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The missing component from our virtual world: Hospitality

Here are four lessons I’ve learned about hospitality in a digital environment.

The missing component from our virtual world: Hospitality
[Source Photo: alevision.co/Unsplash; Christopher Burns/Unsplash; stem.T4L/Unsplash]
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Hospitality is an innately physical, human-to-human experience. My roots in hospitality extend back to my childhood. My father is an entrepreneur and owned a small bread delivery business. As a kid, I spent many summers on the back of his truck delivering to local restaurants and supermarkets. A direct line can be drawn from that experience to the ethos that I founded my company upon, which was to bring hospitality to the workplace by making people feel welcomed and supported.

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When COVID-19 struck, we temporarily shut down our locations to protect our employees, clients, and members. At the time, it felt like the entire premise of the company was at stake, not to mention the livelihoods of our employees and their families. Since then, we’ve figured out how to evolve our culture of hospitality into the digital realm.

Here are four lessons I’ve learned about hospitality in a digital environment.

1. PAY ATTENTION TO HOW PEOPLE FEEL IN DIGITAL SPACES

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Studies show that website information quality and service quality have a significant impact on the intent to purchase. This also applies to digital products. How are people welcomed into your software or digital experience? Is it intuitive, easy to navigate, and user-friendly? Do they understand where to find what they need? Regularly reviewing your site, app, or digital software using tools like Hotjar and UserVoice will point out the weak spots and ensure you’re taking nothing for granted when it comes to your digital experience.

2. PREVENT DIGITAL FATIGUE BY UNDERSTANDING YOUR CUSTOMERS

It can take a long time to draw out exactly what your customers need from your product, whether it’s a new website, app, or software platform. The practices of active listening, reading between the lines, and anticipating someone’s needs are more crucial than ever. I recommend something called human-centered design, which relies heavily on research to inform product design (in particular observational research). The goal of this process is to identify your customers’ latent needs. These needs are often unspoken, but they are where amazing product breakthroughs can happen.

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3. FOCUS ON CUSTOMER SUCCESS, IMPLEMENTATION, AND SUPPORT

Carrying white-glove service into the digital realm is not easy. If we didn’t have the right people in customer success, implementation, and support who truly understand hospitality or were willing to learn, we’d lose the brand value that we’ve built over the years. And that’s not easy to earn back. Hospitality doesn’t just apply to how you treat your customers but also how you train your employees. Invest in learning opportunities, including training your people on how to speak to your digital offerings, so you can better support your clients.

4. LIVE UP TO YOUR CORE VALUES AND STRENGTHEN THEM OVER TIME

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Living and breathing hospitality means that the corporate values that your company puts forward need to align with the reality your employees experience. Research has shown that more often than not, there is no correlation between company values and how the employees view them in practice. This is a sad reality that’s only exacerbated by the struggle to communicate and uphold values among newly dispersed teams.

As the MIT study explains, connecting the corporate values to desired behaviors and outcomes helps put them into action. When it comes to creating a hospitable digital environment, this can look like reviewing customer feedback with your support team through the lens of your core values and finding ways to bring those values to life with clients.

As we look forward to more in-person interactions, it’s important to acknowledge that digital interactions aren’t going anywhere. Instead, they’re going to morph and evolve with our new hybrid lives. The next big challenge for companies focused on hospitality is to figure out how to integrate that feeling into the physical and digital realms equally while finding opportunities for crossover between the two.

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Ryan Simonetti is the CEO and co-founder of Convene, where he creates dynamic work experiences both in-person and digitally.