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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