When it comes to customer service, many industries have mastered the process in order to strengthen brand loyalty and provide a positive experience for the consumer. For example, retailers, QSRs and luxury industries have established customer service staples for how they run their businesses. However, when it comes to the hospitality industry, how do hotels manage to retain customer loyalty and turn their guests into brand advocates when most are just visiting for a short period of time?
I had the opportunity to interview Melanie Nayer, luxury hotel consultant and travel reporter, who has several years of expertise in the field, and was able to lend informative insights. She reaffirmed that delivering exceptional customer service is more important now than ever before in the tourism and hospitality industries, as guests are looking to increase value for money and are less tolerant of insufficient service. “Budgets and the economy will always fluctuate,” Nayer said. “But travel will remain constant. Providing guests with quality-driven experiences is what will ultimately lead to higher satisfaction and improve engagement with the hotel both during and after the stay.”
The Importance of Personalization
While there are many industry standards for customer service, there are a few things that drive satisfaction. Upon check-in, guests ought to be greeted with a complimentary welcome refreshment. Just as first impressions often influence perceptions, check-in is often the first touch point travelers have with their hotel, and it should set the precedent for the rest of their stay. From toiletries to bathrobes, these amenities add an extra dose of personalization that should be tailored to each guest. Nayer referenced a friend who had returned to the hotel where she and her husband spent their honeymoon. Upon checking into their room, she was pleasantly surprised to find a photo from their honeymoon placed on the nightstand. “When hotels go that extra mile to make guests feel valued, it enhances the overall experience and encourage guests to invest in being part of the hotel,” Nayer expressed.
Offer Customized Accommodations
Personalization is paramount to ensuring exceptional customer service. Nayer indicated that when guests visit a hotel, “they should feel like they’re coming home.” Social media and the digital space have accelerated the ability for hotels to connect with their guests and offer opportunities to provide the best possible experience. At no additional charge, many hotels offer consumers the option to enhance their stay prior to arrival by filling out an online membership with accommodation preferences. Guests now have the ability to schedule in advance what time of day they’d like their housekeeping service, or what type of pillow is preferred.
Additional hospitality options can be added as well, including yoga mats, exercise equipment and toys for those traveling with children. Hotels should make each guest feel valued during their stay. Affinia Hotels have been known to send complimentary desserts to guests who are celebrating a special occasion, like a birthday or an anniversary. Kimpton Hotels provide an “InTouch Loyalty Program,” offering options such as what newspaper you’d like delivered to your door in the morning, or preference on room location. For a hotel, small details like this can be the difference between receiving a good review or a great one– something that carries vital clout in the hospitality industry.
In order to provide exceptional customer service, Nayer indicated that anticipating the needs of the guest is key. If a family is traveling with children and the hotel offers day care services, it would be helpful to provide that information ahead of time, as well as offer to pre-book the services. For returning guests, hotel management can easily keep track of past room preferences, spa appointments and other selections to ensure that returning guests receive the same accommodations as their previous visit. For newcomers, hotel management can look into the profile of the guest and make suggestions and create agendas for activities that may be of interest, such as a day of golfing, a family banana boating adventure or a spa appointment.
Offer Multiple Communication Channels
Many hotels are finding success in adopting social media as part of their communication strategies. According to Michael Lazerow, CEO of Buddy Media, when it comes to digital, “the best hospitality brands have great content on their sites and on social networks, they are investing time and effort into growing their communities and they are actively monitoring the success of their initiatives to determine the best way to move forward.”
Four Seasons Hotels and The Ritz-Carlton excel at optimizing their digital presence to provide not only a voice, but also a point of contact for guests to ask questions and have them answered. Social media, specifically Twitter, is a two-way communication platform for hotels to advertise promotions such as discounted rates as well as offer travel tips and advice. For this past Valentine’s Day, Four Seasons launched a cross-platform campaign featuring romantic tips in its online magazine and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “A hotel is a brand. And like all successful brands, the message needs to be driven across multiple channels and touch points,” said Nayer.
Customer service is the essence of the hospitality industry and it’s the personal touches that are the catalyst for providing experiences that will resonate positively with guests. Much of hotel promotion relies on word of mouth marketing — whether that is from friends’ referrals or reading anonymous online reviews. When guests feel valued and their expectations are met beyond industry standards, it translates into long-term positive associations with the hotel that will keep them coming back.