As consumers, customer service is important to most of us across the board, from retail to utilities. How many bad experiences are we prepared to put up with before switching brands? Our tolerance of bad service tends to depend on the availability or quality of the actual product. In the case of hotels, where customer service is such an intrinsic part of the product, recent research revealed that it only takes one bad experience to send approximately half of survey respondents packing for another brand!
As travel consumers’ expectations continue to rise (along with the proliferation of online review sites and social media), it’s more important than ever for lodging operators to hone customer service throughout the entire guest cycle to increase guest satisfaction. Focus on the below touchpoints pre-, during and post-stay to make sure you’re not sending your guests packing!
A property’s website is often the first point of direct contact with customers and makes an important first impression. Done right, your website has the power to convert lookers into bookers; done wrong, it will quickly send customers packing for another property.
Approximately half of travel consumers now research their trips online via their mobile devices, so having a mobile-friendly hotel website is essential. It’s important to get this right as a bad mobile user experience puts customers off especially fast. Read World Web Technologies’ Mobile-Friendly Web Design Tips for Hospitality and Tourism to discover the key ingredients of a successful hotel website. Make sure you stay on top of customer emails coming through your site, answering all in a prompt and helpful manner.
Social media plays an increasingly important role in customer service before, during and post-stay, so it’s wise for hotels to attend to customers on these channels too (particularly Facebook). Our blog post, 6 Tips for Doing Social Customer Service Right will guide you in managing your social customer care.
Your property’s online experience should manage your guests’ expectations from the get-go. Be truthful and helpful when representing your property and stay experience online; embellishing your property’s assets will only lead to disappointed guests.
The booking experience should be clear, simple and quick, whether guests book online, by telephone or in person. A complicated or unhelpful experience is likely to cause customers to abandon the booking process entirely.
The direct online booking process on the property’s website should be mobile friendly and easy to use, with as few steps as possible required to complete a booking. It should also be integrated with the property management system for real-time rates and availability. An intuitive system that recognizes previous guests, accepts discount or loyalty codes, displays alternative currencies, shows rates for flexible dates and sends automatic reservation confirmation enhances the booking experience further.
Friendly, knowledgeable reservation agents are also key to a positive booking experience. Every call from a guest wanting to make a booking or asking for more information is a valuable opportunity to establish the customer relationship (read our blog post about converting calls to bookings for some tips).
It’s important to find the right people for the job and to support them with the right software. A property management system should equip reservation agents with the tools they need to answer questions about availability, rates and rooms, to access and update customer profile information, and to enter reservations into the system efficiently.
The time between booking and arrival presents a prime opportunity for starting the customer relationship off on the right foot. During this period, customers may have additional questions about services such as transportation or might want to make special requests. Again, it’s important to manage customer enquiries (via email, messaging, phone or social media) promptly and helpfully.
Guests always appreciate it when you anticipate their needs and a good way to do this is by sending a pre-arrival email. Sent a week or so prior to check-in, the pre-arrival email can serve guests as a reminder about their stay (dates, check-in times, room type, etc.) and can include helpful information, such as directions to the property and onsite amenities and services they might find useful. It’s also a good time to invite guests to personalize their stay through targeted offers such as room upgrades and ancillary services — or simply invite them to let you know of any special requests they may have.
Relevant, helpful pre-arrival communication sets the tone of the stay experience to come. The process of sending pre-arrival emails can be automated by your property management system or CRM.
One of the most important touchpoints, check-in is the first moment of face-to-face interaction with new guests and sets the stage for a positive guest experience. A smooth, guest-centric check-in process relies on your front desk staff and property management system.
The face of any property, staff must be personable and helpful, even when they are having a bad day! Hospitality professionals are able to read and respond to guests appropriately and anticipate their needs, which is important from the moment of check-in and throughout the guest’s stay. Supported by an efficient and intuitive property management system, front desk personnel can focus on the guest in front of them rather than administrative processes.
Modern property management systems help streamline and humanize the check-in process by providing check-in reports, making it quick and easy to locate and edit guest folios, helping identify returning guests, and reducing manual administrative workload through automation and integration with other systems such as payment gateways and keycard systems.
While a negative check-in experience can dampen a guest’s mood and expectations from the beginning, an efficient and personable check-in experience will make the guest feel welcome and valued, and begin their stay on a positive note.
The time for a property to really shine is during a guest’s stay. All staff should be focused on creating a positive stay experience by responding to guest requests promptly and effectively and by anticipating guests’ needs to meet and exceed guest expectations.
Touch base with guests during their stay to check if they need anything and to remind them that you are there to help make their stay as enjoyable as possible. Showing you care goes a long way with customers, even those that always manage to find something to complain about, no matter how exceptional your amenities and services are.
Managing complaints and special requests in a timely and helpful manner is a skill frontline staff must perfect. It involves listening to the customer to understand what the guest really wants, empathizing with them, apologizing for the shortcoming or inconvenience, taking action swiftly and satisfactorily, and following up to reinforce that you care. It takes personnel who are resourceful and can remain calm under pressure. Our blog post on How to Maximize Positive Employee-Guest Interactions looks at ways to support staff in this role.
Your property management system also plays an important part in managing the guest stay by automating processes for more efficient service, and providing the tools to manage guest requests and anticipate their needs — such as guest folios and profiles, and housekeeping and maintenance reports.
A pleasant send-off is also important when it comes to building and strengthening the customer relationship. Like check-in, the check-out process should be quick and personable. Use the guest’s name, thank them, and ask if they enjoyed their stay. The moment of check-out is another valuable opportunity to show guests they are valued customers — and to iron out any issues that may have arisen during the stay.
Do your best to ensure guests walk out the door happy. Explain all charges clearly, and ask if they think anything could be improved for next time (or for future guests). If any conflict arose during the stay, apologize again and confirm whether the issue was resolved to their satisfaction. Simply showing you care can help prevent negative reviews and bring guests back.
A good property management system will support this process by streamlining the check-out procedure. Front desk staff can easily access any requests or notes recorded in a guest’s folio for follow-up, and integrations with POS, call accounting and in-room entertainment systems, etc. make generating invoices as easy as clicking a button.
The guest relationship doesn’t end after check-out. Leave guests with a lasting positive impression — even if they experienced some level of dissatisfaction during their stay — by sending a post-stay email thanking the guest (by name) for staying and inviting them to provide feedback, ideally via a quick post-stay survey. Invite guests to contact you directly with any negative feedback so that you can make things right, reducing the likelihood of unhappy guests venting publicly online via review sites or social media.
Again, this process can be automated through your property management system or CRM. Following up with guests in this way reinforces that you value you customers and care about the quality of service you provide.
You can find some helpful recommendations for managing post-stay communications in our blog post, The Power of Post-Stay Emails: Top Tips for Independent Hoteliers.
Despite your best efforts, not all guests will voice complaints directly to property staff in the moment, preferring the less confrontational (but more damaging) method of sharing negative feedback with the world online. It’s crucial to monitor review sites and social media to catch those unhappy guests that slip through the cracks; with the right approach to managing negative online feedback, even those customers (and potential customers reading the review) can be recovered.
Think of guest feedback (both positive and negative) as a gift. When customers take the time to point out inadequacies, they are giving you the opportunity to improve. Analyze feedback to identify actionable points — and act on them.
For more tips on handling online guest feedback, read our Best Practices for Managing Your Online Hotel Reviews.
As travel consumers’ expectations continue to grow, it’s essential for lodging operators to be receptive, attentive and proactive to each guest’s needs throughout the guest cycle. If all it takes is one bad experience to send half of travelers packing for another brand, it’s more important than ever for lodging operators to make sure guests have a great one.