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  • Shayne Paddock

Great Customer Service Drives Great Experiences

"Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do." – Walt Disney

"We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It's our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better." – Jeff Bezos, Amazon

Disney and Amazon: two of the best performing and most profitable businesses in the world, founded in different eras, each point to customer service and the customer experience as being critical to who they are and how they got there. I don't think this is a coincidence. The customer is ultimately at the heart of every business. With hospitality in particular, customer service is even more essential.

For hospitality, customer service has been a perpetual focus. From concierges who help guests with their individual needs to doormen that open front doors to bellhops that ensure your bags arrive unimpeded into your room, the modern hotelier can offer every conceivable service to impact the customer experience. Is this enough? Do these tactics positively impact the customer?

To find out, on virtually every hotel stay, hoteliers ask, "On a scale of zero to 10, how likely are you to recommend our business to a friend or colleague?" as part of their Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey. I would never try to argue that measuring customer loyalty and satisfaction is not important, because understanding customer satisfaction is vitally important. Hoteliers need to know how their property is trending and whether or not their guests will be advocates (or detractors). Benchmarking their experience is the easiest way to do this.

But, I would argue, that ancient philosopher Aristotle captured it best when he said, "Well begun is half done."

Today, hoteliers offer all of the services listed above and more to provide a great experience for guests. They capture some information on most, if not all, guests. Many even take action based on this information, and, with NPS, they almost always measure their progress. While great customer service can drive great experiences, most hoteliers have not yet reached their full potential for creating great experiences for their guests. Though today's customer service efforts are well-intentioned, they are also only partially done.

We Still Need To Know And Capture More Information About Our Guests.

More than ever, there are opportunities to capture information about guests before, during and after their stay.

During the booking process, do guests visit your website directly and read about your spa offerings? Do they consider booking a suite and abandon their cart? Do guests call the hotel and inquire about anniversary packages? Have these guests previously stayed with the property? Each and every one of these interactions is an opportunity to learn more about a guest and his or her interests before ever setting foot on your property.

During a guest's stay, did kids check in? Upon check-in, did you capture guests' social profile? Did they ask about golf options? Did they dine on- or off-property? Did they have any housekeeping requests?

After the stay, did the guests fill out a customer service survey card in-person? Did they dispute a charge? Did you see your property tagged in their social media?

The first step in creating great customer experiences is knowing everything you can about your guest. It's essential that you capture customer touchpoints that will help you to understand your guests – their wants, needs and desires.

Modern customer relationship management (CRM) technologies make the storage and capture of this data easier than it's ever been. Over time, you can build rich profiles of your current and potential guests and turn this data into a pool of highly actionable information.

These same CRM systems can apply machine learning algorithms to make room upsell or amenity recommendations based on the guest data you've collected. You can even extend that reach by using lookalike modeling to get insights on guests you don't know as much about. Modern tools make this easy and seamless, and don't require hoteliers to hire experts in those fields.

What Do You Do With The Data That You Collect?

"Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice." – Anton Chekhov

Collecting information is not enough. Once you've mastered gathering guest preferences, likes/dislikes, past stay info, survey results, etc., hoteliers need to act on this information and enable their employees to act it; otherwise, this effort is for naught.

All too often, hoteliers limit the use of guest profiles to email marketing. To turn customer service into great customer experiences, everyone from telephone reservation agents to front desk staff to housekeepers need to be empowered.

Armed with a guest profile, your concierge can send recommendations to incoming guests before they even arrive. When a loyal guest checks in and you know they like to be close to the elevator, why not acknowledge that information and give them the room they want without asking? When a guest arrives who had a problem on their last stay, why don't you give them a complimentary upgrade to help make this visit the great experience he or she wants? Housekeeping can make sure that guests who always request extra towels or foam pillows find them in the room when they get there, instead of having to call down once they've unpacked.

For employees to be able to take action, they need to be empowered to act by the hotel. Management needs to ensure that employees feel ownership over a guest's stay. Employees need to be trusted to make intelligent decisions without approval. Allowing employees to act without a lot of process means that guest interactions will be seamless. No one likes to wait for a decision, certainly not a guest on a vacation. By striving to improve the guest experience, not only are you likely to provide the guest with a great experience, but you are also likely to improve employee satisfaction at the same time.

Once you've collected guest preferences on property, you use that information to target them to become return guests. When that empowered concierge adds the show tickets preference to a guest's profile, the marketing staff can then send out promotions for when the new hit production comes to town. The same can be said for sports fans to come back for the next big game, or identifying foodies to let them know when the hottest new restaurant in town opens its doors. Micro-targeted campaigns can boost bookings by up to 28 percent and reduce campaign fatigue, which leads to guests unsubscribing.

What's The Risk of Not Doing Enough?

"There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction." – John F. Kennedy

It's all too easy to become comfortable with the status quo. It's easy not to make the changes that will enable your team to provide customers with better service. It's easier not to invest in technology that will allow you to change the guest experience.

The risk of inaction is that your competitors won't stand still. Many will invest in improving customer service, as the bar for a great customer experience is continually being ratcheted up. Customers expect more, and if they don't receive it, they will write about. These days, all it takes is one unhappy customer to undo thousands of hours of work – and millions of dollars of investment. Is it truly worth risking a bad guest experience by not investing in customer service?

If you want happy guests, don't forget to focus on happy employees. Empowering employees to make decisions on their own leads to higher job satisfaction, which can be directly correlated to employee turnover rates. Don't run the risk of losing your best people, because you don't trust them to do the right thing in the moment.

One luxury hotel chain allows employees to spend up to $2,000 per incident to solve customer problems without having to get approval from a supervisor. There's no limit to how many customers an employee can use the $2,000 rule on, and it applies to things like free stays, upgrades and gifts. It's working: employees are happy, and customers are extremely loyal to the brand.

I'm A Value Brand; What Do I Do?

"Frugality includes all the other virtues." – Cicero

Just because you're a value brand doesn't mean you can't also offer great customer service. Hiring the right employees means there is always a smile at the front desk. Warm cookies only require a $50 microwave.

The good news is that technology can be a great equalizer. Access to CRM tools no longer has to be a multi-million-dollar investment. Welcome emails can easily be automated for arriving guests. Each little thing that you do will impact the customer experience. Being a value brand is no longer an excuse for not offering a great experience.

What Does This All Mean?

Today's hotels guests are more discriminating than ever. As the internet and media have created full transparency on what's available in the world's best properties, guest expectations can sometimes appear to be impossibly high. The good news is you can impact customer service and drive incredible experiences with only modest investment and reasonable changes in how you operate.

It starts with knowing your guests and continues with an empowered staff. Enabled employees are happier, more satisfied and more loyal. This carries over to guests where they can take ownership of guest needs and ensure that every guest leaves happy and satisfied.

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