Superior Comfort, Superior Service

Mint Hotels & Apartments

Mint Hotels & Apartments is a Brisbane based company that markets and manages upscale hotels and apartments in Brisbane, Melbourne, and the Gold Coast. The business specifically focuses on the marketing, letting, and administration services for corporate accommodation in the 4 to 4.5 star self-rated category.

This is a competitive sector and the team has worked hard to set its properties apart by implementing a few key strategies. As a result, Mint Hotels & Apartments has managed to stay on top throughout a rocky economy – and develop an enviable reputation for superior comfort and service.

First and foremost, Mint Hotels & Apartments makes it a priority to provide travellers with all of the comforts that they crave. “There are certain things that a person looks for in a room,” General Manager Craig Barber points out. He believes that the requirements for a good night’s stay are really quite simple: hot water at a comfortable pressure, comfortable beds, good bed linen and bathroom linen, a comfortable room temperature and good lighting. A huge secret to success, therefore, has been to ensure that each and every room provides these required comforts.

Service is the company’s second foundational focus. “It is our people who make the difference,” Mr Barber insists. And having a top notch staff doesn’t happen by accident. “We have really worked over the last 12 months on developing our people.” As with the must-have list for room comfort, the requirements for good service are simple and straightforward. In fact, the team’s customer service focus boils down to just a few crucial points. “Number one is engaging the customer,” Mr Barber says. “You have to engage the person that you are dealing with. And we take the attitude that it is not so much what is said, it is the manner in which it is said.” A flat, disinterested ‘good evening’ is worthless, he explains. But those same words said with enthusiasm and genuine interest can have a significant impact.

The team has also been trained to use the words please and thank you whenever they interact with customers. “We might be providing the service, but we are often making requests of our guests,” Mr Barber points out. “Instead of saying, ‘can I have your credit card,’ [we say] ‘may I please have your credit card?’” That one word can make all the difference to a customer’s overall experience, he believes. The team is also working to reduce colloquialisms among staff. Phrases like ‘no worries’ do not effectively communicate a commitment to customer satisfaction, Mr Barber explains.

Making sure that employees actively seek out interactions with customers is also critically important. “The supervisor on shift, whenever possible, is not behind the front desk; he or she is standing in the foyer, talking to the guests as they come and as they go, looking after cabs for them, assisting with their bags. Those are the sort of things that we are encouraging to get this engagement.”

Lastly, after speaking with a customer, staff have been taught to inquire if the customer has any more requests. “After you ask a question, the service agent needs to ask, ‘is there anything else I can do for you today?’ It gives the guests the opportunity to [mention a concern] that normally they might not raise.” The combination of these basic, common sense customer service rules has been remarkably effective. “Guests walk out saying, ‘those people cared about me. They smiled at me when I arrived, they said please and thank you, and they asked me if there was anything else that they could do.’”

Mint Hotels & Apartments utilises external assessments, primarily in the form of “secret shopper style” evaluations, to ensure that these customer service guidelines are being met. “I don’t believe you get anywhere if you go assessing your own product,” Mr Barber explains. The team also asks their guests for feedback – and takes their comments seriously. “External assessments combined with our open solicitation of guest reviews provide the feedback that we need to ensure that our product is achieving what we want it to achieve,” Mr Barber says. “It ensures that our staff are giving the experience that we need them to give.”

The company also uses a reward system to encourage superior service. “The external evaluator actually provides their own achievement rewards for people.” As a result, the staff “actively work to achieve this recognition of the service that they provide.” In addition, management works hard to instil a sense of purpose in their employees to improve service. “We have discussed with them all that they can have a firsthand impact on the revenue that our business can generate,” Mr Barber reports. “[We want] our people to take ownership of what they are doing.”

Mr Barber says that online reviews of Mint Hotels & Apartments’ properties also offer evidence of a job well done. “We are finding that online assessments of our staff and our service are improving markedly as an operation,” he reports. These positive ratings are essential because online assessments have a significant impact on a hotel’s business. If fact, Mr Barber reports that university research has recently proven “what we have always believed all along, that there is a direct correlation between positive online ratings and growth of room rate and occupancy. So, the better we are rated, the better we are [able] to improve our revenue streams.”

A positive online presence is so important, in fact, that the company has spent significant effort on harnessing the advantages of our wired world. “We’ve embraced the use of technology and mobilisation,” Mr Barber reports. The company has just revamped its websites and is specifically focused on targeting customers via their mobile devices. “Around 30 per cent of our business is from tablets and smart devices. You’ve got to be easy to access.”

The team is also working on protecting its brand online. “One of the biggest problems that we face as an industry at the moment is that hotel operations have had their brands hijacked by the intermediaries,” Mr Barber says. “If you go online and look for a hotel by its name, you will find it listed multiple times by intermediaries prior to finding the hotel’s actual website. This is a real problem that we have. You develop a brand but somebody else steals it.” The company wants to ensure that when customers search for Mint Hotels & Apartments online, the company’s official website appears first on the list. “We have to go into the business of reclaiming our brand.”

Mint Hotels & Apartments is also building name recognition through its relationships with key partner organisations. Last season, for example, the company was the Melbourne sponsor of the Adelaide Crows, and team captain Nathan van Berlo acted as hotel ambassador. The arrangement proved quite successful, and the team plans to continue to form strong relationships in the future. “I really need to commend Adelaide Crows on this – they were fantastic to be in business with,” Mr Barber says. “They worked tirelessly to ensure that that it was a two way street, rather than just a donation. They did everything they could to send other corporate partners to us.”

Maintaining a strong brand has been especially crucial during the past few years, when fewer people have been spending money on hotels, Mr Barber points out. The industry is also facing two more key issues, he adds; compliance is the first. “The costs for small operators and the risk for small operators is the same as for big companies. There is too much red tape.” The second is the payroll tax. “I find it absurd that you tax a company for providing employment. It is the most ridiculous tax that I can think of. We’ve been fighting this payroll tax for a long time and it is not going away – but it is a prohibitor to employment.”

Fortunately, Mint Hotels & Apartments has managed to overcome today’s industry challenges by maintaining its laser focus on comfort and service. With so much to offer the discerning corporate customer, Mint Hotels & Apartments is well equipped to build on its success for many years to come.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 16, 2018, 6:43 AM AEDT