As I often say in my training workshops, a hotel’s guest services staff is now part of the marketing and PR department! With the continued explosion of social media postings and online guest reviews, the walls of hotels are essentially made of glass; everything that happens within can clearly be seen by basically anyone in the outside world. This can either be a hotel’s worst nightmare or its dream opportunity for viral marketing that is free of charge, depending on interactions your guests are having every day with your guest services colleagues.
So what does it take to encourage guests decide to whip-out their smartphone and tweet about their experiences, or to post an update to their Facebook or Instagram account? Nothing more than a punctilious approach to providing for guest needs and a fervent spirit of hospitality. Or to put it simply, a great attention to detail and a passion for treating guests with warmth and generosity.
These are easy concepts for managers to understand and talk about, but transferring these values to the frontline colleagues that touch guests every day is much more challenging. It all starts with recruiting and selecting the right staff. Rather than just looking for candidates with prior customer service or hotel experience, look also for those who are involved with their communities. Those who have volunteered with in their children’s schools, their religious institutions or who are active in local charities are more likely to be colleagues who know that hospitality means caring about, as well as caring for others. It is especially important to look for this genuine love of giving as a personality trait of the supervisors and first level managers, as experienced hoteliers know that if we take good care of our staff they will take good care of our guests.
Besides finding the right personalities as a foundation, here are some practical ideas and training tips for your hotel or resort.
A- Encourage your staff to engage guests with question about why they are traveling and to take notice when guests voluntarily mention their reasons for staying at your hotel. If they listen interactively they will find out the reasons go much deeper than “business” or “leisure” or even “a little of both.” Instead, they will find guests who are in town for birthday celebrations, weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, retirement parties, anniversaries, and many other joyous occasions which people tend to celebrate with a special trip.
B- Those taking reservations can note their findings on the “comments” line, thus enabling the guest reception staff to provide a personalized welcome. I will never forget a few years back when I was staying at a hotel with my now teenage daughter who had just turned 10. I had forgotten mentioning this until the front desk clerk leaned over the counter and said to her” “You must be Julia! I heard you have a big birthday this weekend; double digits!” She then presented her with a card signed by the front desk staff that specifically mentioned a 10th birthday; it was pinned to a bulletin board in her room for years. As a beaming father, a picture of her with the card and also the small cake they sent went on my travel blog and Facebook page that very night.
C- In order for this to work, make sure the front desk staff reads through their arrivals list and takes note of the “comments” on respective reservations so that they will be prepared. They should also report back to the reservations takers what they did with this information (especially if they are in a different department) to encourage them to keep up the effort.
D- Reading through the arrival list will also help them recognize repeat guests when they enter the lobby. While they might not have been able to do so just by seeing a familiar face, if they have noticed familiar names on the list prior to their shift, seeing that face can jog one’s memory and allow them to welcome a guest by name before it is given. (I still use this technique when I attend lodging conferences; I read the attendee list in advance and am able to greet others by name without looking at their name badge.)
E- If frontline colleagues engage guests and listen interactively, they will also find many somber occasions as well as happy ones. For every guest in town for a wedding there is another in town for a funeral. Help your team understand that sometimes the unexpected words of support or condolences from a stranger can be even more meaningful than the expected words of support from friends.
F- Provide your guest services staff with a “special amenity closet.” This should be stocked with basic supplies such as greeting cards, which can be purchased inexpensively online or at dollar stores, champagne splits, drink or desert coupons from in-house or area establishments, birthday candles and matches (guests often remember to bring a cake but forget the candles), spare batteries for toys given as gifts for children’s birthdays, balloons and a helium tank, yellow ribbons, and inexpensive room decorations for typical celebrations.
G- When guests are greeted with these items and amenities unexpectedly in their rooms, chances are very good that they will soon be tweeting out and/or posting a photo, especially since you are giving them something to take a picture of.
H- Besides amenities, when colleagues get to know their guests they can identify the special interests and hobbies of those who stay frequently, especially for hotels catering to the business travelers who tend to return regularly. Thereafter, they can provide personalized amenities and information. For example, if you learn that a guest is into live music, why not call a local nightclub to ask for a guest pass? If you find a guest is into culinary – as so many millennials are especially fond of – give them a copy of a review of a new restaurant that has opened in the region. If they are runners, let them know about a local corporate run that is taking place nearby.
I- Provide recognition for your frontline colleagues who deliver these punctilious guest service experiences at staff meetings and in employee communications (newsletters, intranet postings), especially when something they did for a guest is later mentioned in a social media posting.
When you encourage your frontline colleagues to engage those we call our guests, and to do the little extras such as referenced here, your guests will most certainly be more likely to tweet about their experiences and to post photos that tell the story for those in the outside world. Along the way you will also find that your frontline colleagues also have a lot more fun delivering hospitality rather than processing guests like widgets in a factory.