Are you giving your guests a room or an experience?
By Lara Salomon, Content Marketing Specialist
In the good old days, not any Tom, Dick or Harry could open a hotel. But times have changed. With a surge of alternative accommodation types such as serviced apartments and AirBnB, the competition for hotels has grown exponentially in the last five years.
What is an experience exactly?
There is often a sense of sameness between hotels. It doesn't matter if you are in Barcelona or Johannesburg, you get to your room, and know what to expect. As GoCanvas explains, "In general, guests know what to expect when they walk into a hotel room. They know there will be someone at reception, a clean bathroom stocked with travel-size toiletries, a neatly made bed, TV, phone, closet with hangers, and maybe a couple of extras — like a microwave or mini fridge." In short, hotels offer consistency, and it can be reassuring to find that some things never change, no matter where you are on the planet.
While providing that sense of comfort works well for business travellers and guests who prefer to explore on their own, many prefer to be taken out of their comfort zone. They want to experience what a city or country is like, rather than simply sticking to the hotel lobby.
A great customer experience is taking customer service to the next level, and going out of your way to ensure that your customers have the best possible stay, not only at your hotel, but in your area. Doing this doesn't necessarily mean making drastic changes like upgrading every guest's accommodation or buying iPads for every room. Perhaps the biggest change that your hotel needs is a change of attitude.
Engage with guests
The foundation for a great customer experience is getting to know your guests. This is where AirBnB has an edge, according to Layer.com, and is part of what has made it so popular. "There's great appeal to staying in what feels like a home, feeling connected to the person who owns it," they state. "Perhaps even being treated to insider info about a true local experience so you may have one for yourself."
Staying in an AirBnB, a guest has one point of contact, who will often go beyond simply providing a room; offering insight about the area, chatting to their guests and forming a more personal connection. Staying in a hotel usually involves minimal contact with staff, based on the assumption that guests have come to you, not to make friends, but to relax.
Relaxation and enjoyment have never been exclusive though, and guests are looking more and more for an interaction that goes beyond a passing smile or a friendly waiter. The number of staff that you have work in your favour here. If your staff are engaging with your guests in the same way that an AirBnB host could, they can help you to understand who your guests are and what they enjoy.
Encouraging your staff to read your guests' subtle cues can mean telling the difference between guests who would prefer to be left to themselves, and those who would appreciate advice and input. This can even serve as a motivator for your team, as they will have gone from simply doing their jobs, to being vital to your guests' experiences. Even better, your guests will feel more connected to your hotel, and this connection could see them evolving from a one-time guest to a loyal customer.
Personalise their stay
Engaging with your guests will often give you a lot of information about them – why they are in the area, what activities they enjoy, what amenities they are taking advantage of, even what their favourite meals or drinks are. This information can be used beyond just getting to know who your guests are. As Entrepreneur explains in their 6 Ways to create a memorable customer experience, and as we mentioned earlier this year, it can help you to personalise their stay with you by anticipating what they might need.
"Don't we all have a story about the coffee shop waitress who doesn't ever need to be told how we like our iced tea, or the diner where the cook starts to make the same thing you always order the minute he sees you walk in the door…" asks Entrepreneur. "These experiences add value, and they also instill an enormous amount of loyalty."
Personalising a guest's experience will make them feel less like just another customer. It can be the difference between a good stay and a great experience. If you know what it is that your guests want from their stay, you will be in a better position to make recommendations for things outside of the hotel that they will enjoy. This kind of advice is always appreciated, and can leave guests feeling like they have a connection to your hotel instead of seeing it as simply a place to sleep.
Show your appreciation
Personalising a guest's experience of your hotel doesn't need to end when they leave. As we've pointed out before, it doesn't even have to start when they arrive. Once a guest has booked with you, you already have information about them – how many guests there will be, how old they are, if they are travelling with others, etc. You can use those details to start their experience before they even arrive. Maybe you noticed that they have children. You could send them information about your kiddies entertainment, or family friendly restaurants in town. If it's a couple, romantic restaurants might be more their style.
Once your guests have left your hotel, you can take the opportunity to thank them for their stay and offer them a chance to give you feedback. Perhaps they were visiting for a special occasion. An annual email sending them your well wishes will serve as a great reminder of their stay. And, as Routier points out, if they come and stay with you again, you could already have a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips about their preferences to personalise the experience even further.
"Think about it – each time a customer comes back, they will have an even better, more customized experience," says Routier, "and as they grow in brand loyalty, they will be more likely to continue using the same hotel."
Now that you know...
Hotels are in a great position: they have the ability to not only provide the comfortable familiarity that they have for years, but they also have the opportunity to engage with guests on a more personal level. All that it takes is a change of attitude and a willingness to go out of your way (and perhaps out of your own comfort zone) to provide customers with more than just a bed, but an experience of your hotel, and your area. Succeeding has the chance to not only motivate staff, but to see your guests forming deeper connections with your hotel, and coming back year after year.