Leading in Difficult Times

Jill Ellis | Contributing Blogger | Lifetime Learner

As a female raised in the southern United States, we bless everything and that’s not always a compliment. So naturally, when life gets hot and messy I want to bless it and not in a soft-spoken way but from a place of true grit and tenacity that have sustained me through many difficult seasons of life. However, now I’m a little older and possibly a little wiser, and the stakes are certainly a little higher.

“Bless this mess” is a relatable, quotable phrase that adorns creative signs, mugs, and t-shirts. However, it’s becoming somewhat of an anthem for me based on the meaning versus the catchiness. This little phrase has been on my heart lately, and it’s the guiding thought that walks me through this season of life.

Being stretched across priorities that encompass three states, three generations, and an emerging business is not an unusual passage.  There are many of my friends walking through similar places with some having more and others having less, but it all comes to the same feeling that can leave you drained and empty unless you recognize it’s going to be a mess and stop trying to make it neat, tidy, organized, or structured. I will admit I thrive on making sense of chaos and random or scattered pieces that don’t seem to fit on the surface. I love a hidden story and this season is no different. One day seems like chaos the next is calm and all the variations in-between.

Discovering the hidden story is about going below the surface. It’s not about the piles of unending laundry, the unrelenting list of tasks to accomplish, or the feeling of exhaustion from miles of driving and hours of conference calls and planning sessions. It’s about who and why. Just an example of what I think of when I think of my who and why:

  •  My parents because they walked through the valleys with my brother and I and never left our side. They told us how to love well, even when they weren’t able to be physically present they were always with us. It’s my responsibility and privilege to honor them in a season where their needs are changing.
  • My husband because he’s the person that completes me and never stops loving even when the storms rage and we are holding on to pieces. He deserves the same commitment.
  • Our children because it’s our responsibility to prepare them for adulthood and teach them to honor and love well. The teen years are a roller coaster ride, and we’ve just begun, but we cannot give up or back down just because it’s difficult.
  • My extended family because they are all dealing with similar issues and we are in this together and should support each other.
  • My friends because they are chosen family, and they serve a purpose in this story. It’s the giving and receiving of help with each other. It’s a carousel that goes round and round and sometimes up and down. We fill the gaps for each other and don’t expect anything in return–you just do it.
  • My colleagues because we are not just building a business we are building up people. Our team DNA is rooted in our love for the hospitality industry. We want to serve others, and in the process, we are also building each other up and allowing each to grow into his or her strengths and natural talents. All while navigating what life brings our way. Our people matter.

These relationships are a direct connection to the purpose of my life. They are all a part of my story. So for today, I want to embrace this with joy and see the beauty and meaning.

A few reflections about blessing the mess:

  • The people in your life are there for a reason. Honor them even when that means you cannot keep your to-do list on track.
  • Recognize when you are in a messy season and know it’s just a season that will pass. Look for the good.
  • Know your who and why.
  • Use your experience to encourage another person that may be a few steps behind you.
  • Look for others that may have traveled through a similar season and tap into their encouragement.
  • Love and forgive yourself and reject the lie of perfectionism or comparison.
  • Discover your hidden story in the mess.





Finding Purpose in Your Work

Focusing on the past is not a natural tendency for me.  Yes, I love seeing old photos and remembering fun moments along the way, but most of my thoughts and activities are spent focusing on the future.  According to all the professional personality profile and work style assessments, I’m naturally wired to think future.   What that also means is that I’m not the best at thinking in the present.

This morning, Facebook offered more than my typical scroll through cute photos, inspirational quotes, and political rubbish.   Thanks to the On This Day feature, I was suddenly staring at a memory that holds a special place in my life. Somewhat of a mile marker that I can now look back and see where the journey took a slow but purposeful turn.  It stirs up warm tears for many reasons. At the heart of my tears is this young man in the photo.

At the time this picture was taken, I was working for the IHG Owners Association, an incredibly dedicated and influential group of hotel owners and operators volunteering their time and talents towards collaborating and advocating for owners.  It amazes me to look back and see the amount of time these leaders volunteered to the association on top of running their businesses and living a life.  The association supports Give Kids the World Village, a nonprofit resort in Central Florida that provides weeklong, cost-free vacations to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.  On this occasion, we were volunteering with our Board of Directors to activate a more experiential understanding of this beautiful place we were supporting and asking our thousands of members worldwide to support.

For the evening of volunteer time, we were divided up to engage in different areas of the resort.  Some people were serving food, some were painting tattoos and nails, and some were preparing for a talent show. The atmosphere was so magical, and it was easy to forget we were serving families who have no promise of a tomorrow with their child.  They were living in the present and soaking in every moment of magic the village offered.   I was assigned to an area that was hosting kids for the night while their parents had a night out.  What I now understand that I did not know then is that a life-threatening illness takes a huge toll on all members of a family and especially a marriage.  The volunteers for this area lined up, and as the kids arrived, they were allowed to select the volunteer they wanted.   It was so heartwarming to see their eyes light up as they scanned the faces of volunteers and decided who to pick. After I was passed over a few times, I was starting to feel a little inferior.   Then, this young man in the photo arrived, and he chose me!   So off we went to explore all the games and fun activities the village offered.  Honestly, this place is like something you would dream about as a child–games, ice cream, candy, lots of bright colors, happy music, smiling adults and never being told no.

What I learned over the next 4 hours of that evening had such a profound impact on my heart.  This young man (who was the same age as my children at the time) did not want to play games or be entertained.  He just wanted to talk.  He talked for 4 hours, and my words cannot capture the beauty and brilliance this little guy carried.  He talked about everything from movies, to school to science to his life story.   Hearing him talk so plainly about his life with not one ounce of bitterness just shattered my heart and shook me to the core.  Beyond his battle with a brain tumor, he had a tough life.  What he had faced in life even before the illness was more than I could imagine bearing. Yet, here he is sitting in front of me just enjoying the conversation with great enthusiasm.   Later that evening I met his dad and when I shook his hand and looked into his eyes, I will never forget seeing the pain, the anguish, and the fear of living in the unknown.  I can see his eyes now and will never forget them.

The night ended with a talent show and then just as quickly as the day had started it ended.  We said goodbye, and I knew I would never see him again.  I felt so thankful for meeting him yet so empty and longing to listen to him talk more.  The truth is I felt helpless. The bus ride back to our hotel was long and silent although a lot of talking was happening around me.  All the thoughts were slowly unraveling in my head. The first thought was around why.  Why did this child have to endure a painful start to life and now face the terrible odds with this illness?   Why him, why not me? Why not someone else that deserved punishment for evil?  Yes, I thought it all.  The why had no answer that could satisfy my feeling of helplessness.

As the days and weeks after this beautiful encounter unfolded my longing for a concrete why turned into a desire to do more, love more and give more. I had no idea I was on the threshold of some major changes, but this experience prepared me for the journey. Seeking the why is not always about the external factors.   Seeking why is most powerful when it’s rooted and sprouts from the internal.  I stopped asking why and starting asking what am I supposed to do with this experience and let my heart lead the why.  In fact, I continually seek the answer to that question because our purpose expands and shifts.  The world has a lot of brokenness that doesn’t have an explanation, but we have the ability to make it a better place.

So today I smile and feel a little emotional.  This young man may never know what an impact he made, and I hope to have an opportunity to give him a big hug and tell him one day.  Wherever you are, I hope the sun is shining brightly upon you!

Key reflections:

  • Don’t miss what’s happening in the present.  We are not promised tomorrow and the past is behind us.
  • Something beautiful could be happening right in front of you and it could change your life.
  • Sometimes the things that look scary, ugly or messy end up being the most beautiful thing you will ever experience.
  • Someone needs you.  You have unique gifts that someone needs.
  • The people around you have a purpose in your life.  Don’t miss what they offer.
  • Sometimes you just need to listen.
  • Even a brief encounter with a person can have a lasting impact. Don’t miss the opportunities to talk to someone you may not know.
  • Seek your why and let it grow from your heart to reach others.

Jill Ellis, Director at iResponze and enjoys shaking up the landscape and never finds a goal too outrageous or a challenge too big. When she’s not helping her clients achieve their goals, she loves spending time with her family and managing her teenagers’ busy schedules.   iResponze® partners with hotels by responding to online reviews on their behalf. This collaboration allows staff to focus on what they do best – delivering exceptional guest experiences.

Lessons from Marriott International

Lessons from a year-long pilot with Marriott International.

Rose Mentrie | Contributing Blogger

When you are a kid in school, testing is not something you look forward to. In fact, for some of us, it can create high levels of anxiety and require many hours of preparation. This was especially true for me as I approached every test with a complex preparation plan that seemed to do little to relieve my anxiety. On test day, no matter how well prepared I might be, I always feared the worst: failure. In this context, we were conditioned to believe that testing had just one outcome – either success or failure. As a full-fledged adult, I’ve learned that testing can be exciting and anxiety-reducing and have multiple results, particularly when an entrepreneurial startup such as iResponze collaborates with a prospective client.

Three Lessons Learned

Earlier this year, we tested our signature online review response system in a pilot program with Marriott International. Four Courtyard® hotels in four different markets participated. We selected these particular hotels so we could measure if impact was similar across multiple factors such as volume of reviews, ratio of positive to negative reviews, and the hotels’ current response rates to reviews. The collaborative approach of the hotels and the brand leadership during the pilot period helped us improve our services, not just in ways that addressed Marriott’s needs but also with improvements that benefit all our clients. Here are three things we learned from this test:

  1. One size does not fit all. While we intuitively know that every hotel is different, our initial implementation used a consistent system for onboarding and using the system. What we learned from our pilot hotels was that, while the system was sound, it needed modification based on individual hotel factors. More specifically, we needed to modify our services based on the staff resources available at the hotel and the level of online interaction generated by the hotel. Those two factors influenced what level of service the hotel desired, leading to development of a tiered service structure offered by iResponze.
  2. Limit GM disruption. In our system, we design alerts for reviews that should be immediately brought to the GM’s attention. What we learned and modified through the test was the types of reviews that generated alerts. From the pilot hotels, we created a list of Red Alerts, those issues raised in reviews that should be quickly shared with the GM. Those Red Alerts generally revolve around five key issues: safety, security, bedbugs, financial, and unusual (those reviews that fall outside of normal feedback patterns). Limiting the disruption to the GM allows that individual to stay focused on what is happening in the hotel at that time, serving today’s guests not responding to yesterday’s.
  3. Trust the connection between hotel and response team. Building trust that someone outside your hotel can respond on behalf of your hotel is the first hurdle we encounter. How can someone who has not been to your hotel respond in a way that reflects your hotel’s voice? We learned through the pilot that we needed to allow for time to establish a comfort level with the iResponze team. Once that important connection was firmly established, the hotel became much more confident that the iResponze team understood their property and could handle guest feedback in voice that was representative of the brand and hotel leadership.

Passing the Test

In the end, we do look for success and failure in testing through pilot programs, but unlike my school days, these tests allow for revision and improvement. The only grade we receive is whether or not the client wants to continue to participate. In this pilot, I would have to give our iResponze team an A+ — not only did we successfully serve the pilot hotels, we learned valuable lessons that benefitted those hotels and will benefit future clients, including additional Marriott hotels.

Letting Go of Test Anxiety

“Learn as you grow” has to be the mantra for a new organization such as iResponze.

Without testing our system, questioning our assumptions, and putting our product to use in real-time, we would not be able to refine our services and discover better ways to benefit our clients. Though it may take me some time to let go of my test anxiety, I am looking forward to testing our strengths – and weaknesses – with other hotels and brands so that our growth leads to increased success for them.

Learn more about the Marriott pilot at www.iresponze.com/marriott.

Rose Mentrie, Chief Innovation Officer, at iResponze, helps hotel management companies create successful strategies for responding to online reviews. As someone who has worked with hotels and hotel brands for three decades, Rose understands that guests ultimately determine success at hotels. iResponze® partners with hotels by responding to online reviews on their behalf. This collaboration allows staff to focus on what they do best – delivering exceptional guest experiences.


Customer Service in a Digital Age

A recent report sparked a debate in our offices: should you take notes by hand or on a device? Is there any value in writing anything by hand?

I confess. I am a handwriting enthusiast. I like writing things by hand. I keep notebooks, shopping lists, sticky notes with reminders, to help me through my day. I visualize the page in a notebook when I’m trying to recall an instruction or outcome. I was not at all surprised that the study revealed that taking notes by hand was more effective as a study tool than typing notes into a device.

Facts vs. concepts

In the study, both groups of participants – those who wrote by hand and those who typed – were asked to watch TED talks. After watching and taking notes either in a notebook or on a laptop, the two groups were able to equally recall basic facts, but the group who wrote by hand performed significantly better on “conceptual-application” questions. When the students had to formulate an answer based on remembering and applying a concept, those who typed into a device did poorly. The scientists attributed this poor performance to two factors:

  1. When typing into a device, the students were focused on documenting the lecture verbatim. They were focused on just writing the words they heard not listening to the concepts. Those who wrote by hand had to be selective on what they wrote down, so they tended to listen and evaluate as they made notes.
    Devices are distracting. Students on devices were likely to click over to social media or other applications when the lecture seemed a little dull.
  2. Our group takeaway was that writing by hand slowed you down and encouraged you to focus, to stay engaged in the material. We all agreed that spending some time away from our screens and devices was not a bad idea. Which led us to agree that slowing down and getting back to pen and paper might be an even bigger idea.

Back to basics

Getting back to pen and paper in a high-tech world is like swimming against the tide. We agreed that both notebooks and devices have places of usefulness. We all love our devices for keeping lists, maintaining appointments, and keeping up with social media. We also all found great joy in RECEIVING a handwritten note, whether it is one tucked into a suitcase before a trip or a card delivered in the mail. And we realized that SENDING a handwritten note could generate just as much joy.

Because we work in the online world, we wondered how might this relate to responding to reviews. Did slowing down and focusing on context have a place in responding? We believe so. If you just focus on the verbatim complaints in the review, you miss the emotion the guest is sharing. If you cannot put the review into context from the guest’s perspective, you miss the story. If you slow down, focus on the elements of the review, and then respond with relevant emotion and tact, you can change the dialogue. Just as taking notes by hand slows down the process and encourages the writer to listen and think about what is heard, we can slow down and reflect on the guest’s story.

Enjoy the revival

Over the years, I have encouraged my children to make note cards to study. I have required them to write thank you notes. I wanted to share my belief that writing by hand has benefits. Recently, my daughter graduated from high school, and though it took her all summer, she finally completed her thank you notes just before she left for college. I did not proofread them – just addressed the envelopes and popped them in the mail. Later, both my mother-in-law and my sister made a point to tell me how much they enjoyed my daughter’s notes, how touched they were to receive them. They described them as charming and funny and lively, just like my daughter.

Our ability to improve our understanding with pen and paper, my family’s joy at that tiny moment in a day, for those reasons alone I believe it is worthwhile to slow down and write by hand. And the team here agrees. We have challenged ourselves to send a handwritten note, to close our devices and give more attention during a meeting. We’re embracing the handwriting revival!

Christine Lambert, contributing blogger and fellow social butterfly, is a communications consultant with more than 25 years working in wide variety of communications roles. She spent more than a decade working with hotels and hotel brands to amplify their messages with internal and external customers.  iResponze® partners with hotels by responding to online reviews on their behalf. This collaboration allows staff to focus on what they do best – deliver exceptional guest experiences.

Strengthening Customer Relationships with Social Media

Christine Lambert | Guest Blogger


The other day while shopping at my local grocery store, I looked up from my list and made eye contact with the woman coming toward me. We both made that face – you know the one where you realize you’re supposed to know that person, and you can’t remember her name. Then, our light bulbs almost visibly lit up above our heads, and we realized we were high school classmates and Facebook friends. We had a robust relationship on Facebook, sharing mutual friends and seeing posts from each other, but in the offline world, we had no relationship. I realized then that we had entered an entirely new world of relationship building.

Social media is your relationship friend

In January of this year, Pew Center research released an in-depth report on relationships in a digital age. They wanted to evaluate the impact on relationships that social media was having on our relationships. They concluded that “… research is showing that the internet is not destroying relationships or causing people to be anti-social. To the contrary, the internet is enabling people to maintain existing ties, often to strengthen them, and at times to forge new relationships.”

What this means is we are in an “AND” environment. I think Paul Tredwell, a leading communications consultant, explained it well in a recent blog post: “It has been said that we live in a world of ‘and’. We no longer want to choose A or B, we want both. We want it all, now. Digital innovation has contributed massively to this belief in the endless possibility and changed for all time how we manage our relationships, private, public and professional.”

We are now building relationships not just offline (real) but also online (virtual). We maintain all our usual ways of building relationships with family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, all the humans in our lives. And, now in a digital age, we also have to maintain relationships with them and others online. Whether it is maintaining a website to share company information, trading information by email, texting your parents, or promoting your goods and services through social media, you’re maintaining relationships via online.

Strengthen your core

The Pew Center research results are quite extensive, but I found one result particularly interesting as we try to balance all of this relationship building: with our core relationships, we still relied on traditional (pre-internet) means of communicating – a phone call and an in-person visit. (Core ties are the people with whom you have very close relationships — you discuss important matters with them and seek their help.) In fact, the study found that Americans, on average, are in at least weekly in-person contact with a median of 5 core ties and four significant ties. We are investing valuable time building relationships, nurturing them, both in person and through digital connections.

Which led me to ask: How can we find the energy to care for all these relationships through all these channels? I think the answer is simple – choose wisely. Don’t fall into the trap of being everywhere because everybody else says so. Don’t convince yourself to be best friends with that friend of a friend just because someone else thinks you have a lot in common. And for goodness sake, don’t keep dating that person who is all wrong for you just because you don’t want to try again to find the right one. Put the energy into finding the right ones, and by that I mean, right people, right social media, right relationships that build you up and energize you. Establish your core connections and keep them active.

Achieving online/offline balance

Sharing the wisdom of Paul Tredwell one more time: “… let’s not allow the momentum of digital communication to replace or even diminish face-to-face or voice-to-voice interaction. In a complex, challenging, relentless business environment, personal contact is more important than ever.”

At iResponze, they focus on online relationships, and like me, they would encourage you to find a balance for your relationships. Never should online lives take us away from offline ones. Let’s never forget the power of a handshake with a colleague, a face-to-face talk with a friend, and a hug from a parent. Without these offline interactions, we are poorer people, no matter how rich our online life becomes. Online communication is just relationship building in the new digital world.

What tips do you have for maintaining strong relationships in a digital age?

Christine Lambert, contributing blogger and fellow social butterfly, is a communications consultant with more than 25 years working in wide variety of communications roles. She spent more than a decade working with hotels and hotel brands to amplify their messages with internal and external customers. iResponze® partners with hotels by responding to online reviews on their behalf. This collaboration allows staff to focus on what they do best – deliver exceptional guest experiences.



Budgeting for Online Reputation Management

shutterstock_154870316_medLately here at iResponze® we’ve been talking about wish lists. It seems every celebration during this traditional wedding and graduation season warrants an online/in-store wish list, a registry of all the items a grad or young couple “needs.” Which led us to talk about how ideas of need, these wish lists, are really about the visions people are creating for how they want to live.

All of this wish list discussing led us to consider the impending budget season facing you in your hotels. Wouldn’t you like to create a wish list for your hotel’s vision, forward it to your CFO, and wait for the goodies to arrive? We know that’s not how it works, but you can still adopt the concept of building your wish list first. If you start by considering what tools and resources you believe you need in your hotel, then prioritize by how they would achieve goals, what would rise to the top? We suggest you position guest-focused resources as high on the wish list as you can. Because without guests, you won’t need new bedding, additional staff or more marketing dollars.

Eyes on reviews

Your guests have so many paths to find your hotel – with new ones popping up every week. This growth of online visibility has created an entirely new avenue for guest service – online reputation management. And if you have not yet investigated how to manage your online reviews, we suggest you do so quickly because your guests are using them to make choices.

  • A study by Medallia, released in March 2015, reported that hotels responding to more than 50% of social media reviews grow occupancy rates at more than twice the rate of hotels ignoring reviews.
  • The same study reported that responding to more than 50% of reviews correlates with 6.8 percentage points of growth in occupancy rates.
  • Plus, hotels that responded to feedback in less than a day boasted occupancy rates 12.8% higher than properties taking two days to respond.

If responding to your reviews is not a priority, you are definitely sacrificing both repeat and new visits to your hotel.

Eyes on competition

Beyond your guests, your competitors are ramping up their investments in online reputation management. According to TripAdvisor research, for 2016,

  • 93% of hoteliers said online traveller reviews are important for the future of their business and online reputation management would be the biggest area of investment
  • 59% would be investing more in this area than in the previous year.

Does your wish list include resources for enhanced online review response management? We’ve heard from our clients that adding personnel to handle this high-impact part of your business is a tough sell to your CFO. But an affordable resource, such as iResponze, could be an option your CFO would welcome.

Welcome to your next guest opportunity

As well-traveled social butterflies ourselves, we know it is critical to be responsive to reviews, definitely all of the bad ones and usually some of the good ones. Guests are not just looking at ratings. They’re digging deep into what your previous guests complimented or complained about. They understand that sometimes an item is missed in the housekeeping process, but they don’t want to see these oversights mentioned by multiple guests. They want to see well-maintained guest rooms – and to be frank, they don’t care about your budget issues to repair the carpet or paint the hallways. They want to see that your guests were heard and that their concerns have been addressed. They want to hear your hotel’s “voice” in your review responses. iResponze does all of this for hotels without requiring additional personnel at the hotel. Sounds like a high-priority, wish list item that delivers on your guest promises.

Will online response management be on your hotel’s wish list for 2017? Where will your hotel place its budget priorities?

iResponze® partners with hotels by responding to online reviews on their behalf. This collaboration allows staff to focus on what they do best – deliver exceptional guest experiences.