How to elevate the guest experience without wrecking your bottom line
In this day and age, there really is no excuse for being out of touch with guest needs and wants. Put yourself in their shoes. Experience your property from hotel research and reservation, through check-in, your actual stay, room cleaning, then check-out, departure, and all the post-stay marketing. Now examine every interaction you would have with a member of the hotel team and identify ways in which they can personalize the experience.
What’s important in this discussion right now is that, from the customer’s perspective, they’re primarily concerned with maximizing their own time. Yes, they’re cognizant of labor issues and global supply-chain hiccups, but that’s the property’s problem, not theirs. Even with all the post-pandemic bullwhips, they still want service like it’s 2019.
So, how can you personalize the entire guest journey without incurring sizeable labor increases? Examples include a short welcome note delivered in-room upon arrival, a thank you note in the room the night before checking out, and a bounce-back coupon attached to the guest’s departure folio offering an upgrade or booking discount bonus for the next stay. Three old-school ideas, to be sure, and undoubtedly you can finesse these without a large marginal cost.
Here are six specific areas where hoteliers can focus their efforts to improve the guest experience.
AUTOMATION TO THE RESCUE
Technology offers tremendous potential for elevating the guest experience without adding to your staffing component. Today’s customer is virtually glued to their mobile device. Growing numbers of properties are implementing a welcome note on a guest’s mobile device immediately after check-in, greeting us and asking if there was anything that we needed.
Managed through a trained machine-learning platform with support from live agents and escalation protocols, these programs not only improve service levels, but also free up associates to personalize service in other areas.
But, technology can do much more than deal with guests once they arrive on property. In fact, technological advances should be incorporated into every aspect of the guest’s journey through your ecosystem, starting with room confirmation.
Your goal is to embrace the guest before they arrive at your front desk. Apart from understanding their time of arrival and mode of transport, you can encourage additional revenue through pre-purchase or prearrival reservation of ancillary services such as dining, spa, golf, activities, or room amenities. Upselling platforms that can do this now are readily abundant. Rather than looking at this as a merely value-added sales opportunity, most guests will appreciate you identifying both the availability as well as the opportunity to simplify their arrival by making these reservations in advance. Time is more valuable than money, after all.
THINKING THROUGH ALL OPERATIONS
Many properties have a reservations center that operates on a fixed schedule – a common example would be 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the local time zone. But what happens when a potential guest calls outside of these hours or when the intake team is already tied up serving other customers? Often that call gets diverted to front desk, goes to voicemail, or is abandoned.
All three results are unsatisfactory from a guest-service standpoint. When the reservations call transfers to a front-office associate, that call often leads to unsatisfactory service for onsite guests at the front desk. The cascading effect is that now you have a dissatisfied customer in house, as well as one on the phone who isn’t getting your full attention.
The cost-effective solution here is artificial intelligence to field basic questions hitting an interactive voice response in combination with an outsourced call center service for overflow. New conversational AI systems are so efficient and personalized that it’s hard to differentiate them from a human voice. This AI technology often leads to further benefits including streamlined reservations staffing and added sales, not to mention improved customer satisfaction.
GUEST SERVICE STARTS WITH EMPLOYEE SERVICE
Have you ever heard of the saying, “Happy wife, happy life”? The same applies to your property. Happy employees lead directly to happy guests. The days of looking at your staff as expendable are over.
“Our business is simple yet complex,” noted Andrew Carey, CEO of Newport Hospitality Group, a management company with 50-plus flagged properties under management across the Eastern Seaboard. “We are people taking care of people. As leaders, we must nurture our teams with care and respect so they can be energized to take care of guests. Whether it’s through training, employee events, or individual praise, we must show our great appreciation for our team members and their efforts to make every guest comfortable.”
Often, it’s the little things that count. Yes, every hourly staff member on your team would immediately accept a substantial raise. That clearly isn’t a financial option. More plausible are several smaller initiatives that can go a long way toward creating an environment that reduces turnover and motivates team support for your guest-enhancing activities. Set a luncheon aside each month for birthdays. Announce the celebrations and provide a cake with small gifts. Significant work anniversaries should be both announced and celebrated with a more formal event where spouses are invited. Here, gifts should reflect the individual’s desires, possibly selected from a gift catalog. Support your team as you would your family.
On the subject of employee satisfaction, your back of house deserves some attention. When was the last time you entered your property through the service entrance? Does your BOH experience mirror the FOH? What is the level of cleanliness? How cluttered is it? Is there any natural light or revitalizing live plants? When was the last time it was painted? Remember, your team is conditioned through the environment of their workplace. Respect them and the respect will carry forward through their workday.
Still on the topic of BOH, your employee cafeteria needs attention. When was the last time you had a meal there? Better yet, why not hold your next executive committee meeting there? The days of greasy fries and burgers are over. Healthier food options will be appreciated not just for the long-term health of your team, but they will benefit in the short-term by improving moods, nullifying any refined-sugar-induced postprandial slowdown and improving immune systems to reduce sick days.
SATISFACTION AND SERVICE STANDARDS
Ultimately, what is a satisfied guest? How does this correlate with star ratings? Guest satisfaction means, at a minimum, performing to the expected standard. You should be looking to do something more.
If you operate a select-service property, guest satisfaction might simply imply a quick check-in, a clean guestroom, quiet air conditioning, fast and easy-to-connect internet, a large TV with a good channel selection, ample hot water for the shower, sufficient towels, a comfy bed, morning coffee, and express check-out. Meet all these criteria and you’ve hit the proverbial home run. Remember, though, that this is basic delivery. It doesn’t elevate the guest’s appreciation for your product as it doesn’t differentiate it from your comp set.
So, you must look at little tweaks to see what you can do just a little bit better. Think of ways that technology can, for minimal marginal cost, increase guests’ time so they have more of it for other experiences. Think seamless and frictionless, like over-the-top casting for your TVs or mobile keys. Even something like ensuring that your HVAC units have noise levels brought to a minimum can help by giving travelers more peace of mind.
THE KEY TO GREAT F&B
For properties that go beyond select service, examine all aspects of your operation to see how they can be improved to enhance guest satisfaction. Foodservice deserves your attention as, for most visitors, there is little differentiation between the guestroom and dining room delivery. In the mind of your customer, the restaurant can meaningfully impact the property’s overall performance.
Breakfast is the critical component, and we always recommend that a bed-and-breakfast rate be part of your package offering. At a minimum, your restaurant should be able to deliver breakfast promptly with ample quantities. It costs very little extra to make sure your coffee is hot and contemporary dairy alternatives are available. Now, make coffee service memorable by selecting a local supplier who creates an exclusive blend for you, then be sure to let everyone know about it.
Speaking of local suppliers, consider moving select items away from national food suppliers. By creating a local element to your foodservice, you further differentiate your restaurant and enhance guest satisfaction. Start small with local honey, jams, and preserves. These can be easily profiled and enhance your breakfast presentation. Re-examine your breadbasket selection to cost-effectively add further points of uniqueness.
Bars are another outlet where local suppliers can create further means to elevate the guest experience. Of course, you’ve already included several local beers on tap. But why stop there? Explore local distillers for gin, rye, vodka, and rum. As a subsequent step, challenge your bar staff to create custom drinks using these ingredients. It’s great for guests and morale.
AUTHENTICALLY LOCAL FOR ALL
Local partnerships can go beyond food and beverage suppliers. Dedicate display cases and walls in the lobby or other public corridors to local heritage recognition. Your tourism bureau will be eager to fill the cases with memorabilia.
Guests always are interested in seeing what your area looked like several decades or a century ago. Photos are available, usually free of charge, from your city archives. Print and mount them or load them onto a computer and display them on large monitors. Again, the thought here is that you want the guest to relish their experience with you. Even if they don’t have time to peruse it all, they will feel the love.
Memorable impressions are all part of enhancing the guest experience. Once you cover the basics, whatever you can do that is noteworthy and perhaps a little bit eccentric will lead to positive feedback and improved memorability. You have the power to make these modest revisions, so why not consider some of them today?