We’re all familiar with the sayings about a first impression:
A first impression is a lasting impression. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. You only get one chance to make a first impression. A lasting impression forms within the first seconds.
So does that mean if you make a great first impression that's all you need to do?
We sometimes put so much energy into a positive first impression that we then forget all about the lasting impression. What is the impression that stays with your guests when they leave your hotel? What will be the lasting memory that stays with them when they're thinking about booking their next visit, telling their friends or colleagues about their stay or telling the world on review sites about their experience?
Ask for their feedback
If what you have provided fails to meet expectations, wouldn't you rather know about it before the guest leaves? Simply relying on reviews, questionnaires or a visitor's book when your customers leave is not only impersonal, but it’s too little too late.
Face-to-face feedback will always be the most effective, but making a hurried statement such as, "I hope everything was OK," as the guest checks out doesn't do much to demonstrate that you're really interested in the feedback. Make it easy for your customers to give you useful feedback by asking specific questions that will give something more than a yes or no. Open questions with “how” or “what.” For example: “How would you rate ... ?” “How could we improve on ... ?” “What did you like most about ... ?”
Talk to your customers throughout their stays
Leaving a lasting impression means more than only showing your interest when guests leave. Being visible in your business and making contact with your guests throughout their stays builds rapport and trust. Once you've gained this you're in a far better position to identify guests’ needs and expectations and gain valuable feedback first hand. The same goes for your staff, too, so encourage them to talk to your customers. Give them the appropriate training to ask for feedback in the knowledge they are confident to deal with it—good or bad—in a positive way.
Accept that from time to time things will go wrong; there may be occasional delays at breakfast, you'll get power cuts, you might run out of their favorite tipple in the bar, fellow guests or deliveries might disturb your guests in the early hours, something might get overlooked by housekeeping. Most of our guests are reasonable, and they understand these things happen too, just as long as you're prepared to listen, empathize and do something about it to resolve the situation.
The sooner problems are identified the better. Be observant and look for signs things aren't right or that someone wants to get your attention. Addressing a problem early on and in a positive way not only ensures it is corrected before other guests experience the same but also that you resolve the issue with affected guests before they tell the world about it.
Identify the little finishing touches that you can give guests at the end of their stay that will leave them with that “wow” factor. This might be picking up on an earlier conversation you've had with the guest that enables you to give them a personalized memento of their stay.
For example, they raved about a particular dessert, so your chef has written out the recipe for them. They've been away on business and missed their wife's birthday, so you assemble and gift wrap a selection of your luxurious toiletries for them to take home. They lost something on a day trip and you manage to source a replacement for them before they leave.
Don't fall down at the last hurdle
Maintain a high level of service throughout a guest’s stay. Breakfast on their last day should be memorable for the right reasons; offer consistent service and be mindful of people's travel plans. Offer a helping hand with their bags not just down to reception but out to their cars, too. Have guests’ bills ready when they come to check out (or offering the option to have these settled up the night before) so their lasting memory is not one of hanging around to part with their money and getting irritated that their travel schedule is now behind. Remind them of any procedures to get out of the car park, such as a token or a pin number at the exit barrier.
These basics extend to conference guests and organizers, too. All too often I find conference and event organizers are nowhere to be found at the end of a long day when you truly appreciate a helping hand with clearing up after the meeting or conference and getting equipment back to your car.
Going the extra mile
What can you do to make guests’ onward journeys all the easier? Assist with online airline check-in; arrange taxis; look up train times; print directions; check the travel updates; look up an updated weather forecast of their next destination; and do all of these things the night before they leave and offer to do so before being asked. Help them get on their way by scraping ice off their windscreen (or washing off the squashed insects, depending on your climate and time of year); writing out a list of your favorite coffee or lunch stops en route to their destination; highlighting the worthwhile detours to visit a hidden gem they won't find in the guidebook; or to avoid a tedious bottleneck. Send them off with a little travel goody bag of a bottle of water and a snack if they have a long journey ahead of them, or a little puzzle or game to keep the kids amused for a moment or two.
Show you appreciate their business
Your relationship shouldn't end the minute they walk out the door. Keep in touch with your guests. The first and most obvious way to make contact with them after they've left is to write and thank them for their business—not a mass produced impersonal email, but a personalized letter sent by good old-fashioned snail mail with a handwritten signature—even better if the whole thing is handwritten on a thank you card.
What better way to show your appreciation (and giving an incentive to return) than with a voucher of some kind for them personally or to pass to a friend or colleague if a return visit in person is unlikely. Again, make this personal; there’s little value in offering a complimentary bottle of wine to a teetotaler, for example. If they have been celebrating an event, extend this to their next anniversary. Or if they only ever stay on company business on expenses, tailor the offer to something they’ll benefit from personally. If you missed out on the opportunity for the little finishing touches mentioned earlier, now might be the perfect time to send them the information, gift or little extra that leaves them with that lasting memory of, “Wow, what an amazing place!”
Caroline Cooper is a business and leadership coach with over 25 years in business and management development. She is the founder of Zeal Coaching, specializing in working with hospitality businesses, and is author of the 'Hotel Success Handbook.' For more information and articles from Zeal Coaching see http://www.zealcoaching.com/products-resources/
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HotelNewsNow.com or its parent company, Smith Travel Research and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.
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