Extending Customer Experience Beyond Your Property Line

By Rani Bhattacharyya Community Economics Extension Educator , University of Minnesota Extension- Center for Community Vitality | April 21, 2013

More often than not, potential customers hear and then read about a property long before they ever interact with any front line team. To meet potential customer's needs, it would be beneficial for managers to consider how to actively participate in the early stages of this relationship rather than saving all their "wow" factors until prospects walk through the front door. Once guests are on-site, there are also many e-marketing opportunities that can enhance a customer's stay and make it memorable enough for them to become public relations champions for their hosts. But in nurturing champions amongst your guests, it is also important to acknowledge and encourage their identification of your brand as something of value to them beyond their in-house experience as well.

In this article I will briefly review the process of consumer purchase decision-making and try to match various online marketing platforms to strategic points within this process. I will then also highlight a few examples of how social media tools are also being used in-house by property managers to provide value-added service to their guests without adding to the overhead. Then closing, I will also highlight one example of how social media can also be used to create strong and active loyalty marketing campaign.

Needs Recognition

In deciding where to go on vacation or where to eat, people do tend to select destinations that are familiar or nearby over those that require a significant amount of effort to travel to or learn about. The art of marketing however is to help customers understand what they are purchasing from a destination is of greater value than the effort they expend in learning about it or getting there. Crafting this message to address unclear needs of prospective guests doesn't have to be an uphill battle. The key factor to keep in mind during this development process though is that a customer screens their needs through a series of cultural assumptions they have developed from word of mouth commentary by their peers, and an internalized ranking of personal needs and interests, and their memories of past experiences with similar services.

A little background research, into these cultural screens can be accomplished using Linkedin, Facebook and other social media platforms designed to gauge public interest in issues that your brand or property addresses. Digital sites like these have gained appeal due to the fact they effortlessly provide users four of the five attributes of "a quality experience" with little investment of time or money on their part. The virtual experience that social media offer users include:

  • Reliability - through simple and controllable ways of interfacing with other users,
  • Assurance - through database archives of other users, conversations and other user defined information,
  • Empathy - via interactive functions that allow users to endorse or comment on each other's activity, and
  • Responsiveness - by providing users integrated virtual access through a variety of electronic devices.

To capitalize on how Facebook and similar sites are already providing this suite of services to potential guests; many properties actively join in digital discussions so they can lead rather than correct information that is being shared by users. Once they have established rapport within particular group of interest (which can include community or issue specific forums) hospitality professionals also use these sites to gather input on new service development or package deals from potential guests that are also members within the discussion groups. Quite often these users are individuals that eventually promote the property's messaging within their own private networks and are rewarded for doing so via special awards or discounts on existing service offerings. Pinterest is not as interactively dynamic as Facebook or Linkedin, but it still can provide detailed insight into what potential customers (primarily women) visually associate with specific places, words, or phrases like "ranch wedding" or "spa weekend". This collection of images can then in turn be used in the development of new services or interior design schemes offered on-site.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. 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.