Last night we were watching Michael McIntyre’s Christmas Comedy Roadshow with Rhod Gilbert telling the story of his toothbrush. (It’s very funny and if you’ve never seen it you can watch it here. Whether it’s a toothbrush, socks or earmuffs, I’m sure we’ve all had similar disappointments; you receive the most amazing looking gift, beautifully wrapped, posh ribbon and fancy packaging. Then you reveal the contents…. And it’s a real let down. It’s all glitz and no substance.
So why would I be talking about disappointing gifts?
Do we ever leave our customers with the same let down experience?
What promises might we make either intentionally or unintentionally, on which we then fail to deliver.
We’ve had that experience just this week. We came home on Tuesday night to find a card saying “we tried to deliver your parcel, but you were out.” (I’m sure with today’s technology it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep the customer informed, and in this case notify expected delivery date, but maybe that’s an article for another day…) To cut a long and very frustrating story short despite rearranging the delivery for Wednesday, the parcel still hasn’t arrived. Needless to say our expectations have been far from met and that courier company certainly won’t be getting any recommendations from us. Yes, I appreciate it’s Christmas and it’s a busy period, but please don’t make promises that you then can’t deliver. Not a good recipe for customer loyalty.
It’s easy when you’re busy to let things slip, but this should be the very time to wow your customers So here are my top 10 things you might want to check so you feel confident you’ll never be falling short with your customers, so they remain naturally loyal to you and your business.
Is everything you display on your website and in your marketing representative of what people get when they arrive. Not only your offers and prices, but are your photographs representative, is everything available as implied or, are directions accurate, etc. Yes, I get that you need to make your offers enticing, but they certainly shouldn’t be misleading if you don’t want to lose your customers’ trust.
Is it made clear at the time of enquiry or booking if anything won’t be available on the day or time in question? There may be times when you’re hosting big events that are bound to have a knock-on effect on other customers. Be upfront about these and the impact it might have to avoid disappointment.
Are customers forewarned of any potential problems? For example peak periods when there might be a need to wait. Or when the only option you can offer your customer is not what they would normally book. OK, they may not decide to book as a result, but better that and they come back another day, than they come to you, have a disappointing experience, and never return.
Does the customer’s first impression live up to what’s in store? Disappointment at this stage can have a knock-on effect on the whole experience, leaving your customer nit picking by looking for every opportunity to support their initial assessment.
Will the last customers of the day get the same choices and level of service is the first customers of the day. Your team might be tired and want to go home, but is that really your customer’s problem? Having systems in place and training your team will help you maintain consistency.
Can your regular customers be reassured that there will always get the same level of service, irrespective of the time of day, week or year. Or better still, aim to raise the level of service even if just by 1% on each and every visit, so there’s always something new and you’re never seen to be complacent.
Do you do anything to add value and wow your customer? What are the additional little touches that you can add with minimal effort or at little cost and to you, but are appreciated your customers that will give them the perception of you going the extra mile. Lots of little thoughtful touches throughout the customer journey all add up to a great experience.
Is the level of service and attention to detail in line with your offer/product(s). You can have the most amazing product in the world, but unless its delivery matches up to this it will fail to impress.
If and when things go wrong (and even in the most well oiled business mishaps still happen) be bold enough to admit your mistakes, apologise, rectify and move on. How you recover the situation will be what the customer remembers.
Don’t leave that last impression to chance; make sure everything delivers right to the very end and follow-up with your customers after their visit to show your appreciation of their custom.
So remember, you’re only as good as your customer’s last experience so make sure it’s a good one, even when you are busy.
Whatever you promise you need to be able to deliver, and better still, deliver +1%. Every time!
You’ll not only keep your customers happy and get fewer complaints, but make it easier on your team, they’ll give better service and you set the stage for repeat business and a naturally loyal customer.
Getting feedback from your guests is essential to gauge whether or not what you offering is right for your target audience. Whether it’s positive or negative and whether you agree with it or not is key to your success.
So why is it then that so many businesses seem to ignore this fact?
There was a time when customers were reserved about giving direct feedback, particularly complaints; they didn’t want to be seen to making a fuss, and anyway if they did complain they felt nothing would change. They would just vote with their feet and just not come back again.
Of course all that’s changed now with the advent of social media; people do complain, but all too often this comes too late for us to remedy the situation and instead of just telling us they tell the whole world.
So the more we can do to get direct feedback, warts and all, the greater the likelihood we have of resolving the situation there and then, turning it around and turning what could have been a tragic moment into a magic moment.
Unless we get people’s feedback we can’t do anything about it.
Most people accepted that with the best will in the world from time to time things go wrong, and how we resolve the situation gets remembered.
Prevention is better than cure
Make sure your guests feel comfortable to give feedback at every opportunity.
Face-to-face feedback will always be the most effective and ideally we need to get feedback before it’s too late to do something about it. If what you have provided fails to meet expectations you’d rather know about it before the guest leaves so you can resolve it, there and then.
As well is asking at the end of each course, the meal or their stay, be observant and look out for signs that things aren’t right or that someone wants to get your attention. For example if a diner has hardly touched their steak but eaten everything else that might suggest there was a problem with the steak. Or you hear a guest complaining about the temperature of their room to others in their party probably suggests something that needs investigating.
If you know that something’s not right be up front with your guests and let them know before it becomes a problem. Offer alternatives if necessary and then keep them informed of the situation.
For example if you know their room won’t be ready tell them the situation, offer them the option of afternoon tea in the lounge, or a nice walk they might like to take, and give them an expected time that their room will be ready.
Equally if you’ve a backlog in the kitchen and they may have a wait for their main course let them know as soon as possible. If they are on a tight schedule they may not be prepared to wait but at least they’ve been given the option to choose a simpler dish, skip a course or as a last resort eat elsewhere before they are committed or you prepare something they don’t have time to eat.
Talk to your guests
Being visible in your hotel or restaurant, and making contact with your guests builds rapport and trust. Once you’ve gained this you’re in a far better position to gain valuable feedback first hand. The same goes for your staff too, so encourage them to talk to your guests. Give them the appropriate training to ask for feedback in the knowledge that they are confidence to deal with feedback – good or bad – in a positive way. Bare in mind your guests will tell you things that they wouldn’t feedback to your staff, and vice versa.
Ask the right questions
Making statements such as “I hope you enjoyed your meal” or “was everything all right for you?” is not likely to get the customer to open up. We need to ask specific questions that will give something more than a yes or no. Open questions starting with how or what are the most useful; for example how would you rate …, how could we improve on …, what did you like most about ….
I don’t mean put guests on the spot. If you’ve already got a good rapport with your guests you’ll be able to do this quite naturally in a conversational way.
Guests will be flattered if you ask for their opinions. So also ask for their feedback on how things can be improved and their recommendations and new ideas. Then keep them up to date with the changes they’ve made to demonstrate that you have been listening. What a great excuse to invite them back again to show them the changes you’ve implemented?
Capture the good and the bad. Even if you don’t agree with feedback you need to find out (tactfully) what has led to their perception, as this may lead to the root of the problem.
Questionnaires are impersonal and few people like to fill them in except maybe when they’re really unhappy about something. The more you can find out through a two-way conversation with your customers the better. But it does give those who didn’t want to say anything at the time, perhaps because they were embarrassed or didn’t want to make a fuss in front of their party a chance to feedback.
Love them or hate them, online reviews do get read and will influence prospective customers. Sadly statistically people are more likely to be prompted to post a review if they’ve a bad experience than when they’ve had a good one. So aim to redress this balance, by encouraging as many as your guests as possible to post reviews, so you get the good ones as well as (hopefully only occasional) bad ones.
Display your confidence by encouraging your guests and website visitors to link to TripAdvisor and other review sites. One of the easiest things you could do is to put a link from your website, and on your post stay e-mails, and prompt people who have enjoyed their stay to post a review.
But the least you can do is show people you appreciate the feedback (good or bad) by responding quickly to the feedback you receive. Register with TripAdvisor, etc. and set up a Google alert so you know whenever anyone is talking about your business online, so that you can monitor your reviews by receiving notifications.
This is particularly important for negative feedback to show that you have looked into the situation and taken things on board. If I see a complaint online that the management hasn’t made a reply to I think they don’t care.
Feedback that you feel is unjustified can be frustrating, but the way in which you handle this will reflect on your professionalism and reputation, so deal with it in a constructive way. Take the discussion off-line as quickly as possible by asking them to phone you. This then provides an opportunity for you to get more detail and having a better chance of resolving the situation without having to share the discussion with the rest of the world.
Don’t be too concerned about the occasional negative comment. This demonstrates authenticity of the content and in some cases can actually help to highlight the type of hotel you are. For example, if you have a comment that the hotel is not child friendly, this may be seen as a positive for some potential guests.
Watch out too for feedback through Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites so you can respond accordingly.
Dealing with negative feedback
It can be easy to get defensive when we receive feedback, particularly when we feel it is not justified or we totally disagree with it. But this just makes te whole complaint handling process more difficult. What we need to ask is what led to this customer’s perception. This sometimes involves asking questions in a tactful way. The key thing is to show some empathy with the customer’s point of view.
Even if we disagree, something must have triggered their perception. So listen to what your guest is saying, and aim to turn a negative into a positive. The least you can do is apologise (even if you’re just apologising that they feel that way) and demonstrate what changes you’ve made if appropriate.
Empower your team
Develop a culture of customer service amongst your team. Give your team training in Complaint Handling and the authority to deal with complaints as they happen. Encourage them and train them how to ask for feedback and just as importantly how to respond when they get complaints or negative feedback.
This is far better for the customer because it gets a quicker solution, far better for the team member because they’re able to deal with it which gives them pride, and far better for you because it means you don’t have to always been involved. This doesn’t mean to say that don’t want to hear about complaints particularly if there are common recurring problems that need to be resolved.
Don’t assume because you’ve told people how to do something they will be able to just go out and deliver it consistently. It’s all very well knowing what to say, but you know how sometimes when you come to say something the words just don’t trip off the tongue as you might hope! Let your team practise in a safe environment, based on different scenarios.
Agree with them their levels of authority so they know just how much leeway they have in offering the customer/guest compensation, and at what point they may need to involve a manager.
Observe how your staff handle complaints and give them feedback after the event on what they did well, what they could do more of, and give the appropriate support and guidance on areas where they need more help.
It’s all too easy when we hear of a complaint to blame someone in the team for the problem. Put the team first and they’ll reward you with avoiding problems.
Here’s a little Complaint Handling checklist you may find useful:
Listen to the customer – they want to get it off their chest – You need to identify the problem
Show you’re listening – remember your body language and keep eye contact
Reflect back to the customer to check your understanding and show the customer you’ve understood
Park the emotion and focus on the facts
Apologise – this isn’t necessarily accepting responsibility, but apologising that they’ve been put out or disappointed or that they feel that way
Do not take it personally
Show you care and that you understand their concern, why they might be disappointed or why they feel angry
They’re not interested in excuses – even if the problem wasn’t your fault show that you’re looking to come to a solution to the problem for your guest
And ask what they would see as an acceptable solution
Offer alternatives so the customer feels they are in control of the solution
Look to overcompensate by at least a few percent – there’s no need to go overboard but just consider what would be reasonable for both parties – It’s not always about throwing money at the problem
Tell the customer what you are going to do and not why things went wrong (unless that’s what they ask)
Keep your promise and deliver
Check that the customer is happy with the outcome
Learn from the feedback you’ve had and look into recurring trends – aim to prevent a similar complaint happening again
Pass on to your team so they know how to resolve similar situations in future
With the right approach complaints can turn a negative into positive. You can’t always get everything right, but when you don’t make sure you fix it!
Join me on my webinar this Wednesday when I’ll be discussing:
We’re all familiar with the sayings about a first impression: a first impression is a lasting impression, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, you only get one chance to make a first impression, it will form a lasting impression within the first seconds, etc. So does that mean if you make a great first impression that’s all you need to do?
We sometimes put so much energy into a positive first impression that we then forget all about the lasting impression. What is the impression that stays with your guests when they leave your hotel? What will be the lasting memory that stays with them when they’re thinking about booking their next visit, telling their friends or colleagues about their stay, or telling the world on review sites about their experience?
These are the three ways to be proactive:
Ask for their feedback
If what you have provided fails to meet expectations wouldn’t you rather know about it before the guest leaves? Simply relying on reviews, questionnaires or a visitor’s book when your customers leave is not only impersonal, but is leaving it a bit too late if things weren’t perfect. Face-to-face feedback will always be the most effective, but making a hurried statement such as “I hope everything was OK” as the guest checks out doesn’t do much to demonstrate that you’re really interested in the feedback and finding out how they feel about their stay. Make it easy for your customers to give you useful feedback by asking specific questions that will give something more than a yes or no. Open questions starting with how or what are the most useful; for example how would you rate …, how could we improve on …, what did you like most about …
Talk to your customers throughout
Of course leaving a lasting impression doesn’t mean only showing your interest when they leave. Being visible in your business, and making contact with your guests throughout their stay builds rapport and trust. Once you’ve gained this you’re in a far better position to identify guests’ needs and expectations and gain valuable feedback first hand. The same goes for your staff too, so encourage them to talk to your customers. Give them the appropriate training to ask for feedback in the knowledge that they are confidence to deal with it – good or bad – in a positive way.
Accept that from time to time things will go wrong; there may be occasional delays at breakfast, you’ll get power cuts, you might run out of their favourite tipple in the bar, fellow guests or deliveries may disturb your guests in the early hours, something may get overlooked by housekeeping. Most of our guests are reasonable, and they understand these things happen too, just as long as you’re prepared to listen, empathise and do something about it to resolve the situation and not allow them to leave with a bitter taste in the mouth.
The sooner problems are identified, the easier before they have a chance to fester. Be observant and look out for signs that things aren’t right or that someone wants to get your attention. Picking up a problem early on and dealing with any complaints (justified or otherwise) in a positive way before a guest leaves ensures you can not only deal with it before other guests experience the same problem, but ensures the affected guest has an opportunity to get it resolved to their satisfaction before telling the world about it.
Tomorrow we’ll look at those little touches which add the wow factor……………….
Making personal contact with your hotel guests or restaurant customers builds rapport and trust. This starts with being visible – not just your staff, but some managers’ presence too. But being visible is only half the story. What are you doing to reflect and convey your values and attitude to customers and staff? The way you interact with your staff and participate in the operation gets noticed.
Talking to your customers directly is by far the best way to get feedback. They may tell you things that they wouldn’t feed back to your staff. Get to know your customers personally – their likes and dislikes, their routine, their suggestions, their network – all this not only builds rapport, but makes it a lot easier to upsell and tailor your offers to your market.
Every bit of feedback you get from your customers is valuable to you, whether it’s positive or negative and whether you agree with it or not. Take on board the good and the bad. If you don’t agree with the feedback, find out (tactfully) what has led to their perception, as this may lead to the root of the problem. If you don’t know what disappoints customers, you can’t improve on it, so make sure you are prepared to listen to, and take on board any thoughts on what lets you down, so you can learn from this and address it. Show them that you appreciate the feedback. Then demonstrate you’ve acted on it if relevant.
Be flexible. You can’t bow to every request a customer ever makes. But don’t be so bound by the rules that any request is met with a hostile ‘jobsworth’ attitude!
If you cannot meet your customers’ initial requests, look at offering an alternative. Catering for one off special needs is the sort of attention to detail that builds you loyalty and referrals.
What is there that makes your hotel, restaurant or offer unique, that they might want to take home or share with others? This shows your appreciation of their business and well as acting as a memento and reinforces your relationship (as well as potentially an opportunity for additional sales). Could you offer any of the following either as a gift or as additional sales? Convert your renowned menu or signature dishes into a recipe book, package your hand-made petit fours into a gift box to take home; offer birthday or celebration cakes for customers celebrating special occasions; offer a hand-tied flower bouquet for anniversaries or special occasions; sell your homemade bread, marmalade or other preserves and chutneys; sell luxurious bathroom accessories, robes with your logo, and toiletries. A win-win, the guest has something special to take home and you get an opportunity to ensure they remember you long after they’ve left (and maybe an upselling opportunity too!)
Tomorrow we’ll discuss how to continue to build the guest relationship even once they’ve left you, to set the wheels in motion for repeat business and referrals – one of the easiest ways to market a hotel.
Be innovative in identifying other items to offer to your guests – before, during and after their stay, that might help make their stay more enjoyable or memorable.
What is there that makes your establishment or offer unique; what do guests ask about or compliment you on, that they might want to take home or share with others? Could you offer any of the following to add a personal touch?
If you often get asked about local events, or things to do, can you send through some literature with confirmation of their booking, with relevant links
If you are difficult to find or off the beaten track, can you email directions from Google maps or AA route finder taken from their own postcode to the hotel, (or details of how to get from airports or station if this is more relevant to your target market)
If they ask for recipes or comment on your menus, convert your signature dishes into a recipe book or leaflet
If they love your hand-made petit fours, package them up into a gift box to take home
If you’re a popular venue for celebrating special occasions, offer hand-tied flower bouquets and birthday or celebration cakes
If your guests enjoy your home made bread, marmalade or other preserves and chutneys, offer them for sale to take home at the end of their stay
Offer your finest ingredients as an off sale – cheese, meat, eggs, etc., if there is something special about them – locally sourced, organic, etc.
If your guests love your luxurious bathroom accessories, robes with your logo, and toiletries, offer them for sale (and reduce the temptation to steal them)
Do you get asked about your unusual crockery? Why not get in more stocks and sell that or make arrangements with your suppliers for direct home delivery?
All these provide that personal touch, and a great talking point from which referrals may well flow. Not to mention a potential source of additional sales.
So think ahead, listen to your customers and pre-empt or respond to their needs. Even if you and you team know it’s all part of your ‘standard’ offer, your guests will appreciate the extra lengths you go to for them to enjoy their stay.
Catering for special diets and needs is the sort of attention to detail that builds you loyalty and referrals.
Let your guests know in advance if you can provide special diets or meals. Plan ahead for the huge numbers who have some kind of allergy or intolerance to certain foods. If you don’t cater for them, it’s not just their custom you will lose – their whole party will probably end up going somewhere else. You just have to look at any of the big supermarkets and their range of ‘free from’ products to recognise there is a huge market here.
Listen to all the reasons people give for NOT staying, or limiting their stay with you. What other services you can provide that might just tip the balance in favour of that night out, overnight stay or weekend away. Think of the challenges your guests face, and how easily you could solve their problems:
No baby sitter – can you offer a babysitting service
What to do with the dog – recommend kennels (or allow dogs)
Poor transport network – provide a free taxi service to and from the station or airport
If I stay away another night I’ll miss my gym session and end up eating more than I should – a common concern for business users, so set up temporary membership arrangements at the local gym, and provide a healthy option light or calorie counted meal
The kids will want their bikes, but we don’t have a bike rack – offer bike hire or team up with a local hire shop ~
There’s nothing to do if the weather is bad – set up a kids’ play room and indoor entertainment area, and provide games and indoor activities
I don’t have time to do my laundry, get my hair cut or legs waxed – provide a laundry and pressing service, or offer complimentary or discount vouchers for your own spa or a local beauty or hair salon
You could take the attitude ‘that’s not my problem’ or you can see these ‘problems’ as great opportunities for additional services. Without having to think too hard or spend too much, people can have a ready-solved problem if you’ve put together a package ‘just for them’. For more articles and resources
You can’t bow to every request a hotel guest ever makes. But don’t be so bound by the rules that any request is met with a hostile ‘jobsworth’ attitude! If you cannot meet your guests’ initial requests, look at offering an alternative:
A guest wants an early breakfast, before your kitchen staff normally arrive – offer a continental breakfast or a tray instead, or at the very least a take away cup of fresh coffee.
You receive a request just 10 minutes before service for an alternative to the set menu for a big party – you don’t have a choice, but listen to what the guest needs to avoid and offer an alternative combination without this item.
Your weekend guests ring ahead and say they haven’t been able to get a dog sitter. You don’t take dogs, but can you find a local kennel who can accommodate the dog?
Your guest asks for a particular brand of whisky for an important client he is entertaining. You don’t stock it, so do you refuse, or phone your neighbouring hotel or pub to see if they have it in stock.
Encourage your staff to get into the mindset of looking for an alternative solution, even if the initial question has to be answered with a ‘no’, it can be followed by ‘but I can do x for you’, or ‘I know someone who could do this for you’. For more articles and resources
Give your guests choice. This does not mean having 100 items on your breakfast menu or 40 types of pillow – but do give them a choice you can cope with. Again listen to what your customers tell you.
In your restaurant, how often do people tell you they are too full for a dessert? Serving huge portions may be appealing to some, but others may be put off having a starter or dessert if they think the portion sizes are too big. Why not provide a taster version, for a slightly lower price, to ensure the sale? That way the waiting staff don’t need to make a judgement call or check with the kitchen if this can be done; it’s already in the system, and the kitchen don’t have to guess the portion size.
Can you offer a choice of rooms in terms of features or facilities? Even if the rooms are all a standard layout, can you offer people a choice of outlook, proximity to reception, in-room amenities etc?
How often do you get asked what time is check out? Can you be flexible to allow later check-outs (for an additional cost or as part of a promotional special) so guests have the opportunity to make the most of their last day before they head home?
Do your guests come to you to celebrate special occasions? If so do you have one room, which is very special in its own right, or where you can include extra services? What else can you add to your standard offer to make a deluxe version to sell at a premium price?
Have you ever stayed in a hotel or eaten in a restaurant where the staff and management have been so hell bent on the rules that it’s impossible to get what you want? I’m sure we all have. And will we ever go back there? I doubt it.
But allowing the attitude that anything goes can be damaging to your bottom line, especially if you are a small hotel. And it can be confusing for staff. So how do you strike the balance?
Over the next few days I’ll be exploring the options to show we are listening and responding to our guests needs and helping to build loyalty and trust.
Anticipate their needs
Start by identifying customers’ needs in advance. Identify your perfect customer and identify the things that will be important to each category of guest. Put yourself in their shoes or ask them directly what they want from their stay with you.
Are they business users who need a phone re charger, restaurant or theatre bookings make, access to a printer to print their boarding pass, a quick no frills breakfast before their meeting, or an express check out?
Do you cater for families, who may want equipment for infants and small children (and staff who look happy to see them!), child friendly menus, and something to entertain the kids?
Do you cater for a lot of celebrations when people may want birthday cakes, flowers, or gifts? If you know there is a likelihood something will be asked for, build this into your services as a norm, that way it can be planned for and staff can be get the right training to deal with the situation.