|One of the oldest cannons of business is to know your customer, and in the hospitality industry we know from endless surveys and studies that the majority of guests expect a quick check-in, a clean room, friendly front desk attendants, and a quick check-out. As a result, we have been trained to provide this type of speedy service for our guests.
This is fine for customers whose needs and preferences do not go beyond being given their room card and their receipt, but we need to remember that each and every one of our guests is a unique person with different needs and expectations during their stays. We cannot think that a standard check-in routine meets the needs of every customer, and I believe that by focusing on cleanliness and speedy check-in procedures only, we have forgotten to meet the many other needs of our corporate and leisure guests such as finding directions to their meetings, surrounding attractions or events, and restaurants. Furthermore, our guests have an even greater need that we fail to thoroughly address – we have forgotten their desire for personal assistance.
True “hoteliers” realize that guests often need additional services such as directions to meetings and information about the area, but how this information is made available has isolated our guests from receiving personal assistance. Our industry has determined that we should have a Business Center to meet the supplementary needs of our guests: they can just log on to a computer and use Google Maps to find the nearest restaurants and directions to their destinations. Another example of a guest need is a wake-up call, and the industry’s solution to meeting this need is an automated wake-up call that guests can set with a touch-tone phone. Why not let our guests know that we will be glad to set a wake-up call or actually show them directions on a printed map? By allowing our guests to default to technology for help, we are teaching our guests that the front desk cannot be bothered with their needs and that they should obtain assistance through a machine. Of course we should give our guests the option of setting a wake-up call themselves, but we should also offer personal assistance and let our guests have the choice of hearing a friendly voice wishing them a good morning.
Since our guests are most likely strangers to our area, we should not abandon them in their clean rooms and leave them with a computer as the only tool to help them accomplish the goals for their stay. Instead, we should make them feel as if they have a helpful friend nearby who can answer all of their questions and assist them with any need they may have. We can offer personal assistance by providing the best transportation alternatives, giving the most efficient directions, and sharing insider information about the area. Providing guests with personal assistance will become imperative as the extended-stay segment grows. Choice Hotels recently announced that the extended-stay segment is the fastest-growing segment in the hotel industry. Extended-stay guests are an anomaly to the way hotels think and operate because these guests are not just visiting an area – they are actually living in it. Whether their stay is due to personal reasons, relocation, or extended business needs, they can live at our hotel for several months and at time up to or even past a year. Extended-stay guests need directions to the grocery store, restaurants, gas stations, etc. They need advice and suggestions for haircuts, office supplies, social outings, and countless other details. They are away from their family, friends, co-workers, and even pets. Being a friendly face that actually cares for them is essential to their enjoyment of a long-term stay.
In the hotel industry, we try to convince guests that we understand their needs and that we appreciate their business so much that we are constantly striving to provide solutions to all of their problems. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But remember, we have trained our guests that they are flying solo. How do we let our guests know that we are truly there for them? The answer is simple – tell them! We have to show our guests that we will treat them as friends. The most productive time to remind our guests is during the check-in process, although we must remember that our guests are usually very tired when they arrive at the hotel: they have been traveling, standing in line at the airport and car rental, and running to make deadlines and flight times. Many of them would like to have a short rest even before check-in. We can give them the option of a quick check-in or sitting down for a few moments by having chairs at the front desk and offering them a seat when they walk up. Guests who want a swift check-in will simply refuse the chair. Even if they do not take advantage of our offer, we show that we truly care for their comfort. If they accept, we have shown them that they are more than a seat assignment on an airplane, a compact car renter, or just a credit card. We have the perfect opportunity to prove that we care for them and can be of crucial assistance. When we ask “How are you doing?” and “Is there anything else I can do for you?” we remind them that they are our guests and that we will personally help them. By getting our guests off of their feet, we create an unhurried opportunity to explain the amenities that the hotel has to offer and why they will want to return to this hotel.
The emphasis placed on check-in, check-out, and cleanliness are truly the basis for a satisfied guest, but these aspects of the hotel experience are not exclusive in their importance. It should be our goal to remind our guests that they are more important than industry guidelines, and the best time to let a guest know that he or she will be treated differently by our hotel staff is during check-in. We must also continually reinforce our service to them during each and every encounter thereafter. By removing the barriers that hotels have placed on themselves, we will return to the basics of being in the hospitality industry.
Michelle Shumate is the Tennessee and Kentucky Regional Director of Operations of The Hamister Group, Inc., a nationally-expanding hotel and healthcare management company based in Williamsville, NY.