Industry Update
Opinion Article18 February 2021

Winning the Guest Service Game with Management Software

By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited

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Cruising into the new decade of hospitality, one ever-present concern is the need for occupancy, especially with group and corporate guests slow to return amidst ongoing COVID concerns. But as we all look to further segment leisure to find those hidden pockets of revenue, we must concurrently apply the time-honored mantra, "It's easier to keep a customer than it is to get a new one." Alas, it's the age-old battle of customer acquisition versus customer retention.

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While your CRM has proven vital for the former, back-of-house communications via management software can help with the latter. You can use these platforms to win back returning guests over spending a daunting amount on top-of-funnel advertising and preferred channel placements in order to acquire new ones. The problem in making this a reality is often that the level of customer service we deliver isn't anything special or memorable.

Especially now that the only real source of travelers is domestic or that of drive-to markets, we cannot rely on 'trial' - advertising speak for new guests derived from testing certain promotional offers or inventory distribution vectors. Compounding this is the push for touchless service to prevent viral spread, which means less personal contact to reinforce positive sentiments in the guest experience as well as less direct supervision of associates to make sure they are doing as expected.

Double Deviations
What I stress is that going beyond what's expected in small but meaningful ways can not only help you win customers for life but also help to convert brand advocates who will sing your praises for long after their stay. As humans are largely fear-based creatures, the opposite is also true; transgressions by a hotel will not just lose you those guests who feel slighted but they may go out of their way to protect their friends or family from staying with you. Word of mouth works both ways.

While we focus on training and honing the guest experience to prevent the latter cases from ever occurring, running a hotel has too many variables to perfectly control, particularly in the rapidly changing world that is COVID. Management software thus becomes instrumental in error recovery, preventing what we call a 'double deviation'.

For hospitality, this term encompasses the mindset of a rational traveler who understands that, from time to time, stuff happens. However, these reasonable guests also assume that the culpable property would then go out of its way to ensure that the mistake is corrected or fairly compensated. Double deviations occur when the initial error isn't properly addressed or, worse, the hotel screws up again.

One cursory look at any property's one- or two-star reviews on TripAdvisor will show you the harmful effects of double deviations. A lack of corrective action on the hotel's part leads to umbrage and other negative emotions which cast the entirety of the experience in a disgusted tint. For instance, an uncorrected issue with housekeeping can quickly cloud a guest's judgment so much so that they then complain about how noisy the HVAC was or that the F&B was disappointing.

When used effectively, management software can put a blaring red alert on any guest who encountered an error so that extra caution is taken with this individual for the rest of their onsite journey and so these harmful double deviations are avoided.

Look at Amazon
One pinnacle of examples to demonstrate the meaning of excellent customer service (and customer retention) is Amazon. With everything rosy in hindsight, it's all too easy to overlook the innumerous obstacles that this company had to surmount on its path to becoming 'The Everything Store'. Even when it was in the weeds of online book sales, Amazon realized that expansion would be impossible without putting in the work to reduce its double deviations to zero, lest it lose the ability to gain new customers due to acrimonious word of mouth and a general lack of trust.

To this day, I vividly recall a scenario several years ago when a computer part I ordered through Amazon somehow 'fell off the back of a truck'. Navigating through the website's internal complaint system, within 48 hours of identifying the lost package I received a phone call from a local customer sales rep who was fully up to speed on my situation. Speaking in a friendly manner, she asked a few qualifying questions then ordered a replacement without any additional charge. The issue may have been their fault or it may have stemmed from their unidentified delivery partner, but the fix was easy as pie.

A Hotel Example
Here's another one that's a bit closer to home for us hoteliers. I remember a hotel stay in Vienna where I left my credit card at the front desk at check-out, a not-uncommon thing to do especially when you're also saying goodbye to the general manager or another senior manager. I only discovered this dire situation when I was well on my way to the airport. Calling the property, I was pleasantly surprised that they had already dispatched another one of their cars 'in chase' with the card in hand. Clearly, this instance goes well beyond the expected service levels, and yet whenever life takes me back to the opulent Austrian capital you can bet your chair that I'll be looking to book at this property.

While this is a positive example, let me restate that customer service is a double-edged sword. Just imagine my chagrin if the front desk agent had simply apologized then told me that there was nothing he could do. Despite the issue clearly being my fault, how would this have changed my emotional perception of the hotel? Would I still have a lasting five-star memory of the place? The customer isn't always right but the customer is still in the driver's seat. Quality assurance is a continuous process in both ensuring you get it right the first time and having a clear system of empowerment in place for your team to quickly resolve issues autonomously.

For awhile now, I've touted COVID as the 'great technology reset' for the hotel industry, but this should also entail a revolution in service delivery. Especially with a leaner team on the books for next few years encompassing remote workers and fewer supervisors to bolster accountability, the only way to win the guest service game and grow revenues is with a solid backbone of management software.

Look at how your tech stack can heighten service delivery by expediting communications amongst employees and between departments. Then to make real gains, also examine your policies and practices for preventing any double deviations from occurring, utilizing your back-of-house apps to empower team members to correct problems on the spot and to alert others so that can hopefully convert distraught guests into customers for life.

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