Building and maintaining a strong customer relationship is an ongoing process—but an easier and more rewarding one than you might expect.
My hairdresser does it. The vet does it. Even my supermarket does it. What am I talking about? They are all great at building a relationship with me, their customer.
Why is this important? It makes me feel valued. It builds loyalty. It keeps them in my mind so I’m more likely to come back or refer others to them. It keeps me informed of things that might interest me, such as special offers or promotions. It makes the difference between simply knowing of them to liking them.
And most importantly, it makes me trust them and ultimately give them more of my business.
So how it is that so few hotels, meeting venues or restaurants follow this example? Of the many places I visit, whether for business or pleasure, few really capitalise on all the opportunities that exist to build the customer relationship.
Before their stay
This starts before your customers arrive. Have you ever made a reservation somewhere and then suffered from “buyer’s remorse” as you then get a bad feeling about the venue?
If taking bookings in person, ask questions about their visit that might help you offer a more personal service. What is the purpose of their visit, what time will they be arriving, have they been before, how will they be travelling, do they have any special requirements for their room, diet, access, etc? Anticipate their needs for the type of event. If booking a restaurant for a birthday party, would they like a cake or champagne? If planning a training event, would they like bacon sandwiches on arrival? If taking a leisure break, would they like reservations made for local events?
Give a great welcome and first impression by confirming their booking in a personalised e-mail. Then keep in contact, providing information relevant for the nature of their visit. Act like a tourist office and send details of the events and activities happening locally during their stay so they can plan ahead. Offer to make dinner, theatre or event reservations for them. Send them directions and journey times from their home or office postcode to reach you (this also helps reduce the risk of stressed late arrivals).
As the arrival time or day draws nearer, send them a welcome message and any hot-off-the-press information. (e.g. Advise them of any traffic problems by e-mail or text. Get them looking forward to their visit by telling them of tonight’s special menu items or today’s activities.)
During their stay
Making personal contact with your customers builds rapport and trust. This starts with being visible—not just your staff, but some managers’ presence, too. But being visible is only half the story. What are you doing to reflect and convey your values and attitude to customers and staff? The way you interact with your staff and participate in the operation gets noticed.
Talking to your customers directly is by far the best way to get feedback. They may tell you things that they wouldn’t feed back to your staff. Get to know your customers personally—their likes and dislikes, their routine, their suggestions, their network—all this not only builds rapport, but it makes it a lot easier to up-sell and tailor your offers to your market.
Every bit of feedback you get from your customers is valuable to you, whether it’s positive or negative and whether you agree with it or not. Take both the good and the bad. If you don’t agree with the feedback, find out (tactfully) what has led to their perception, as this may lead to the root of the problem. If you don’t know what disappoints customers, you can’t improve on it, so make sure you are prepared to listen to and take on board any thoughts on what lets them down so you can learn from this and address it. Show guests that you appreciate the feedback, then demonstrate you’ve acted on it if relevant.
Be flexible. You can’t bow to every request a customer ever makes. But don’t be so bound by the rules that any request is met with a hostile “jobsworth” attitude!
If you cannot meet your customers’ initial requests, look at offering an alternative. Catering for one-off special needs is the sort of attention to detail that builds you loyalty and referrals.
What is there that makes your property or offer unique that they might want to take home or share with others? This shows your appreciation of their business, acts as a memento and reinforces your relationship (as well as potentially an opportunity for additional sales). Could you offer any of the following either as a gift or as an additional sale?
- Convert your renowned menu or signature dishes into a recipe book.
- Package your handmade petit fours into a gift box to take home.
- Offer birthday or celebration cakes for customers celebrating special occasions.
- Offer a hand-tied flower bouquet for anniversaries or special occasions.
- Sell your homemade bread, marmalade or other preserves and chutneys.
- Sell luxurious bathroom accessories; robes with your logo and toiletries.
After their stay
Show your appreciation. A little thank you note of some description goes a long way—even better if it is personalised in some way or handwritten. This is an ideal time to ask for feedback or testimonials for reviews, too.
Keep in touch. Tell your customers what you are doing. What have you done as a result of customer feedback, what’s new, or what awards or accolades have you received?
Promote events. Let your customers know what you’ve got coming up in the future. Even if they won’t be there to take advantage of it, it may prompt a return visit or they may pass the details on to others who might be interested in the event.
Meet with your customers. Help to build rapport by taking the opportunity to meet with your customers or prospects in other environments, too. And remember that a lot of networking is done online today, so consider how to use social media to help you build your relationship with your customers.
Reward loyalty. The very least you can do is to remember your regular customers. Capture their details and preferences—do they like a particular room, prefer a specific table or need a special pillow? Remembering these small details can make your customer feel valued.
Help your customers celebrate. Note their birthdays and anniversaries in your database and then invite them to the hotel to receive their special gift or offer. Invite wedding couples back for their first (and subsequent) anniversary. Invite customers to celebrate their birthday and get a cake or free bottle of bubbly. Invite businesses to celebrate any awards. Keep a note of special anniversaries for local businesses—their AGM, awards dinners, anniversary of their launch. People don’t normally celebrate alone, so these provide ideal opportunities to bring in new customers.
Make your offers worthwhile to encourage people to bring their friends or colleagues and make up a big party. Receiving a birthday card with a voucher—or an invitation to celebrate a forthcoming anniversary—is a pleasant surprise and adds a very personal touch. If you can handwrite these, even better. (It can make a huge difference and really demonstrate your interest in your customer).
Building your customer relationship is an ongoing process. There’s no denying it takes a bit of effort—but effort that will reward you with more business.
Caroline Cooper is a business coach with over 25 years’ experience in business and leadership development, and founder of Zeal Coaching, specializing in working with hospitality businesses, and is author of the 'Hotel Success Handbook'. Download her free report on How to Get more boost sales and get more repeat bookings for your hotel.
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