Listen to your guests and turn 'no' into 'yes'
By Caroline Cooper
Anticipate their needs
Start by identifying customers' needs in advance. Identify your perfect customer and identify the things that will be important to each category of guest. Put your self in their shoes or ask them directly what they want from their stay with you.
- Are they business users who need a phone re charger, restaurant or theatre bookings make, access to a printer to print their boarding pass, a quick no frills breakfast before their meeting, or an express check out?
- Do you cater for families, who may want equipment for infants and small children (and staff who look happy to see them!), child friendly menus, and something to entertain the kids?
- Do you cater for a lot of celebrations when people may want birthday cakes, flowers, or gifts?
If you know there is a likelihood something will be asked for, build this into your services as a norm, that way it can be planned for and staff can be get the right training to deal with the situation.
Give your guests choice. This does not mean having 100 items on your breakfast menu or 40 types of pillow – but do give them a choice you can cope with. Again listen to what your customers tell you.
- In your restaurant, how often do people tell you they are too full for a dessert? Serving huge portions may be appealing to some, but others may be put off having a starter or dessert if they think the portion sizes are too big. Why not provide a taster version, for a slightly lower price, to ensure the sale? That way the waiting staff don't need to make a judgement call or check with the kitchen if this can be done; it's already in the system, and the kitchen don't have to guess the portion size.
- Can you offer a choice of rooms in terms of features or facilities? Even if the rooms are all a standard layout, can you offer people a choice of outlook, proximity to reception, in-room amenities etc?
- How often do you get asked what time is check out? Can you be flexible to allow later check-outs (for an additional cost or as part of a promotional special) so guests have the opportunity to make the most of their last day before they head home?
- Do your guests come to you to celebrate special occasions? If so do you have one room, which is very special in its own right, or where you can include extra services? What else can you add to your standard offer to make a deluxe version to sell at a premium price?
Be flexible and offer alternatives
You can't bow to every request a guest ever makes. But don't be so bound by the rules that any request is met with a hostile 'jobsworth' attitude!
If you cannot meet your guests' initial requests, look at offering an alternative:
- A guest wants an early breakfast, before your kitchen staff normally arrive – offer a continental breakfast or a tray instead.
- You receive a request just 10 minutes before service for an alternative to the set menu for a big party – you don't have a choice, but listen to what the guest needs to avoid and offer an alternative combination without this item.
- Your weekend guests ring ahead and say they haven't been able to get a dog sitter. You don't take dogs, but can you find a local kennel who can accommodate the dog?
- Your guest asks for a particular brand of whisky for an important client he is entertaining. You don't stock it, so do you refuse, or phone your neighbouring hotel or pub to see if they have it in stock?
Encourage your staff to get into the mindset of looking for an alternative solution, even if the initial question has to be answered with a 'no', it can be followed by 'but I can do x for you', or 'I know someone who could do this for you'.
Overcome your guests' challenges
Listen to all the reasons people give for NOT staying, or limiting their stay with you. What other services you can provide that might just tip the balance in favour of that night out, overnight stay or weekend away. Think of the challenges your guests face, and how easily you could solve their problems:
- No baby sitter – can you offer a babysitting service
- What to do with the dog – recommend kennels (or allow dogs)
- Poor transport network – provide a free taxi service to and from the station or airport
- If I stay away another night I'll miss my gym session and end up eating more than I should - a common concern for business users, so set up temporary membership arrangements at the local gym, and provide a healthy option light or calorie counted meal
- The kids will want their bikes, but we don't have a bike rack – offer bike hire or team up with a local hire shop
- There's nothing to do if the weather is bad – set up a kids' play room and indoor entertainment area, and provide games and indoor activities
- I don't have time to do my laundry, get my hair cut or legs waxed – provide a laundry and pressing service, or offer complimentary or discount vouchers for your own spa or a local beauty or hair salon
You could take the attitude 'that's not my problem' or you can see these 'problems' as great opportunities for additional services. Without having to think too hard or spend too much, people can have a ready-solved problem if you've put together a package 'just for them'.
Cater for special diets and needs
Catering for special diets and needs is the sort of attention to detail that builds you loyalty and referrals.
Let your guests know in advance if you can provide special diets or meals. Plan ahead for the huge numbers who have some kind of allergy or intolerance to certain foods. If you don't cater for them, it's not just their custom you will lose – their whole party will probably end up going somewhere else. You just have to look at any of the big supermarkets and their range of 'free from' products to recognise there is a huge market here.
Offer other products and services
Be innovative in identifying other items to offer to your guests – before, during and after their stay, that might help make their stay more enjoyable or memorable.
What is there that makes your establishment or offer unique; what do guests ask about or compliment you on, that they might want to take home or share with others? Could you offer any of the following to add a personal touch?
- If you often get asked about local events, or things to do, can you send through some literature with confirmation of their booking, with relevant links
- If you are difficult to find or off the beaten track, can you email directions from Google maps or AA route finder taken from their own postcode to the hotel, (or details of how to get from airports or station if this is more relevant to your target market)
- If they ask for recipes or comment on your menus, convert your signature dishes into a recipe book or leaflet
- If they love your hand-made petit fours, package them up into a gift box to take home
- If you're a popular venue for celebrating special occasions, offer hand-tied flower bouquets and birthday or celebration cakes
- If your guests enjoy your home made bread, marmalade or other preserves and chutneys, offer them for sale to take home at the end of their stay
- Offer your finest ingredients as an off sale – cheese, meat, eggs, etc., if there is something special about them – locally sourced, organic, etc.
- If your guests love your luxurious bathroom accessories, robes with your logo, and toiletries, offer them for sale (and reduce the temptation to steal them)
- Do you get asked about your unusual crockery? Why not get in more stocks and sell that or make arrangements with your suppliers for direct home delivery?
All these provide that personal touch, and a great talking point from which referrals may well flow. Not to mention a potential source of additional sales.
So think ahead, listen to your customers and pre-empt or respond to their needs. Even if you and you team know it's all part of your 'standard' offer, your guests will appreciate the extra lengths you go to for them to enjoy their stay.
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