The Roots of Real Customer Satisfaction
By Mark Ricketts President & Chief Operating Officer, McNeill Hotels | June 16, 2019
In hospitality, we spend a great deal of time focused on providing our guests with the best possible customer service, anticipating that it will translate into that pleasing alignment of satisfied guests, return visits and referrals, and profitability. Moreover, as genuine hoteliers, guest satisfaction is what we believe in; it is our impulse for pursuing hospitality as a career and business.
To help achieve these ends, we spend a great deal of time measuring and studying customer satisfaction, working to understand what makes guests tick. Moreover, guests can convey "what they really think of us" in so many ways beyond the long familiar and now outmoded paper survey on a clipboard. We have formal brand guest satisfaction surveys, our own hospitality organization surveys, third party industry surveys like those that J.D. Power & Associates now conducts and seemingly endless guest posts on hotel booking sites, personal travel blogs and social media.
Amid this complex and sometimes outright bewildering new world of customer response, this article will step back and consider the roots of customer satisfaction for hospitality. What do our guests really want and need and how might we ascertain that information? What about our internal "customer," the members of our organization, from the C-suite to the frontlines? And how can we align customer satisfaction with our own in pursuit of harmony and balance in our lives?
As indicated, guests are giving us more feedback than ever about their stay with us; and their overall impression of our industry. What are we to make of this staggering abundance of feedback, whether it's good, bad or indifferent?
An "inside-out" approach might be helpful. For starters, let's take a perhaps less hectic common sense approach. This starts with genuine, in-person chat with our guests. As we make pleasant, but not unnecessarily personal, conversation with them, listen closely to what they say about the property, our staff and the overall experience. What features, experiences or behaviors seem to generate positive responses? What opinions do the guests offer up, positive or negative? Natural, confident conversation or questioning should provide valuable information about "what guests want."
Turn the sleuthing around when we are staying at someone else's property, especially when the staff doesn't know that we work in the industry. What do we like about the hotel? How were we treated? Anything exceptional that stood out in our minds or made for a memorable experience? Without being obvious about it, we can even jot down some notes in the privacy of our room.
Now, we can immerse ourselves in the numbers from guest satisfaction surveys and gather useful intelligence from the reviews left for us, from "thank you" emails to the hotel booking and social media web sites.
We must be honest. Guest satisfaction scores do count and are increasingly being used by the brands as an important measure of our overall quality. It is only natural, as the brands or ownership cannot assign full-time sentinels to our properties. However, the issue is not about the importance of guest scores and narratives, but how we arrive at the results. Reach for the values; what we understand that our guests want; do the "right thing" and the good numbers should follow.
What We've Learned-the Complexity of the Modern Guest
So what do guests want? Clearly, there are certain basics that most any guest expects from a hotel stay. These include overall safety and security; a clean and comfortable room; quality in-room essentials like plumbing that works as it should or in-room entertainment that will show us the sporting event or movie that we want to see; and a polite and responsive staff. A nice complementary breakfast and/or social hour sounds good.
Need directions to your meeting place. Phone for a taxi. Where's a great restaurant for a memorable family occasion? We can do it.
Beyond that, the modern consumer seems to need and want more. While not meant to be inclusive, here are some of the directions being taken in contemporary hospitality. Many or most are apparent from reviews on web sites and industry surveys, from those done by the brands to AHLA's most recent Lodging Survey.
Stack on the Amenities
Even in the realm of economy or limited service properties, guests want more for their dollar. So, the amenity race continues, whether it is fitness centers, more comfortable lobbies, or elaborate in-room entertainment options that guests crave.
What's to Eat?
Morning breakfast, even at limited service properties, has gone far beyond coffee and a Danish or donut. We are also seeing traction with Grab and Go food offerings, and many hotels are adding more elaborate food and beverage operations, from lobby or rooftop bars to sit down restaurants. If done carefully, these latter venues can become an important contributor to total revenue per room.
Do You Hear Me Now?
High bandwidth, uninterrupted Internet access and WiFi for guest devices are mandatory today. Moreover, guests are also concerned over the security of those network communications, as we have come to rely on our smart phones to monitor and control our smart devices back home or conduct banking while traveling, not just look up the score of the latest ball game.
Hospitality With a Heart
Increasingly, hotels and their guests are achieving common cause through shared values. A segment of our traveling public looks to do business with companies sympathetic to the same interests or causes, whether it's reducing our carbon footprint or finding a cure for cancer. We are also finding that many guests are comfortable with and enjoy participating in a local property's activities. Examples include asking a frequent and familiar guest to join in on a "morning huddle," where they get some insight into the workings of a hotel, or helping wrap gifts for deserving local children at holiday time.
Make it an Experience
No doubt, a stronger economy and favorable gas prices have helped fuel expanded travel activity by the American public, which is great for hospitality. When they arrive at our door, all guests, not just Millennials, are expecting something unique and memorable.
The key here is to recognize how different travellers might define "experience" and what might be some of the intangibles they would appreciate in a hotel stay. Some individuals might want enhanced common space and an atmosphere that encourages socializing with other guests. That would help make their stay memorable. Others might be wowed by a great restaurant; world-class fitness center or location that offers a bounty of close-by possibilities like restaurants, shopping or museums. Location can be an amenity that makes for a fantastic experience in its own right.
Don't Neglect Your Internal Customer
Hospitality icon J. Willard "Bill" Marriott reminded us, "Take good care of your employees, and they'll take good care of your customers, and the customers will come back."
This is as true today as it was in Bill's day. Great guest satisfaction starts with well-trained, productive and motivated staff. It is also important to recognize that just as the perceptions and expectations of guests keep growing, so does that of our existing and prospective personnel. In addition to job search sites like Glassdoor where we get rated as employers, our staff has access to the same hotel booking and social media sites as our guests visit. In this Internet age, job seekers can comparison shop for where they might want to work much more easily, which keeps us on our toes.
Regardless, quality hospitality organizations understand that we are reliant on the everyday performance of frontline staff, our ultimate brand ambassadors. Moreover, when we scan enough online reviews of hotel properties, the essential connection between staff and reputation becomes clear. Yes, guests will mark us up or down on technical issues. However, it is encouraging how often reviewers will focus on their interactions with individual staff members.
A front desk staff member displays a genuine welcome smile to a new guest. The chef at the breakfast bar whips up a fantastic omelet. A housekeeper notices personal items that a guest neglected to pack before leaving-and makes things right while they are still on property. All is good.
Achieving Harmony and Balance
These days, there is no denying that we are continually being graded as we care for guests. And the grades do count. They impact whether potential guests choose to stay with us. They influence our standing with the brands. They factor into our own internal valuation of individual staff and of a property as a whole.
There are two important takeaways from this sometimes intense "review environment." The first is that guests do have more influence in how the industry operates; a newfound consumerism. However, in this process, we are learning to see the hotel experience from the guest's view as never before. If we listen carefully and use this information wisely, we will be more gracious and more capable hoteliers, satisfying our inner impulses, as well that of our guests.
The second. While it is extremely important to promptly and accurately respond to guest issues, the slings and arrows can come fast and furious these days. It never hurts to make sure we don't over-react and misstep in an unintended direction.
People still respond positively to long-held traditional values and genuine expressions of those values. Consumers still respect an organization that believes in its people, reflected in the way they perform daily. Great people treating guests in great ways will hit the mark when it comes to customer satisfaction.
For as Bill Marriott also said, " …success is a combination of many things, but a good character is the foundation of the kind of success that will bring you real happiness."
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