Hotels looking to differentiate themselves from the competition must focus less on latest amenities and more on guest relations.
As hoteliers try to keep up with and stay ahead of the competition, most seem to have generally the same ideas about what is going to make them stand out. They are constantly in search of the latest new amenity, such as the curved shower-curtain rods everyone added in the early 2000s, the “call us if you need a toothbrush or razor” offers, the ever-larger, high-definition TVs or the coolest, new, in-room coffeemakers.
Others play copycat in adopting the newest guest technologies, such as mobile-friendly websites, virtual tours, online chat, and now the rush to introduce self-service check-in so the guest can head straight to their room and maybe even open the door with their smartphone.
Ironically, with everyone reaching for the same solutions to differentiate themselves, the end result from the guest perspective is commoditization.
What is commoditization? Wikipedia offers us this definition:
The process by which goods that have economic value and are distinguishable in terms of attributes (uniqueness or brand) end up becoming simple commodities in the eyes of the market or consumers.
More specifically, commoditization happens in the hotel industry when:
- Pricing becomes transparent and easily searchable across all channels;
- accommodations become standardized in design, furnishings and amenities;
- traditional guest “touch points” are eliminated and replaced by technology (for example, when guests are encouraged to book online via websites that look the same, or via the same online travel agency websites, where all of the competitors are also listed);
- employee interactions become the same at all hotels (for example, when reservations agents tell first-time callers, “let me be the first to welcome you,” or when front desk colleagues give the same “welcome speech” about the times for breakfast, pool hours and internet); and
- as a result, guests’ future buying decisions are made solely on the price of hotels within a given location and classification.
Did you say “check” after each of these? Does that sound like what is happening in your hotel market? If so, it’s time to look at what can be done to avoid having your hotel rooms become a commodity. To start, focus on personalizing the sales and service experience at each step in the “customer circle of life,” which is the model I use in my hotel-training workshops to represent each touch point in a guest’s stay. Here are some suggestions:
Personalize the booking experience
At the website:
- Encourage guests to call versus hiding your hotel’s phone number. Incentivize staff for capturing direct reservations.
- Offer click-to-chat, but personalize the responses. Train colleagues to ask if it is okay to call when the chat discussion gets complicated.
- Especially for resorts, post your email address and staff your team to respond to email inquiries as promptly and thoroughly as they do phone inquiries.
During reservations calls:
- When prospective guests inquire, do more than just list the same room types and rates that come up online; do more than give a scripted list of features. Instead, ask the most important question circa 2017: “As I’m checking rates for those dates, are there any questions I can answer for you about the location or amenities?” This helps your staff determine what the caller did not find online and what they need to hear to commit.
- Train agents to enter comments into the system about the “guest’s story” that can be used to engage guests at registration. For example: the purpose of their leisure trip so we can say “Happy birthday!”, the name of their pet so we can say “This must be Maxie!” or the number of their visits so we can say “Welcome back once again!”
For hotel sales:
- Do not just reply via the online portal or tool. Reach out directly by phone, especially if the planner works directly with the company or organization, as opposed to a third party.
- Personalize responses by paraphrasing and restating key details from their inquiry.
- Follow-up on the initial information via email, phone or ideally both.
- Offer virtual tours using GoToMeeting or Join.me, rather than sending them to the website on their own.
- Train the front-desk staff to do proper pre-arrival planning that is most likely enabled by your customer relations management technology; that system alone will not help if they don’t fully use it.
- Welcome guests before engaging in the interaction. For example: “Welcome. How are you this evening, Mr. Kennedy?” versus “Checking in?” A positive first impression sets the tone for the entire stay.
- Train colleagues to read the guests, instead of just giving the same standardized speech. Do not tell them about the pool if they are here for one night and it is already closed; skip the speech if they stay with you every week! If it is just one person, do not ask how many keys they need; they will ask for a second one if they want. For resorts, don’t tell the one-night guest who is there for an all-day meeting about the mid-day water aerobics class; don’t tell the romantic couple celebrating their anniversary about the kids’ club hours.
- Cross-train back-up staff from other departments to assist during busy check-in times.
- Offer local area “insider tips,” or recommendations for “off the beaten path” options. Most of today’s guests, both leisure and business, are looking for the authentic, locally flavored experiences. You can bet your off-the-radar competitors – also known as Airbnb hosts – are doing this. Their new marketing theme is “Don’t just stay there, live there!” and they are training their hosts to deliver.
- Be flexible whenever possible. Sell late check-outs when available. Provide exceptions to the standard policies when it makes sense to do so. Train the team to try to just say “yes” when doing so will not inconvenience others, cost the hotel revenue or create liabilities.
- Welcome complaints as opportunities.
Doug Kennedy is president of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of hotel sales, guest service, reservations and front desk training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Kennedy has been a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations for more than two decades. Since 1996, Kennedy’s monthly training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hospitality industry authorities. Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the author of “So You REALLY Like Working With People? - Five Principles for Hospitality Excellence.”
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