It's time to think outside the box.
Hotel customer experience can be seen as two things. The first of these is the physical experience from the moment guests arrive in the hotel lobby to the moment they check out. This is one way of looking at it, and yet it seems to overlook a large percentage of the overall experience. This is where hoteliers think inside of the box.
The other route is when a hotel sees their customers as more than just overnight guests. This occurs when customers are not seen as means to an end. It happens when the whole customer experience is taken into account. It is this other way we will be discussing in this article.
The hotel customer experience begins before the guest even sets foot in the establishment. An individual/couple/family decides that they want to have an experience. That could be the experience of a new city, town, country, or even just to experience some luxury alone time. No matter what it is, that initial decision is vital to the hotel as it dictates what kind of place they are wanting to stay in.
Choosing a Hotel Customer Experience
Choosing the best way to fulfil that experience can be done in one of two ways. The first is to go online and find a cheap deal in a hotel they like the look of. This is a commoditised approach for hotels and one that breeds very little in terms of brand loyalty. If a hotel wants to follow this commoditised route then that is their prerogative, however, it will not benefit the hotel in the long run. There is nothing truly special that allows the hotel to stand out on price comparison websites. Instead of building brand loyalty to a hotel it only builds loyalty to a booking engine.
The hotel customer experience varies so much from establishment to establishment. Each hotel has its own USP, which influences the reason people stay there. It is these, mixed with an incredible customer experience (and eye to detail) that can create a fantastic reason for guests to stay and keep coming back.
A challenging thing for General Managers is that they are fantastic at creating a great first hand hotel experience but not so much before or after. The before and aftermath of the hotel visit is surprisingly disappointing as shown by the graph below.
When the main experience touchpoint the customer has before their stay is the booking email then it is very difficult to get them excited before hand. Customers are, through hotels choosing to commoditise their stay, receiving a customer experience that is simply not on par with what they expect.
The hotel that does not explain or explore what to expect, prior to the guest turning up, is not making the most of their assets. Instead, with a few extra customer touch points the guest can get far more excited ahead of their stay. This is achieved by creating a personable experience for the customer, creating something that is designed to both excite and encourage them to maintain a level of anticipation ahead of their visit.
Above is an example of how this can be done. Each experience, each touch point, is used to encourage the customer to remain engaged with the hotel. Each point reminds the customer to maintain their enthusiasm for their time away. Each point is more than just a point, costing the hotel next to nothing, but allowing for the customer to begin their journey and become brand advocates.
This level of brand advocacy is one that hotels should aim to work towards. As per the graph, this will lead to a better overall experience and an increase in brand loyalty
How To Create An Amazing Hotel Customer Experience
One of the most vital things to understand is that the customer experience goes further than the facilities that a hotel has. Twenty years ago all that was needed to create a fantastic customer experience was a spa and a golf course. This expectation has changed over time, and dramatically so, so much so that a great hotel customer experience resides in that alone - the experience.
Creating this experience is not just about having luxury facilities, it is not even down to the polite attitude of the staff, but rather it is down to what makes the hotel different. What is it that makes customers choose your hotel over that of your competitors?
This is all down to the hotel going the extra mile. It is down to the hotel knowing more about the customer and seeking to make their experience as personable as possible. In order to do this the hotel needs a great CRM as well as a fantastic view of how their customers want to interact with the staff.
Let's talk about a hypothetical situation.
John Smith is in town to work on a high profile sales case. He is pitching to a large client and wants a bespoke atmosphere to sit down and work for a prolonged period of time on his presentation. He texts his ETA to the hotel and then sets off.
When he arrives at the hotel he has a cup of green tea waiting for him (as the hotel knows he is lactose intolerant from his last visit) in the lounge. Upon arrival he is greeted and taken through for a five minute sit down. At this point someone explains to him that he has been given a room with a strong wi-fi signal and good natural light, he has breakfast in his room pre-ordered for 8am (with a wake up call at 7am), the room service menu is set up on a desk pre-fitted out with writing materials. The television in his room has an additional HDMI cable just incase he wants to try his presentation on a big screen, and, above all, he will not be disturbed lest he requests it.
John Smith goes off to his room and receives a six/seven star level of engagement. He has a productive stay. Upon leaving the staff wish him good luck, they send him a text as he is leaving to inform him of places to stop for lunch after his presentation on the way back to his home. When at home he receives a bespoke email hoping his stay went well and looking forward to seeing him in future.
The notion of an experience this personalised is not one out of reach for hotels.
Supporting this idea, it is said that the customer has made up their minds about a hotel within the first five minutes of a visit. After that it is down to the fundamentals of what the bed is like, what the bathroom is like, and other such points. This may seem like a remarkably short time in which a hotel has to make up a customer's mind, however, it can be bolstered by the experience leading up to their entrance.
Rather notably, themed hotels do this incredibly well, creating a fantastic first impression (Hotel Football as an example), however, once the novelty has worn off there is very little propping up the rest of the experience. These do not create returning customers in the same way a hotel with a great experience can away from gimmicks.
A hotel can blend the actual stay with a great pre and post stay, gradually bringing the customer away from the mundane aspects of real life and into the life of luxury.