Know Your Customer: Identifying Key Tools in Expanding Business From Guests

By Clifford Ferrara Vice President of Sales & Revenue Management, Chesapeake Hospitality | August 25, 2013

There is plenty of discussion in the hotel industry about managerial strategies and best practices, the value of great service and training, and the importance of a motivated and talented sales team. While those conversations are instructive, they are also incomplete. What often goes missing in those discussions is the how: how do you to translate those philosophies and initiatives into more business. A hotel that consistently delivers great service will almost inevitably see more traffic, but a hotel that understands how to leverage that service into more bookings will always have an advantage.

The key to realizing that missing step is both suspiciously simple and surprisingly complex: know your customer. While that may seem like Business 101, understanding who is staying in your hotel is the essential first step in a chain of events that enables proactive and engaged managers to expand business in dramatic fashion. Knowing your customer means understanding your customer: why they are staying in your hotel, how they booked and what their service preferences and priorities are. When done correctly, customer engagement, information gathering and response enables you to make any operational or infrastructure changes that need to be made, and provide invaluable leads that will help you capture more business.

What follows are the key strategies, tools and techniques you can use at the hotel level to gather and leverage information about your guests.

Make a First Impression

First impressions are lasting impressions. With that in mind, many successful hotels maintain a "Lobby Ambassador" program or some kind of similar initiative. Whether it is in the morning or the afternoon, the GM (or at least a senior sales manager) is there in a coat and tie to help greet guests, speed up the check-in process and boost the level of service provided to arriving guests. This is not only an opportunity to provide a smile and a handshake and create a favorable impression in the customers' minds, it is also a valuable chance to gather information about your guests. Where are they from? What are they in town for? Is there anything you can do for them? Casual interactions like these can lead to future bookings and provide the service staff and sales team with essential information about how to make your guests' stay more comfortable and convenient. This kind of program also works during checkout. Hotel professionals always seem to be casually asking, "How was your stay?" but this should not be a rhetorical exercise. Treat it as a chance to gather important information, mitigate or eliminate a bad impression, or put an exclamation point on a great experience. In addition to Lobby Ambassador programs, another tactic is a quick call up to a guest's in the first five to ten minutes after arrival to make sure they are settled in and to find out if they need anything. Most hotel brands are working on their first impressions even before the guests arrive for their stay, sending pre-arrival emails with weather forecasts, opportunities for affordable upgrades, and soliciting special service requests.

Understand the Power of the Front Desk

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.