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Welcome to Confessions of a Hotel General Manager, a new series on the issues that keep GMs up at night. Each episode explores in detail the trials and tribulations of what it takes to manage a hotel, painting a candid portrait of what goes on behind the scenes. Aliases have been used to protect the identity of our subjects. These are their stories.
Table of Contents
Episode 1: Differentiating the Guest Experience
Downtown Los Angeles is considered by many as one of the top cities in the world when it comes to entertainment. LA’s glitz and glamour, famous beaches, and amazing restaurants and shopping offer some of the most unique experiences in the U.S. With nearly 200 hotels in and around downtown LA, there is no shortage of options for travelers and tourists looking for great service and great experiences.
We have a great location, right in the heart of Los Angeles. So to be honest, it doesn’t require much to attract and retain guests. Just having a clean room and decent amenities is enough to do the trick.
While we wanted to make our guest experience better, we never really went above and beyond to personalize and differentiate the guest experience. We thought that okay was good enough, and we were still doing good business, so why exhaust the energy?
I was at the hotel one day, watching guests check in. It was a busy week, and there was a line at the front desk about 10 people long. I watched as everyone was visibly frustrated that they had to wait to just get the keys to their hotel room.
There was a family of four waiting in the line with two young children getting more and more antsy by the minute. By the time the father finally got to the front, the children were throwing a full-on tantrum and the other guests were very obviously bothered by it.
The irritated man answered all of our routine questions as quickly as he could and checked in. He then informed the front desk that his son was allergic to peanuts, so they were forced to wait again while a staff member went up to ensure that there were no peanut products in the complimentary snacks we put in the room.
At this point, the dad threw a fit to match his children’s. He started to yell at the front desk that this should have already been taken care of and that the whole hotel should be peanut free.
When the family finally got the okay, the parents dragged the screaming children into the elevator and went up to their room, much to the relief of myself and our other guests. Phew -- it was over… or so we thought.
Ten minutes later, we got a call: it was the man with the screaming toddlers, asking if they could have two roll away beds for his kids. I grimaced as I told him that we did not have any available. He asked if we had a bigger room available and I explain that we were having a busy week and we didn’t have any bigger rooms to offer them either. All we could offer him was extra blankets. CLICK… he hung up.
Moments later, he arrived at the front desk with anger washed over his face and proceeded to lay into the woman at the front desk. He said he was never going to visit us again and that he was going to tell “everyone and their mother” to never stay here. He also said it was the worst customer service he had ever experienced and wanted compensation for his misery.
I was simply horrified. The man and his family had been there for less than an hour, and their guest experience had already been horrible.
This incident forced me to realize that we needed to provide a better experience to our guests. Being okay was not going to be good enough anymore. We needed to be able to anticipate our guest’s needs before they even arrived to ensure that they would have everything they needed, and to prevent other horrific experiences like these from taking place.
“What can I do to differentiate our hotel experience in a heavily competitive location?”
The key to avoiding this situation again was data. Our staff needed to get to know our guests and their needs before they even walked through the door. We could then tailor and personalize their stay based on the information we collected.
Mapping the Guest Journey
The very first thing I did was map out our typical guest journey. By identifying the touchpoints that our guests interact with us, we could start collecting information. Our interactions with our guests start with our booking process. I knew we had to personalize it to make ourselves stand out.
Nobody can read minds (but man, making guest happier would be a heck of a lot easier if we could!). In order for our staff to provide a personalized and differentiated experience, we needed to make an extra effort to get to know our guests.
I approached our marketing director Mark and started brainstorming ideas to collect additional information about our guests that would enhance their stay and our ability to provide exceptional service.
We came up with some questions that we could ask during the booking process that would allow us to create a guest profile:
Are you travelling for business or pleasure?
Do you need anything when you arrive in your room?
Do you prefer your room to be at a lower or higher level in the building?
Do you have any dietary restrictions or preferences?
Would you like recommendations for nearby activities?
Once I had the questions I wanted to include, I worked with our website team to implement them into our online booking form. We also trained booking agents to ask the same questions.
Since the guest data was stored in our property management system, we also included their preferences in the booking confirmation email to let them know that we acknowledged their requests and that they could change them prior to arrival if they wished.
The confirmation email looked something like this:
The information also completely transformed the way we handle the check-in process. With the information we have in our database, the process is much more personalized and faster.
This is how our old check-in process looked like:
“Hi Mr. Smith, are you travelling for business or pleasure? Who are you travelling with? Is there anything you need?” Unfortunately, we are all out of rollaway beds. How about some extra blankets?
This is how our new check-in process looks like:
“Hi Mr. Smith, I see that you are here with your wife and two small children, ages 2 and 3 for a family vacation. We have provided some extra rollaway beds, some non-peanut healthy snacks as well as some new Disney movies for their enjoyment. I’ve also provided some complimentary champagne for you and your wife to get your vacation started right.”
Imagine how much better that situation could have gone had we been doing this the whole time!
Improving Guest Communication
Everyone in the industry knows that fast and efficient service is crucial to delivering a memorable experience that keeps guests returning. Good service depends on good communication and this is where we focused our efforts next.
I attended a conference last year in New York City. After I checked in to the hotel I was staying at I quickly received a text message from the staff that read:
“Wow, this is pretty cool”, I thought to myself. The hotel had established an open line of communication with me right away. Anything I needed was now just a text away. This reminded me of that day with the screaming babies and their irate father, and the frustrated guests standing in line. I realized how leveraging communication technology like text messaging could make that line shrink and avoid the issue altogether.
I was surprised to discover the advanced capabilities that guest mobile messaging technology had to offer, including the capability to integrate into our PMS and other automation features that could enhance communication between our staff and our guests.
With a quick and simple integration and a couple weeks of training, we were up and running with our new mobile guest engagement service.
We posted signs in guest rooms as well as the lobby and other highly trafficked areas of our hotel to let our guests know what we were doing to make their lives a little easier. We also handed out cards at check-in to let guests know about the texting service.
Our guests really appreciated that we were giving them an on-demand service. There are many places our guests could be at any given time during their stay: the pool, working out in the gym or having a drink at the bar. Since every guest has a mobile phone, it was easy to allow guests to message us for any request they needed, no matter where they were.
Adding the texting service has been great for both our staff and guests. Our staff is more efficient by reducing the need to answer calls while our guests receive faster service. It allows us to come to our guests rather than have them come to us. It gives them the experience they want and deserve while allowing staff to do their jobs better.
Making reservations has also become much easier thanks to the text messaging system. Our hotel has a really nice restaurant with one of the top chefs in the country manning the kitchen. We wanted to generate excitement about it and let guests know that it was available to them.
We were able to setup an automated message that is sent out to guests at 3pm letting them know they can make a reservation for dinner, along with a link to the menu and an offer for a complimentary beverage.
We’ve implemented this promotional strategy for our spa, golf and tour services and have seen great responses from guests! Every promotion is personalized to every guest based on the preferences they stated during the booking and check-in process.
The changes we’ve made over the past few months have really had a positive impact on our
business. We are better prepared to handle different situations, more available to guests, and constantly looking for opportunities to improve.
Clearly, our guests have noticed a change too. Here’s a few reviews from some of our guests on TripAdvisor:
At the end of the day, reviews like these keep me looking for ways to differentiate ourselves from our competitors and provide the highest level of guest services possible.
In my opinion, the key to true differentiation is being able to anticipate and exceed a guest’s needs prior to arriving as well as throughout their stay. Finding the right technology and incorporating the right training has made this easier for us and has done wonders for our business.
I can’t go back and fix the situation with that man and his family. What I can and continue to do is learn from our past mistakes and ensure that all of our current and future guests are given a personalized and memorable experience that keeps them coming back.
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