Beyond Boutique: Reimagining Guest Relationships in an Experiential Age

By Robert Reitknecht Founder, Robert Reitknecht | April 08, 2018

Today's guests have made it clear that "different" is no longer good enough. Once-exclusive perks like free valet and continental breakfast no longer hold their weight compared to the promise of a truly personal touch; one that genuinely resonates with guests based on their individuality. Generic amenities are falling by the wayside as more guests seek elite escapes that transcend the norm.

In today's age of personalization, guests want their hotel experience to rival their wildest Pinterest board fantasies. They want their interactions to be as individualized as their Etsy account. They want to invest their hard-earned dollars into a property that truly reflects who they are as a person (case in point: this survey from travel magazine Afar that helps readers determine which hotel they should stay at based on their personality). This is why a couple craving a traditional New England experience will choose Ocean House in Rhode Island for its croquet lawn and Lilly Pulitzer-inspired beach cabanas, versus a local Double Tree or Hampton Inn.

Evolving guest expectations and behaviors have introduced a new era of hospitality; one that focuses on hyper-personalization (otherwise referred to as boutique hoteling). The idea of delivering everything under the sun is becoming increasingly irrelevant as guests seek special attention from brands that individuate. This is a significant paradigm shift in the industry, as demonstrated by several leading chains like Hyatt (Andaz Hotels), Hilton (Canopy by Hilton), Marriott (Autograph Collection) and more.

But this is more than just a guest experience strategy; it is a belief that drives organizational culture and values. It is about reimagining the role of the hotel in an experiential age where relationships matter more than service. So, how can hotels (or any brand, for that matter) embrace this mentality to competitively differentiate? There are several steps that should be taken on the front-end, back-end and everywhere in-between.

Always Start with Introspection

Boutique hotels have reported some of today's highest occupancy and revenue rates; however, this should not be your main driver for change if you take the long-term view of business. Your efforts should always come from a genuine place of caring for your customers. There should be an authenticity to your actions, and a greater purpose than simply bolstering near-term revenue (customers will always be able to sniff out the difference).

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Coming up in April 2019...

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.