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Customer-Centric Hospitality: How Wild Horse Pass Elevates Service Standards for Their Guests

Season 2: Episode 30


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Located in Chandler, Arizona, the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass is a resort for any kind of trip—families, couples, and golfers alike can find exactly what they’re looking for during their time at the resort. The Wild Horse Pass team integrates customer service and a “can-do spirit” into everything they do. Hear how the staff uses teamwork and collaboration to maintain a multidimensional space for over 500 guests. Reviewer Jessica S. shares what stood out for her and her family.

On the Yelp Blog: Discover how this Marriott hotel uses and responds to customer feedback to evolve the customer experience.

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Behind the review shares a story featuring a business and someone who wrote their Yelp review. I sit down with the owner – or a business representative, and learn about how they make those consumer experiences happen.

This week, we are excited to feature Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass, a resort that prioritizes customer service in everything they do. Let’s see what’s behind this week’s review.

JESSICA: I’m a Yelpaholic, and I came across the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass, looking for a family adventure for my daughter’s birthday. Something that was kid friendly for girls around five and turning seven.

We’ve been meaning to get out to Chandler, we don’t get out that far very often, so I thought, why not? And that’s what drew us in.

JESSICA: I just researched a lot, trying to do staycations and vacations and I realize a lot of people do have problems with third party booking, so I always like to go directly through the website – that we don’t have any surprises, especially going long distance or for a special occasion. And it meant so much to me when I went to the direct website and booked, that I made an error, and they just fixed it.

EMILY: That’s Jessica S., telling us how she found Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass, a beautiful resort located just outside Chandler, Arizona. Sheraton Grand is one of the Marriott hotel brands. Like many Marriotts, it’s owned by an independent property management company, but it still needs to serve and train with Marriott brand standards, and provide the required Marriott amenities.

I actually used to be a Front Office Manager at a Marriott in Madison WI from 2013 to the end of 2014 when I joined Yelp! So I can totally relate to Marriott hotel culture. Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass really takes it up a notch. They don’t just do standard Marriott check ins, or have brand amenities like an on-site restaurant. They have a spa, an extensive conference area, and a small water park section of their pool. There’s something for everyone! Let’s hear about Jessica’s experience through her review.

JESSICA: I had an awesome overall experience. I made a reservation for one of our daughter’s birthdays for the incorrect date. I dreaded calling to request a change a few days later after reading my email confirmation. They didn’t hesitate to change it. There was no fee and no issues. I was so thankful! Mind you, I had booked directly from their websites.

They have their annual fireworks show on the 1st of July, which is the same day as one of our daughter’s birthdays. That is why I chose to book here. We love the drive out away from the local hustle and bustle where you can enjoy quiet nature and the beauty of the Arizona Desert. Yet we’re still close to shopping activities and additional dining options. We booked a top floor mountain view room, which allowed us to enjoy the Sunset Golf course and the fireworks show right from our patio. It was so close. We felt like it was there just for us, no crowds. It was just as good as our local city fireworks this year, maybe even a bit better. Over a 15 minute show. Awesome!

Service was top-notch from reservations, valet, spa and room service. Karen’s service really stood out in a positive way. Do they ever let her sleep? Ha ha. Meals in the room are delicious and a bargain. There’s a nice bar and a Starbucks on the ground floor. They even had live entertainment and it was great.

They have several eateries. Kai, which is seasonal. Enos Pool Bar, Civic Grill, and the golf club. The pool area consists of two shallow three-foot deep pools and one 14 foot. They were okay. They also had two spas. There is even a water slide with a pool of its own, though the younger ones weren’t quite ready for it yet.

There is an Enos pool bar which had yummy food and cocktails. They mixed great and potent drinks. It was hard to get service and wasn’t really busy. It could use more staff. We would have ordered more if it wasn’t such a hassle.

You can go horseback riding during cooler months, and they even have a boat, river paddle boarding and kayak rentals. The water was super green and it kept up. We kept so busy with everything else during our stay we passed, not to mention it was hot. They had balloons being blown up for the kids for a couple of hours a day, movie night at the pool, watching them make their artisan bread, good exercising, walking, and with the gym available.

I wouldn’t mind coming back, maybe just with the hubby.

EMILY: What a great review! Jessica shared some of the highlights of her trip, and even included some amazing pictures and videos of the firework show they saw. I sat down with Bill Hunter, the director of sales and marketing at Sheraton Grand to hear more about the business.

BILL: We’re a property based on the Gila River Indian community. It’s 500 rooms and just a phenomenal resort that really tries to represent the culture of our owners and deliver on the promise of great service.

BILL: We are a large resort with 500 rooms spread out. So we’re only four floors high. So we’re spread pretty wide. So that causes a lot of walking for associates, but it’s a beautiful resort. We have two golf courses, so 36 holes of golf on our property.

We have a full spa, that’s a five star spa. And then we have our five star restaurant Kai. So we really are proud about those two bookends of having two five star amenities for our guests.

EMILY: There are definitely challenges with running such a large resort that has a range of customers, all attracted to different things you have on site – yet Bill and the team take pride in the fact that the resort can be so multidimensional for their guests. And he also recognizes that since their property can provide different experiences for guests, they can market the business to consumers using those different on-property amenities. You could think of them like menu items, or service offerings.

BILL: Our main business is actually convention resort business. So, over 60, almost 65 percent of our guests that stay here are here for a convention or a meeting of some sort. So that’s a big component of it, but then you also have a mix of other people who stay here.

So you have your family traveler – who’s here with their kids. You have couples for romantic weekends. And then you also have people, maybe a group of guys that are coming to go play golf, for example. So really you have a lot of different groups and we can service all those different groups of people – all the amenities really allow for that. And so the romantic getaways are really a big thing that we go after by having that five star five diamond restaurant Kai – that’s very exclusive.

And then you have the spa whether it’s couples massages, or a ladies’ weekend, for example, is huge at the spa, where you can spend the entire day getting lots of different treatments and services in a really relaxing, serene environment.

And then obviously you wouldn’t be at a resort in Arizona if it wasn’t about water and pools. Which are always a big hit. So having the water slide for the kids and the pools. And just the activity going on around a pool. So, there’s really a little bit of something for anybody and everyone.

EMILY: Wild Horse Pass serves lots of different guests, coming to them with different needs. And in the hotel and event business in general, there are a lot of personalized and custom requests. I asked Bill how his team navigates that part of their customer interactions, because I think it can be a great learning for entrepreneurs in any industry.

BILL: Listening to your customers and having an open mind that they have ideas—it’s very easy when you get into this day to day routine to want to say no, because it’s human nature that you’re trying to survive and today’s just a Tuesday to you, but to the customer, this is a big deal.

They’re spending a ton of money to bring their team together for maybe it’s a celebration for a great year of sales or whatever. So while it may just be a Tuesday to us, it’s a huge celebration and event to them. So having that mindset, first off, knowing that it’s a big deal to your customer and then, listening to them. And trying to not have no be your first thing.

And so what you have to do is think, ‘okay, maybe we can’t do something a certain way, but here’s what we can do.’ And you start brainstorming with the customer. We know the property and we know our limitations, for example, on staffing. But together we can come up with solutions that may even be better than what the customer originally thought. Because you take their idea, with your expertise, and you marry them together and you can do some phenomenal things

But it starts with listening and really trying to understand what they’re trying to accomplish and then using your experience to help guide them.

EMILY: It’s clear that Bill and his team care about making sure their customers are heard and valued. And that continues beyond the pre-planning or event stage. They want to hear feedback from their customers after their experience at the business. For brands like Marriott, this has been in practice long before Yelp started in 2004. Asking customers for feedback is a part of their hospitality DNA. They even have a brand survey that gets automatically sent to random populations of guests. So being open to what your customers have to say is nothing new. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy! It’s just better to address it and grow, than ignore it and continue on ‘unaware’.

BILL: There are a ton of platforms that we get lots of comments and areas of opportunities in them. And so you have your Marriott review sites and then you also have, Yelp and all of these other ones. And so, we have a third party service that helps us with some of the reviews, but also internally we look at them on a daily basis.

BILL: We send out all the comments. We encapsulate them into a document on a daily basis and send them out so our associates can read them. And the associates that don’t have email, they get them reviewed with them in their daily lineup meetings.

And so that’s how important we take reviews and ratings. At the end of the day, if the review comes across as somebody just having a cranky bad day, it may not hold as much weight for us, as if we’re like, wait a second, this person really is giving you thoughtful feedback and, there’s something here. We really need to dig into this and see where, where we can improve.

BILL: And so Marriott has its own intent to recommend, which is a really big number that we focus on, is that intent to recommend through the Marriott surveys that are direct. So, you know, a percentage of guests that stay here get those random surveys.

So you’re looking at the scores – the scores are important. And then the critique is important. And really, you know, we try to look for common threads and trends because, how we see the property as associates, versus how a guest sees the property – don’t always align. Sometimes you miss something, right? When you work here every single day and you see it as you just get comfortable. It’s just like in your own house. You get comfortable and you see things. But I guess may have a perspective that was an aha moment for you or an area of opportunity that we can look at.

Sometimes you miss the boat and a guest has a bad experience and we want to recognize that and we’ll reach out to those guests and we try to connect with them personally and see what we can do to right the ship or at least acknowledge them. And, you know, in a lot of cases, people just want to be heard and want to be acknowledged.

And so we feel like that can be enough at times, it’s just acknowledging them. At times it could be something worth, you know, that we need to invite that guest back and prove that, hey, that you had a one off experience, and I will tell you, though, you know, the vast majority of the comments we get are positive, which are also great. And then you have, you know, the ones in between and these are the ones that personally, resonate with me. Are the ones that have positives and then also may have an area of opportunity in there because now you know it’s not just somebody who’s having a bad day for example right it’s a they’re they’re taking them time to say hey you did these 10 things great. Let me give you the feedback on this one thing.

And that holds a lot of weight. If somebody takes the time to tell you, ‘Hey, you’re doing this well, but here’s an area that maybe you missed on.’ That really, that speaks to me personally quite a bit. And, really we try to focus on that as a team and, you know, the truth is, you’re never going to be perfect.

You can strive for perfection. You can strive to make the resort great and every associate have a perfect day and connect with everyone, but there are going to be times where you fall short on that promise. And that’s where we try to fix it to the best of our abilities. We certainly value all the feedback that we get and continue doing the good, and fix where we have the areas of opportunities.

EMILY: It’s not about being perfect. It’s just about responding and reacting when customers let you know their expectations haven’t been met.

And sometimes it’s an easy adjustment. But sometimes it might be a little more work.  And it’s important to know that as a customer, sharing critical feedback can sometimes be better delivered when it’s surrounded by positive things as well.  Jessica has a trick for that.

JESSICA: Well, I always try to be positive. And don’t pick on all the little things because nothing’s perfect. I say that because most of the places that you go to like this, they’ll send you a questionnaire and you can speak about anything you wanna share. So I like to save that for at that point.  I’m a warm and fuzzy person. I love warm and fuzzy environments. I like feeling welcome. I like the yes factor, but I don’t expect any special treatments, not VIP.

I just want to have a nice time with my family and feel appreciated because I appreciate them. That’s what makes me wanna write when something is so positive, you know, it makes me feel good and I wanna share it with everybody. ’cause you know, it’s nice to have that.

EMILY: Bill and the incredible team behind Sheraton Grand Wild Horse Pass work hard to come together to deliver the best customer service experience. Both by internalizing feedback and constantly trying to improve the quality of their service, as well as having an “all hands on deck” team dynamic. Where everyone is willing to help out where they can, the team at Sheraton Grand leaves a long-lasting impression on their guests. And it really shows that they care.

BILL: I would say it starts with our general manager. I’ve been in the industry for 30, a little over 30 years and I can tell you the best general manager in the business I work for. And he has been here for almost 20 years and so he came on a temporary assignment, and the owners fell in love with them.

And he was at a much higher end luxury property at the time. And he’s like, no, no, no, I’ve, reached my pinnacle at this other property. But through some strong arm tactics, our owners were able to convince him to stay. And so what turned out to be a two week temporary assignment to babysit the property, he’s been here for 20 years.

But I share that to tell you he knows every associate. He knows their first names, their last names. He knows things personally about him. And, when it starts at the top like that, it trickles down through our entire executive committee to our department heads, to our line level managers, to all the different associates.

The hospitality business, what can make it fun is working together and coming together. There’s oftentimes unique moments in the hospitality business where, for instance, if you have a huge convention, and all 500 people check out in one day, we can have 100 percent of our housekeeping staff scheduled.

But the reality is you don’t schedule for a hundred check in and check out, you don’t have enough labor for that because that’s not a normal day to day business, right? It  happens ten times a year. So when those happen, that’s when it becomes an all hands call and we’re all in there, getting the room stripped down. But what a difference that teamwork and camaraderie makes.

I can give you another example where our property got hit by a microburst. So it was a really small storm that took out about 30 power lines. We have 500 people in our ballroom ready for dinner, and the power is all down.

And so the whole team has to come together and say, ‘what are we going to do?’

So our culinary team had already had all the cold salads all made and everything ready. And our generator backups keep the refrigerators cold, but we couldn’t cook hot food. So next thing you know, we’re on the phones, getting pizzas and getting subs and doing all this and we have staff driving out to feed 500 people, and everybody coming together and I will tell you, one of the greatest experiences our guests had because they knew it was out of our control.

This power came down and, and I’ve been around long enough to know I’ve seen maybe some places I would have just kind of washed our hands and said, we’re sorry, there’s nothing we can do. But we had this can do spirit and, and everybody just rallied around it and went out and got all this food. And it just turned out to be a phenomenal experience for the guests.

And they were so appreciative, even though it wasn’t the dinner that they were planning. We couldn’t have gotten better reviews and comments about it than that. So that also goes into the water of how to repeat these things and what to do when the unknown comes at you.

And that’s really what hospitality is about, is that can-do spirit.

EMILY: Perfection is definitely something all business owners and employees strive toward for their customers. But while good service is important, showing that the team cares and is listening to what customers want, is actually more important than being perfect, because it allows customers to feel like they’re getting personalized attention. Jessica explained that the humanity of the team showed in everything they did, and was part of what made her family’s experience so special at Wild Horse Pass.

JESSICA:  It doesn’t have to be perfect to be five stars because,  life isn’t perfect. It was quiet. The service was great. It was relaxing. The food was good. The drinks were good. We all had a great time. The firework show literally was better than our local cities. So we would’ve missed out this year, if it wasn’t for them. So I appreciate those good memories. And what they’ve done for us.

There’s a lot more to our experience than I actually wrote in the review. I could’ve been a little bit broader when we walked in: how the gentleman checking us in went above and beyond to make sure we could find our room. Everybody’s doing their job and being kind and working hard.

So even though it was hard to get drinks or food, I still had a nice time and they were still doing their job.

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