Guest Service: Treating Loyalty Like Royalty

By Roberta Nedry President & Founder, Hospitality Excellence, Inc. | June 06, 2010

Friends were planning their annual Fourth of July getaway at one of Florida's most prestigious and expensive resorts. This property had become a favorite and they returned each year. They started bringing friends, booked premium rooms, used the spa and all the amenities and spent a lot. This year, with a new baby in tow, they booked six months in advance, paid a deposit, and specified that this year they wanted at least one room in the old wing, feeling more comfortable with that room design. Upon check-in, no room in the old wing was available or had been set aside, even with the advance request and planning. To top it off, the staff on duty did not appear to be concerned with their dismay and invited them to go elsewhere if they were not satisfied with the rooms in the new wing. Premium, loyal guests who came back each year and who constantly referred other guests were treated like strangers. They did go elsewhere-the direct competition, who welcomed them with delight. Their friends and dollars went with them and they repeat the story of their bad experience frequently.

It can take years to get loyal guests like these, and only seconds to lose them. Loyal guests love to come back, when they feel loved too. They also spend more, are less price sensitive and enjoy telling others about their favorite spots. Wooing repeat and referral guests are part of a hotel's easiest and most profitable business strategies. It can cost up to 8-10 times more to get a new customer or guest, versus keeping and nurturing the ones you have. Why are the faithful so often treated so unfaithfully?

Many loyal guests come back and want more because they are comfortable with a business or property. Familiarity usually leads to more comfort and ease and less anxiety. Recently, when trying to order from two of my favorite catalog companies, I was surprised with cold unfamiliarity. Even though I had ordered several times, had spent a lot and had not changed any of my personal information, they knew nothing about me due to "a big change in computer systems". They did not transfer customer profiles over to the new system and were beginning from scratch with each phone call. I had to work for them to get them back up to speed on who I was, what I ordered and how I was going to give them money. I decided that I didn't want to work that hard for a company that did not appreciate or value my loyalty or business. Familiarity does breed contempt when the consequences are not contemplated.

When systems change or new employees are put into place, the customer or guest should not suffer, especially those that are part of the family. They should be at the top of the list when orienting or transitioning a new team or new procedure. Will service delivery continue to be seamless, or will the guest pay the price for learning curves and system changes?

Not taking repeat guests for granted requires that management ensure that employees understand how to recognize and nurture loyal guests. Take steps to ensure your organization treats loyalty like royalty. Those that do, reap the rewards royalty bestows.

Last month, while experiencing Lago Mar, an exquisite beachfront resort in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, we met Billy the bartender. In the normal course of conversation, we asked him about his job and what he enjoyed most. His immediate response was "getting to know guests and what they like, developing a relationship". He loves to hear guests say, "Hey Billy, see ya next year." He was passionate about his job and enthusiastically reached out to each guest without being obtrusive. He took his role in each guest experience seriously and went out of his way to recognize familiar faces.

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Coming up in April 2018...

Guest Service: Empowering People

Excellent customer service is vitally important in all businesses but it is especially important for hotels where customer service is the lifeblood of the business. Outstanding customer service is essential in creating new customers, retaining existing customers, and cultivating referrals for future customers. Employees who meet and exceed guest expectations are critical to a hotel's success, and it begins with the hiring process. It is imperative for HR personnel to screen for and hire people who inherently possess customer-friendly traits - empathy, warmth and conscientiousness - which allow them to serve guests naturally and authentically. Trait-based hiring means considering more than just a candidate's technical skills and background; it means looking for and selecting employees who naturally desire to take care of people, who derive satisfaction and pleasure from fulfilling guests' needs, and who don't consider customer service to be a chore. Without the presence of these specific traits and attributes, it is difficult for an employee to provide genuine hospitality. Once that kind of employee has been hired, it is necessary to empower them. Some forward-thinking hotels empower their employees to proactively fix customer problems without having to wait for management approval. This employee empowerment—the permission to be creative, and even having the authority to spend money on a customer's behalf - is a resourceful way to resolve guest problems quickly and efficiently. When management places their faith in an employee's good judgment, it inspires a sense of trust and provides a sense of higher purpose beyond a simple paycheck. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.