Are you old enough to recall the excitement over the debut of the first Blackberry and its speedy texting system at the dawn of the new millennium? It was quite the revolutionary and addictive feature, so much so that today we may be taking a short messaging service (SMS) like this for granted as our minds are constantly distracted by one of many quotidian ways that we use on our mobile phones.
With social media, texting, emails, forum threads and a myriad of other notifications pinging your phones every minute, has the need to stay constantly connected via our electronic devices usurped our need for proper and personal business relationships?
Recently I was invited to attend a weekly executive committee meeting where the GM asked me to present to the group on my secret shopper observations from a weekend’s stay, and then to stick around afterwards to audit the leadership team’s participation. Over the course of only an hour, it was clear to me that the group’s attention was hampered by individuals glancing at their devices subtly placed nearby. Are these folks so important that they can’t sequester themselves away from their phones for at least 60 minutes to go through matters that could have a profound impact on their jobs?
A possible solution to this prevalent social problem presented itself was I visited Lake Austin Spa Resort tucked away outside of Austin, Texas. In our room was a small cotton bag with the line, “Let your cell phone sleep. Hear the beauty around you.” The idea was to use this short stay to break the bonds of being on the beck and call of your mobile device. The spa itself also politely encouraged you to leave your cellular in your room.
At first, I thought this to be overly intrusive. But just as an individual sheds his or her outer layers when journeying to the beach, giving up your mobile has a similarly liberating effect. You are then forced to rekindle your relationship with your natural surroundings, rather than hiding in your own thoughts while concentrating on responding to some remote request.
On checkout, I had easily survived 48 hours without my iPhone. Next, I looked at the hundreds of texts, emails, LinkedIn and Facebook notifications that had been accumulating during my absence and awaiting my response. None were urgent or all that relevant. The resort, it seemed, had weaned me off the dangerous habit of being continually hooked to the communications pipeline.
It is not hard to see such ‘digital detox’ nudges or programs becoming relatively popular in the coming years. But to apply this to your own regimens or to your property is not going to be easy. We are in a service business. Our culture demands that we be available for our guests at all times, and mobile communications afford us this capability.
So, start small and start internally. Let everyone know that their cell phones are not allowed in weekly planning meetings, even when put on silent or vibrate mode. Next, ensure that you set an example by, say, switching your phone off when dining or meeting with a guest, including contractors and suppliers. Reduce the number of times you look at your device so that you are in control rather than the notifications. When working away at your desktop, switch off SMS and set your computer to check for incoming emails only once every 15 to 30 minutes instead of continually.
It is not going to be easy, but you’ll appreciate the freedom. Then once you have improved or, dare I say, mastered the art of weaning your team off their cellular addictions, look to what you can do to help your guests in this regard.
It doesn’t have to be as drastic as making everywhere on property except the guestrooms a mobile-free zone. You can start with specific areas like the spa and perhaps one lounge or restaurant. Gauge the response as for all you know this attitude can garner a new audience you never knew you had.