By Joseph Smith
In an industry where service is king, the value of delivering a great guest experience—or, on the flip side, the pitfalls of failing to provide that kind of memorably positive experience—is familiar territory to hoteliers. But in the context of today’s challenging economic landscape, this is an issue that is more relevant than ever and demands new scrutiny.
At a time when resources are scarce and consumers are responding to financial belt-tightening by becoming both more selective and more demanding in their hotel choices, improving your customer service scores is not a luxury; it is a necessity. In fact, for many hotels who might not be able to make the kinds of capital investments they are accustomed to, customer service might be one of the only ways to add real value and stand out from the crowd in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Service always has been a difference-maker. However, in this economic climate, it is the difference-maker.
Faced with this challenging economic landscape and a host of new technologies and new social and professional realities that can heighten both the positive and negative impact of even a single guest experience (both positive and negative), the service stakes have been raised. In this newly competitive and connected new world, what do operators need to know—and more importantly—need to do to adjust to these new realities and consistently deliver outstanding customer service?
1. Establish a service culture
Traditional industry thinking maintains that great customer service always begins with training. Training is always important, of course, but it is actually procedures and most importantly strong leadership that are the lasting foundation of consistent customer service.
Having the right leaders who are customer-service focused and firmly committed to establishing a service culture that is efficient and streamlined is where service is supported within a property—and then further established as an integral part of the culture. To ensure your property garners top service scores year after year by offering a memorable guest experience, savvy owners and operators should not hesitate to continuously evaluate their policies and procedures to ensure they are doing all they can optimize the comfort and convenience of their guests—ultimately garnering brand loyalty for the long term.
If the right procedures and the right leaders are not in place, all the training in the world will not elicit the kind of top-notch service results that meet customers’ needs and satisfy your own professional objectives.
2. Focus on quality—not quantity
New economic realities have impacted staffing structures across the industry. Most hotels simply do not have the same volume of employees or the layers of management today that existed 10 years ago. With a smaller team, motivated and knowledgeable employees are an even more valuable asset.
Nowhere is that asset more impactful than with respect to customer service. Whether leaner staffing is a strategic decision or a financial necessity, it is important to adapt to those new staffing realities by updating procedures and creating new efficiencies. A reduction in manpower does not mean compromising service. Quite the contrary: There are new opportunities to give employees the procedural tools they need to provide attentive and responsive service.
3. Listen to your employees
Ensuring that policies and procedures are efficient and both associate-friendly and customer-friendly is a key first step in elevating service levels. Getting those processes in place, however, often requires a level of flexibility and openness about what those policies and procedures will look like.
Sometimes that might mean creating a forum to listen to not only managerial staff, but also to associates and team members; integrating their ear-to-the-ground, hands-on input into your operational model. It should come as no surprise the best ideas about new housekeeping efficiencies and customer service improvements might very well come from candid feedback from the housekeeping staff.
4. Empower your team
Policies and processes must be designed in a way that facilitates memorable customer service–not restricts it.
For example, if you have a front desk clerk who is unable to address a minor customer complaint about a customer’s bill without bringing in management, the resulting slowdown in service and compromised operational efficiency can have a disproportionately large impact and result in an encounter that creates more than one frustrated customer. Consider empowering your associates with the appropriate accountability and responsibility to deal with customer issues and create optimal conditions for timely customer service.
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5. Online and on time
The best way to avoid customer service lapses is to maintain brand standards and quality. Work with staff to try to anticipate structural problems and service gaps before they arise.
When issues do come up, the priority should always be to address those issues quickly and efficiently. The immediacy of online forums and other new and emerging communications channels makes a prompt response to any service lapse a necessity.
Today, customer feedback is often broadcast immediately to hundreds or even thousands of connections via robust social networks. Negative feedback can occur when guests are still present in a hotel—and it is this type of visibility, both positive and negative, that can impact a hotel’s reputation for the long-term. Offering great customer services today also means ensuring on-site staff is monitoring and responding to social networks.
6. Respond to new challenges
Economic uncertainties have created a marketplace where hotel guests are demanding the absolute maximum value for their dollar. In a more competitive market, those always important customer service scores can become definitive. Increasingly, small details make a big difference.
While margins might be tighter, cutting costs should not and must not limit investments in customer service. The good news is, those investments are perhaps the single most cost-effective way to add value without breaking the bank. And at a time when value is at a premium for hotel owners and operators as well as an increasingly demanding and selective customer base, that strong customer service return on investment is very appealing.
7. Go above and beyond
The growing influence and importance of social media and travel- and hospitality-rating sites accentuates the impact of every single guest experience. Going above and beyond to deliver a little extra resonates more today than ever before.
Encourage your team to fulfill the ideals of great customer service by coming through for your guests in a unique circumstance. Helping a customer get a package to the post office on a tight deadline is a small convenience, but it can pay big customer service dividends.
Headquartered in Greenbelt, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C., Chesapeake Hospitality is a mid-sized, third-party hotel management company with a proven track record in both full- and select-service hotels. Ranked in the top 50 largest independent operators, the company manages properties under the Hilton, Starwood and InterContinental Hotel Group brand families. For additional information, visit the company’s website.
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