Ms. Zoba

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Upgrading the Guest Experience through Customer Service

By Holly Zoba, Senior VP of Sales - Hospitality, Signature Worldwide

Do you hate when guests ask for free upgrades? Admit it, you do. A little reminder to all - we taught our customers this trick of the trade. By providing everything from discounts to review sites, we have trained our guests on how to be in charge and master the hospitality industry's secrets. And while it initially benefited us, customers today are now savvier than ever when it comes to asking for a better deal.

Depending on your type of hotel, your availability and these unpredictable economic times, upgrading guests may not always be possible. In fact, it might simply be impossible based on the kind of property you operate.

While you may not be able to provide an upgrade to a suite or other desirable freebies, you can train your staff to provide suite-like service to guests that will increase loyalty and get customers to forget the word "upgrade."

Every legendary customer experience starts with being proactive. The more you can prepare for a guest's arrival and think through their needs during their stay, the easier it is to consistently exceed your guests' expectations. In doing this you create loyalty and we all know that guest loyalty equals money.

Start by teaching your staff these five simple "service upgrade" steps to help make every guest's experience legendary:

  1. Do your homework.
    Know who your guests are, where they are coming from, what they like to do, where and what they like to eat, where they work, and how often they stay with you. The more you know about your guest in advance, the easier it is to build a relationship and make personalized suggestions.

    Everyone likes to be recognized and all guests want to feel like the hotel was built for them. We buy from people we like and we continue buying from people we like. Talk to your guest about their interests and they will come back again and again.

    How to accomplish this? For your transient guests, ask qualifying questions during their reservation and at check-in to find out if they have stayed at your property before, if they know the area, what the purpose of their stay is and what their interests are during their stay. Use this information to make connections and suggestions while building value into your hotel.

    For your regular guests, put together a photo album. Take a picture of the guest. Tell them what you plan to do - they will love the idea. Put everything you know about the guest next to the photo and add to it as your relationship grows. Make reading through the book of your "regulars" part of the daily pre-shift check list. Quiz your team about the guests' likes, dislikes and particulars.

    This old-fashioned Facebook can be especially helpful for night auditors or part-timers who don't always see the guest at check-in. This allows every employee to talk to the guest as if they have been friends for years! No, it won't freak out the guest. Remember, people love to be the center of attention when it comes to customer service. Imagine how special you would feel if employees at a hotel you frequented talked to you about your city, job, family, hobbies and hotel stay preferences.

    A more modern version can be created via your webpage or a social network, and can also help increase your online fans. If a regular guest was a friend on Facebook, you may already have this valuable information.

    Use this tool to make personalized suggestions. You've taken the time to learn about the guest, now do something with it! Offer to make reservations at their favorite restaurant. Maybe their favorite sports team is playing or a movie you know they've been eagerly anticipating was just released at the theater next door.
  2. Do daily mini service huddles.
    The keys to creating a legendary service culture that exceeds your customers' expectations is engaging your employees in learning and focusing on core service skills. Hold mini sessions throughout the day - they just take a minute or two - and make sure to talk to every employee daily, or have each department head run these service huddles.

    Talk about a different topic within your core service skill set each day and share the same message to all the employees. Some topics might include: Be approachable, acknowledge the guest, offer a sincere greeting, personalize interactions, be knowledgeable and be proactive.

    Share a story, give an example, read a quote, engage in short role plays, review the skill and reward good service behaviors. Through education and awareness of your core service skills and brief daily reminders of the importance of those skills, your employees will be better prepared to encourage guests to stay longer and more frequently.
  3. Do a courtesy call.
    Be sure to check in with your guests. Not just when they walk past the front desk, but place a courtesy call every time they visit. Wait 15 minutes after they check in and call their room to find out if everything is OK and if they need anything else.

    If the guest has a need, make it easy for them by being proactive and go to them first. Guests hate to walk back down or to call the front desk. A quick 30-second call can save you from complaints, bad reviews or losing the guest all together.
  4. Do something legendary.
    Legendary service means going above and beyond. By doing a little something extra for the guest every chance you get, you can make the experience memorable with little or no cost to you. One of our partner hotels solicits pictures of family members/pets and places the photos in frames in the guest room before arrival for their extended stay guests, making them feel right at home.

    If they always have a wake-up call at 6 a.m., offer to schedule it before they ask. If they always leave by taxi, arrange it before they get there. Walk them to their car with an umbrella, when it is raining. Check their flight and give them the status. If and when you have coupons or discounts to offer, share it with the guest before they see it online.

    Housekeepers also get extra insight into a guest's patterns. If they only drink decaf, give them extra and take out the regular before they get in. If they always ask for extra conditioner, have it ready for them before they arrive so they don't have to ask. A little extra goes a long way.
  5. Do a legendary check out.
    The guest's last impression is what they will remember the most. Ask them one question, "What one thing can we do next time to make your stay more legendary?" After the guest picks their jaw up from the counter as they can't believe you actually care enough to ask them this, they will share their feedback and appreciate your asking and listening.

    We are all pretty good at asking, "How was your stay?" While that is a nice thing to do, it usually sounds like a rhetorical question and is ultimately a waste of time. It just isn't specific enough. When a guest hears that question, they take into account their entire stay and give you a one-word summary like "fine" or "good." That doesn't really encourage the guest to share with you and it tells you nothing.

    When you ask someone the "one thing" question, you will get useful answers as it makes the guest focus on specifics. For example: "My overall stay might have been great, but I did notice that the shower curtain was a little moldy or I didn't have enough coffee." Now those are comments you can act on. Thank the guest for the feedback, promise to take care of it before next time - and fix it. That's legendary.

Do your homework, do daily service chats, do courtesy calls, do something extra for every visit and do ask your guests for their opinions. If you do these five simple suite-like service steps, you are upgrading the guest experience, your guests will forget the word "free upgrade" and in return will become your most loyal fans!

Summary

Use these five simple "service upgrade" steps to ensure a legendary guest experience, every time.

Holly Zoba is Senior Vice President of Sales for the Hospitality Division of Signature Worldwide, the leading provider of training solutions for the hospitality industry. Ms. Zoba has more than 20 years of sales and marketing management experience in the hospitality industry and is responsible for managing Signature Worldwide’s sales effort by determining best-fit solutions for hoteliers — helping them improve customer service and increase revenue. Ms. Zoba can be contacted at 614-766-5101 or hollyzoba@signatureworldwide.com Extended Bio...

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