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Ms. Nedry

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Guest Service: Treating Loyalty Like Royalty

By Roberta Nedry, President and Founder, Hospitality Excellence, Inc.

Friends were planning their annual Fourth of July getaway at one of Florida's most prestigious and expensive resorts. This property had become a favorite and they returned each year. They started bringing friends, booked premium rooms, used the spa and all the amenities and spent a lot. This year, with a new baby in tow, they booked six months in advance, paid a deposit, and specified that this year they wanted at least one room in the old wing, feeling more comfortable with that room design. Upon check-in, no room in the old wing was available or had been set aside, even with the advance request and planning. To top it off, the staff on duty did not appear to be concerned with their dismay and invited them to go elsewhere if they were not satisfied with the rooms in the new wing. Premium, loyal guests who came back each year and who constantly referred other guests were treated like strangers. They did go elsewhere-the direct competition, who welcomed them with delight. Their friends and dollars went with them and they repeat the story of their bad experience frequently.

It can take years to get loyal guests like these, and only seconds to lose them. Loyal guests love to come back, when they feel loved too. They also spend more, are less price sensitive and enjoy telling others about their favorite spots. Wooing repeat and referral guests are part of a hotel's easiest and most profitable business strategies. It can cost up to 8-10 times more to get a new customer or guest, versus keeping and nurturing the ones you have. Why are the faithful so often treated so unfaithfully?

Many loyal guests come back and want more because they are comfortable with a business or property. Familiarity usually leads to more comfort and ease and less anxiety. Recently, when trying to order from two of my favorite catalog companies, I was surprised with cold unfamiliarity. Even though I had ordered several times, had spent a lot and had not changed any of my personal information, they knew nothing about me due to "a big change in computer systems". They did not transfer customer profiles over to the new system and were beginning from scratch with each phone call. I had to work for them to get them back up to speed on who I was, what I ordered and how I was going to give them money. I decided that I didn't want to work that hard for a company that did not appreciate or value my loyalty or business. Familiarity does breed contempt when the consequences are not contemplated.

When systems change or new employees are put into place, the customer or guest should not suffer, especially those that are part of the family. They should be at the top of the list when orienting or transitioning a new team or new procedure. Will service delivery continue to be seamless, or will the guest pay the price for learning curves and system changes?

Not taking repeat guests for granted requires that management ensure that employees understand how to recognize and nurture loyal guests. Take steps to ensure your organization treats loyalty like royalty. Those that do, reap the rewards royalty bestows.

Last month, while experiencing Lago Mar, an exquisite beachfront resort in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, we met Billy the bartender. In the normal course of conversation, we asked him about his job and what he enjoyed most. His immediate response was "getting to know guests and what they like, developing a relationship". He loves to hear guests say, "Hey Billy, see ya next year." He was passionate about his job and enthusiastically reached out to each guest without being obtrusive. He took his role in each guest experience seriously and went out of his way to recognize familiar faces.

After meeting him and several other outstanding employees at Lago Mar, I was curious as to how that played out in business. I asked the General Manager, Steve Van Hemert, how the resort was doing and what was most effective in securing business. He noted that even with all the advertising they do, referrals from other guests, loyal guests, are their biggest source of reservations. And, approximately 65-70% of their occupancy is repeat, with about 70% coming from out of state. Because of employees like Billy Rack, and his co-workers, guests do come back. The Lago Mar team places a high value on loyalty and recognizes the value and spirit of welcoming guests back. Guests who choose this resort also recognize this spirit and choose to come back again and again. Repeat guest recognition does not stop with good computer systems and national frequent guest plans. In fact, it begins and ends with employee guest recognition on a personal level, and employee empowerment to nurture the relationship with repeat guests.

Being recognized and appreciated is really so simple. There is a casual, local restaurant I visit each week, mostly because of the service. The thing that I like best about Bru's Room, actually a sports bar that serves wings and ribs, is they know what I want before I even get there. They appreciate that I come in each week with my two and a half year old son and know we like to order the same thing each time. Lauri Niles, who has been a waitress there for over four years, always notices us immediately, seats us and places our order before we even slide into our booth. She knows that my son's order of chicken and french fries must be split and the fries hidden in a bag or he won't eat his chicken first. They know what I need to make our meal enjoyable, easy and no hassle, something a mother of a two and a half year old greatly appreciates.

Even though they are mainly a sports bar, over 40% of the smaller, restaurant part of the business is repeat, loyal customers. Employees like Lauri make it so worthwhile to come back. She and her co-workers understand the customer has a choice and show they appreciate the customer's choice by serving more than food. They serve service and make the regulars regularly feel special.

Take steps to ensure your organization, whether big or small, national or local, is structured to recognize and appreciate your loyal customers and guests.

  • Orient all employees on the value of the repeat guest and emphasize how they impact the bottom line.
  • Give employees statistics on repeat guests and let them know how loyalty pays or does not. Remind them of the facts -- satisfied customers will tell 9-12 others. Dissatisfied customers will tell 10-20 others. Everyone always loves to tell a bad service story. Tell them referrals are a cost effective and important part of the business. Many of those referrals will come from loyal guests.
  • Give them tools to recognize loyal and repeat guests and empower them to go the extra mile Loyal guests will expect more and will want to be looked after if things go awry.
  • Motivate them to go out of their way to recognize returning guests, using guest names when possible. Enable them to have access to information on preferences of loyal guests and to offer them even before the guest asks.
  • Review how system changes may positively or negatively impact loyal guests. New guests will not notice but loyal guests will. Make it easy for them to continue to do business. Don't make them work for it. If guests have to work for it, they'll quit "working for you" and go somewhere else.
  • Make your guests feel like they have returned to a home away from home. Reach out and thank them for the opportunity to continue to do business with them. Go above and beyond ....their dollars will do the same for you.

Make new friends, but keep the old....one is silver and the other is gold. Put more gold in your pockets...treat loyalty like royalty!

Roberta Nedry is President and Founder of Hospitality Excellence, Inc. and has spent over 32 years exploring, delivering and managing guest and customer experiences and service training. She helps organizations to reach levels of exceptional service and regularly consults with executives and managers on transforming customer experiences. Her Hospitality Excellence Team is internationally recognized for its expertise in creating customer experience strategies that zero in on and inspire the DNA of each client yielding enhanced internal employee experiences and external customer and brand value. Ms. Nedry’s diverse background with both public and private companies allows clients to draw on her extensive career experience for business solutions. Ms. Nedry can be contacted at 877-436-3307 or roberta@hospitalityexcellence.com Extended Bio...

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OCTOBER: Revenue Management: Technology and Big Data

Gary Isenberg

Hotel room night inventory is the hotel industry’s most precious commodity. Hotel revenue management has evolved into a complex and fragmented process. Today’s onsite revenue manager is influenced greatly by four competing forces, each armed with their own set of revenue goals and objectives -- as if there are virtually four individual revenue managers, each with its own distinct interests. So many divergent purposes oftentimes leading to conflicts that, if left unchecked, can significantly damper hotel revenues and profits. READ MORE

Jon Higbie

For years, hotels have housed their Revenue Management systems on their premises. This was possible because data sets were huge but manageable, and required large but not overwhelming amounts of computing power. However, these on-premise systems are a thing of the past. In the era of Big Data, the cost of building and maintaining an extensive computing infrastructure is incredibly expensive. The solution – cloud computing. The cloud allows hotels to create innovative Revenue Management applications that deliver revenue uplift and customized guest experiences. Without the cloud, hotels risk remaining handcuffed to their current Revenue Management solutions – and falling behind competitors. READ MORE

Jenna Smith

You do not have to be a hospitality professional to recognize the influx and impact of new technologies in the hotel industry. Guests are becoming familiar with using virtual room keys on their smartphones to check in, and online resources like review sites and online travel agencies (OTAs) continue to shape the way consumers make decisions and book rooms. Behind the scenes, sales and marketing professionals are using new tools to communicate with guests, enhance operational efficiencies, and improve service by addressing guests’ needs and solving problems quickly and with a minimum of disruption. READ MORE

Yatish Nathraj

Technology is becoming an ever more growing part of the hospitality industry and it has helped us increase efficiency for guest check-inn, simplified the night audit process and now has the opportunity to increase our revenue production. These systems need hands on calibration to ensure they are optimized for your operations. As a manager you need to understand how these systems work and what kind of return on investment your business is getting. Although some of these systems maybe mistaken as a “set it and forget it” product, these highly sophisticated tools need local expert like you and your team to analysis the data it gives you and input new data requirements. READ MORE

Coming Up In The November Online Hotel Business Review




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Feature Focus
Architecture & Design: Authentic, Interactive and Immersive
If there is one dominant trend in the field of hotel architecture and design, it’s that travelers are demanding authentic, immersive and interactive experiences. This is especially true for Millennials but Baby Boomers are seeking out meaningful experiences as well. As a result, the development of immersive travel experiences - winery resorts, culinary resorts, resorts geared toward specific sports enthusiasts - will continue to expand. Another kind of immersive experience is an urban resort – one that provides all the elements you'd expect in a luxury resort, but urbanized. The urban resort hotel is designed as a staging area where the city itself provides all the amenities, and the hotel functions as a kind of sophisticated concierge service. Another trend is a re-thinking of the hotel lobby, which has evolved into an active social hub with flexible spaces for work and play, featuring cafe?s, bars, libraries, computer stations, game rooms, and more. The goal is to make this area as interactive as possible and to bring people together, making the space less of a traditional hotel lobby and more of a contemporary gathering place. This emphasis on the lobby has also had an associated effect on the size of hotel rooms – they are getting smaller. Since most activities are designed to take place in the lobby, there is less time spent in rooms which justifies their smaller design. Finally, the wellness and ecology movements are also having a major impact on design. The industry is actively adopting standards so that new structures are not only environmentally sustainable, but also promote optimum health and well- being for the travelers who will inhabit them. These are a few of the current trends in the fields of hotel architecture and design that will be examined in the November issue of the Hotel Business Review.