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Is Your Hotel As Good As You Think It Is? Part 2
When it comes to creating a memorable guest experience, what has the ability to achieve a high level of customer loyalty conversion?
As we pulled into the resort property, we had a hard time finding the check-in area. There wasn't any clearly defined signage for where to check-in to the resort. It had been a little while since my wife and I had visited this property, and they had expanded. Throughout our stay, I noticed a lot of guests experiencing the same frustration with this lack of signage as well. (You don't want to start out by annoying your guests with poor signage on where to check-in.)You would be amazed what proper signage with the right message and meaning behind it can do for enhancing the guest experience.
Moving on to the front desk check-in... While my wife and I were proceeding through the check-in process, we realized that no one from the front desk had acknowledged our 25th anniversary or even welcomed us back to the hotel. (That was a huge missed opportunity to make us feel welcome and establish an emotional bond with us, right from the get-go. This is a great opportunity for hotels to differentiate themselves from all the other hotels front desk check-in experiences.)
The front desk person was more focused on the internal operation and administrative side of the check-in process, rather than being focused on creating a personal connection with us, to make us feel welcomed to the resort, considering the fact that our room was not ready at that time. We assumed this to be the case, since we arrived at the resort five hours before their check-in time allowed. My wife and I decided to arrive early to the resort to take advantage of the hotel's beach area as well as get a jumpstart on our vacation. The front desk staff did very little to introduce us to the resort property. Another missed opportunity. There was basically no game plan for any early arrivals to the resort on their part. We had to ask the front desk folks what was required if we wanted to go to the beach because they didn't extend any of the hotel offerings to us while we're waiting for our room. It seemed like when our room wasn't ready, their job ended, and the check-in process had come to an abrupt stop.
Don't make promises that you're not committed to keeping.
The front desk folks did say they would call us when the room was ready, and, that they would do their best to get our room ready as soon as possible, especially since we were on property so early in the day. They did not follow through on their word. Fast forwarding nearly five and half hours later from our check-in, we had to call them 20 minutes past their standard check-in time for our room availability, only to find out the room had been available for some time. The front desk person who we spoke to didn't realize we were even on property.
Customer experience design strategies for your check-in processes.
I think one of the biggest things you can do as a business is to have the ability to anticipate customers coming into your business. Hotels, the majority of the time have access to information about their customers before they come through their doors and have open lines of communication with them as well. This information can give hoteliers a tremendous advantage in how they can better anticipate their guest's needs as well as meet or understand their expectations. In our case, the reservationist knew that we were celebrating our 25th anniversary and that we had been to the resort previously. I even believe they asked what time we thought we would be arriving to their property.
There were some processes in place by the hotel to anticipate our arrival, which came in the way of pre-check-in list of anything we may need during our stay. We took advantage of this service and had them put in a DVD player in our room, so we could watch our favorite TV show. My wife is totally addicted to the show Dexter and was very excited to be able to watch the show while we were away. Unfortunately, the DVD player was not the right model for the type of TV in our room, and it ended up not working the first time around. This is what we call in the customer experience profession as an "unfulfilled expectation" and is one of the main reasons for customers getting upset with hotels, especially when you don't deliver on the expectations you created for your customers. They did replace the DVD player the next day. :-) Happy wife, happy life!
If a hotel is going to achieve any kind of presence of service excellence that has the ability to contribute to the businesses guest loyalty performance, it needs to understand the importance of integrity and how essential it is in creating trust with your customers. When a customer puts their trust in a business, it is to do something for them and not to them, and you back it up with your word. It's a good idea to have systems and service excellence standards in place that ensure that there is follow through on that intention. It's crucial for your people, processes and product to be in alignment with your business's integrity and core foundational principles. Hotels that establish experience management systems have a much lower incidence of having these type of situations negatively affect the guest stay.
The missing hospitality link for creating a strong guest connection.
When we did get into our room, it was absolutely beautiful, as was the entire hotel property with a lot of high quality touches throughout. However, there lacked a certain level of warmth and personal connection by the hotel organization and the employees. My wife and I were somewhat surprised that the hotel did not acknowledge our 25th anniversary, with some kind of in-room welcoming, such as a traditional fruit basket, chocolate covered strawberries, a letter from the GM, welcoming us to the resort and congratulating us , as well as thanking us for sharing it with them, with maybe some kind of champagne toast on behalf of the staff. This also would have been a good way to enroll us in going to one of their restaurants and having the restaurant pick up the ball from there.
Getting back to the early check-in process, I think there is a huge opportunity for hotels to get the guest experience off to a fun start, as well as increase revenue opportunities by creating a list of things to do while you're waiting for your room in an early arrival check-in phase stage of the hotel stay. There's a lot you can do here. Create a scavenger hunt experience for the kids, featuring key elements of the resort that you would want to introduce to the families, as well as familiarize them with the other products, services and amenities that your resort has to offer during their stay.
The same could hold true in a similar style concept appropriate for couples. You can combine different aspects of the resort into an early arrival experience that offers an early check-in discount on food and beverage outlets and maybe consider tying some other services to the experience, like a spa or poolside lunch experience and other hotel recreation aspects that align to your guest experience offerings.
This can also translate to all hotel segments. You could create strategic partnerships with other businesses that are in close proximity to you in an urban city setting, etc. See this as an opportunity to generate revenue growth and not as an annoyance that the guests are here early and getting in the way. You can promote this to your guest during the post reservation phase of the initial customer engagement period. The faster you acclimate your guest to your hotel, the better your revenue opportunities will be.
Firstly, this approach shows that you care and are anticipating their arrival in a proactive manner as well as being empathetic to the guest not having access to a room upon arrival. A key for creating great hospitality and service excellence comes through the presence of having empathy for others. This allows for more creative and innovative problem-solving to be available in the organizational perspective and will enhance a more proactive mindset in all areas of your business for improved processes and product development.
This is really all about being an intuitive hospitality enterprise that properly manages guest expectations. I really feel that this is a missing in the hotel business. There is a lot of doing, but I don't believe there's a lot of connecting with customers for creating an emotional bond with the business brand that encompasses the total customer experience. Businesses that create an emotional connection with their customers, flat out have better customer loyalty ratios and stronger financial results from those customer bonds.
Hotels have to be careful by not falling into the trap of making it about themselves
The level of employee engagement was very low throughout our stay in every area of the resort. The employees were told to inform the guests that there was new ownership and a new management company running the resort. This was something that the staff didn't feel comfortable doing. I could actually feel how uncomfortable they were, and we experienced this awkward situation constantly throughout our stay. It was quite funny because the staff would actually approach it by saying, "We are supposed to tell that we have... yada, yada, yada!" I just want to create a point of reference for my readers that this is a well-established and prestigious four-star, four diamond resort with premium luxury hotel rates, $$$$$.
The above practice would be considered a very internally focused business approach, whereby all the emphasis is on the company, and not on the guest -- just as was the reservation and check-in experiences that we had encountered. They were not ones that would be considered overly focused on the guest receiving a high level of service excellence. That has the ability to generate a emotional connection towards creating a positive and memorable experience. This is equivalent of going on a date, and the person you are with, talks about themselves the whole time and then sticks you with the bill. What kind of the emotion or experience does that invoke in wanting to get together with them again? Safe to say a pretty negative one.
A customer experience design strategy approach for the situation may have been handled possibly this way. They could have created a personalized letter for each guest staying at the resort. Notifying them of the new ownership and management presence and asking their guest to join them in their excitement by creating a celebratory offering of some kind, in the way of a dining gift i.e. champagne toast or dessert etc. This approach adds to the guest experience. Their approach detracted from the guest experience in my opinion.
You really have to consider what emotions you want to invoke during the guest stay. I got the impression from this hotel that they were banking on their location, their brand's prestigious four star reputation, and their physical product and service offerings to win the day. Somehow, the personality of the property was not really a priority to them, or creating any kind of emotional connection or rapport with the guest.
All those elements will not achieve a high level of guest loyalty conversion to your brand. It will, although, create initial customer engagement and usage, but not the sustainable customer loyalty performance ratios the hotel is expecting to generate, with regards to their ROI on the investments and daily operating expenses. Businesses that compete on the total customer experience of their business, rather than the above mentioned areas experience a much stronger loyalty conversion rate than the ones that don't.
You have to take a minute and ask yourself: Am I designing, building and running my business just to achieve customer usage or win the hearts and minds of my customers for achieving sustainable guest loyalty results? If they had created some kind of personal acknowledgment of our visit to the resort, it would have been very impactful on our stay. It also would've helped in building forgiveness capital for some of the shortcomings and the lack of hospitality and service excellence that we experienced at times. A little bit of caring, empathy and acknowledgment by a business organization can go a long way in this area. I.e. well there heart was in the right place.
The point I'm trying to make here is that we didn't feel very good about ourselves from these experiences with the hotel. It's all about creating great experiential value for your guest from beginning to end. Bottom line, you're selling memories in the hospitality business to your guest, not just a place to stay or to hold an event.
Thanks for reading. Be sure to read Part Three: The Hotel's Restaurant Experiences.
About the author
For over thirty years, Brett Patten has worked in the hospitality industry. He spent those years accumulating invaluable insight, knowledge and experience through his various positions, and studies, from when he starting out has a front line employee at the age of 15, with a four-star hotel in the 1980s', to recently completing his education as an executive leadership and engagement coach. Brett's unique management style consistently transformed his work environments by focusing on his people and customers for creating a engaging hospitality experience which generated strong sales and operational performance results. In 2007, Brett launched Fire and Vine of Virginia Beach, a new world wood fire cuisine restaurant built on a hospitality business strategy process that he trademarked and now calls "five-star customer experience design." Within the first two years under Brett's strategic business approach, Fire and Vine was recognized nationally for its hospitality management, design elements, employee development, customer service excellence, culinary cuisine, and wine program.
Today, after spending the last 15 years researching, studying and developing customer experience design best practices and strategy implementation for the hospitality and tourism industries. Brett has created an innovative Hospitality Business leadership and management Program. Which aligns all the business disciplines and strategies through a customer experience design approach, for creating a customer driven brand connection, as well as elevating the engagement dynamics of the business culture for establishing positive customer loyalty and sustainable financial performance results through the generating of exceptional and memorable brand and customer experiences.
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