Personalized Service and Perceived Value: Are Your Guests Getting the Best?
By Edward Donaldson VP Marketing, Small Luxury Hotels of the World | October 28, 2008
The idea of increased personalized service and experience holds particularly true, not to mention most challenging, in the luxury boutique sector. The typical luxury hotel guest tends to be more demanding and certain of what they want and expect. As the majority of hotels that fall into this category are owned or operated by individuals, it becomes a delicate balancing act between running a profitable enterprise whilst delivering a quality product and service. Not always the easiest of tasks to perform and in many cases requiring the owner to take a more active role in the day to day operations of their property.
Extremely important in delivering exceptional guest service is knowledge. The knowledge of what the guest requirements and needs are prior to their arrival and how best to meet them. In an effort to learn more about our guests and to ensure our hotels meet if not exceed guests' expectations, Small Luxury Hotels of the World recently launched a true Customer Relationship Management program, "The Club", focusing entirely on delivering as much information about our guests to the member properties as possible. Guests in the luxury market expect higher levels of personalized service and "The Club" allows Small Luxury Hotels to deliver.
The program offers guests the opportunity to submit their special needs and preferences once via The Club's dedicated website. Each time a member books a reservation the hotel is able to access the guests' information and adequately prepare for the guests' arrival. This will undoubtedly allow for the services expected and beyond to be delivered, resulting in an exceptional experience for the guest. Simply stated, exceptional experiences breed loyalty both to the property and the brand. Moreover, those who have received outstanding guest service and had those incredible experiences will certainly want to spread the word to friends, colleagues and family members it and convince them that they should also try it - an easy and cost effective way of building business.
Technology has made all of this possible. "The Club" was designed to allow guests the opportunity to relay their pertinent information to the hotels once in a centralized location enabling hotels to meet and fulfill their special needs and preferences on future visits. Some guests need foam pillows, others are allergic to mango, some just prefer fruit baskets of only green apples. As technology has become more advanced and Internet use for travel continues to increase, "The Club" was developed strictly as an online environment facilitated by a dedicated website (clubslh.com) which allows guests to build their own personal profiles that will follow them around to as many hotels as they travel to around the world. This has become an incredibly important tool in maintaining brand loyalty in a group that contains over 300 independently owned and operated properties with no integrated systems. At the time of booking, the information stored by the guest is immediately made available to the hotels. A follow up e-mail is also generated to the property within 72 hours of the visit to allow ample time to prepare for the guests' arrival. With the development of this program, we have found that not only are the guests very keen to give us this crucial insight but the hotels are delighted to have the advantage of being able to prepare accordingly and provide a much more personalized stay.
In addition to a highly personalized stay, guests in the luxury market demand an experience greater than average and one that creates a sense of perceived value. A secondary facet to "The Club" is that of the benefits. Club members will have access to special offers created just for them on the Club's website and e-mailed to them monthly. Additionally, once on property the hotel will create a unique experience for the guests with special added-value benefits in addition to a courtesy upgrade such as private wine cellar tours, fly fishing lessons or cooking lessons with the chef. These added activities will help create that "experience" the guest is looking for and differentiate that hotel stay from the hundreds before. Keep in mind however that these entities that create perceived value are not discounts. They are activities and services, which the guest is more than happy to pay for in room rate, that go above and beyond an "average" or "regular" hotel stay had by many.
All of this said, Small Luxury Hotels of the World or any other brand can create an infinite number of guest service initiatives but they will be for naught unless the staff is trained properly and adheres to that dedication to service and luxury that the property was founded upon. It is the front line employees that make these programs a reality and have the direct contact with the guest. It starts with the very moment the guest steps through the front door. The staff has the unique ability to make an exceptionally positive impact on their guests' stay and overall experience. At the end of the day it is the people that make up the character of a hotel.