the most important testimonies to customer experience in the hotel and they should not be taken lightly as one really bad review can make up to 40 good customer experiences irrelevant.
8. Service quality
With customer satisfaction established in this project at the base of product differentiation, perhaps what is even more important is what lies behind it. Service quality, especially in the hospitality industry, is amongst the most relevant factors in the race of gaining sustainable competitive advantage.
Successful hotels deliver high quality service to guests. The better service quality is, the longer the life-span of the company on the market. Why? Excellent service brings along with it: customer satisfaction, pristine business image, customer loyalty and, as previously mentioned, competitive advantage.
Early research defined service quality as the extent to which a service fulfils the needs and expectations of a customer or the overall impression of the customer concerning the weaknesses of the service. But figuring out in which way each customer perceives a service is a very difficult process. People have different sets of values, widely based on their different cultural back-rounds, that each can influence their opinions.
Cultural intelligence should be the focus today as tourism is becoming more complex and multicultural diversity is at its peak with people from far corners of the world travelling all over the globe. According to research there is a close connection between consumption patterns, social behaviour and holiday experiences, based on cultural differences (Mey, Akbar, & Fie, 2006). The host companys effective response to culturally different tourists more often than not results in positive experiences and the tourists satisfaction (Reisinger& Turner, 1999).
Today, service quality is referred to as the comparison of expectations to performance (Lewis and Booms 1983). However, the most commonly used definition comes later, in 1988, and is that of A. Parasuraman, the father of SERVQUAL the model that has become the fundamental analysis of services in numerous sectors; his paper is also the most cited literature on the subject. He describes service quality as being the differences between customer expectations and perceptions of service.
9. Measuring service quality
Now with service quality defined, the next big issue is finding the right factors and determinants that influence services and make them good or bad.
A similar study to Parasuramans, lists the 3 Ps of service quality (Haywood, 1988):
Physical facilities, procedures and processes: location, d?cor, range of services etc.
Personnel behaviour: communication, speed, neatness, politeness etc.
Professional judgement: guidance, discretion, skill etc.
Looking at each of the attributes and comparing them to the dimensions presented by Parasuraman et al., the models have similarities and address the same concepts, just under different terminology. (see Appendix 10. Haywood-Farmer service quality model vs. Parasuraman et al.s service quality determinants)
Moreover, ten years later, Johns and Howard (1998) decided that service quality measurements only have true value if they have the ability to pin-point the exact ways in which service was unsatisfactory. Many other frameworks have been developed since, the Expectancy-Disconfirmation Theory, The Attribution Theory, The Contrast Theory, The Importance-