Is Your Customer Experience Inhospitable?
Increasing Guest Loyalty by Exceeding Guest Expectations (Hospitality Point of View Paper)
There is no arguing that the hospitality industry is thriving. With both Average Daily Rate (ADR) and Revenue Per Available Room (RevPAR) growing, hospitality organizations are now focused on building long-term profitability. While there are multiple tactics to reach this goal, the greatest opportunity lies in converting a strong brand message into an experience that provides hospitality guests with increased value and leaves them with an even stronger regard for the brand. This approach of strengthening the guest experience greatly increases loyalty, and it provides additional revenue and profit opportunities as guests spend more and more often.
Within the highly competitive hospitality world, there’s no such thing as business as usual. Market forces, current customer trends, economic conditions, and competitive threats within the industry add complexity and urgency to the strategic planning of hospitality executives.
Customer Trend Tensions
Today’s business issues focus on new tactics to strengthen brand loyalty and grow RevPAR at a time when market forces and current shopping trends seem to be pulling away from brand loyalty. Guests are increasingly using technology and online travel sites to plan travel and lodging. As they plan and shop, they are exposed to competing offers and new options for every dollar in their travel budget. As guests become more skilled in using technology to plan and shop for travel and accommodation, their expectations become more sophisticated as well. Millennials increasingly expect to use smartphones and tablets to book travel and transportation, check in and out, order services, and make payments for hospitality services. Some guests use technology to find the lowest price, while others are looking for enhanced sources of value and are willing to pay for it.
Hospitality executives must accommodate the expectations of all segments of their customer base.
Maintaining brand consistency across multiple properties and multiple levels of service is an industry-wide challenge. When hospitality guests arrive at a property, their expectations are framed by the brand name over the front door, not by the business model. A consistent customer experience is critical to growing brand loyalty and revenue.
Best-in-Class Customer Experience
Best-in-class hospitality organizations understand there is nothing more powerful when building financial performance and brand loyalty than insisting on excellence throughout the guest experience. The guest experience can include multiple interactions between hospitality staff and individual guests across every channel, planning and budgeting a trip, shopping for the best possible lodging, visiting the property to conduct business or enjoy a vacation, and, finally, departing with memories and expectations fulfilled or disappointed. The customer experience is the very live-or-die heart of the industry.
Too often, the hospitality industry defines guest experience based on tangibles and minimizes the impact of the human interaction. However, our research reminds us of the importance of intangible factors:
- Long-term loyalty to any brand is based on the perception of the guest experience.
- Guests have a broader definition of value that goes beyond product and price. It includes how hotel associates make them “feel” about their stay.
For example, the user interface software designer who writes the code for a branded smartphone app owns a portion of the customer experience, as does the bellhop who helps the departing guest find the best transportation at the end of the vacation. The dishwasher who helps a guest find the exercise room and the housekeeper who interrupts her busy morning to provide an extra towel each own a piece of the customer experience.
Executive Leadership of the Guest Experience
Guest experience will not provide competitive advantage without a bold and firm commitment from executive leadership. This includes:
- A clear vision and mission that connects with and addresses every customer interaction across every channel
- Commitment of resources, time, and support to align all activities with customer experience
- Communication that enrolls and aligns the head, heart, and hands of employees in all job functions
Management needs to help employees become enrolled in, take ownership of, and commit to delivering the total customer experience. At each point of interaction and for each job function in each, property managers need to make sure employees:
- Know what to do to ensure consistent customer experience
- Know why it is so important to provide a best-in-class customer experience
- Know how to take the actions that will deliver the desired customer experience
In other words, managers need to engage the head, heart, and hands of all employees in the creation and delivery of a best-in-class customer experience.
Helping Customers Trust Your Brand
Even before they begin planning a specific business trip or vacation, customers are constantly forming and revising their impressions of your brand and your competitors’ brands. Even when customers stay at a competitor’s property, they continue to form both logical and emotional judgements that impact their expectations for their current and future decisions about travel and accommodations.
The key to turning anonymous customers into loyal guests lies in consistently executing to their individual expectations in such a way as to help them form and build trust in your brand.
Customer expectations are not just built on your marketing or advertising. They are created based on individual service experiences across all brands and all industries. Hospitality executives must realize they are no longer just competing against the hotel across the street but with everywhere their customers shop.
Trust = Credibility + Empathy
Credibility is the guest’s logical assessment of a hospitality brand’s capability and reliability for delivering what is expected. Empathy is the emotional connection that enables hospitality staff to establish a high level of rapport with guests by understanding, anticipating, and exceeding the emotional component of guests’ personal needs and expectations.
Our research shows that guest perceptions of trust are determined by four supporting concepts; the first two address empathy and the last two address credibility.
- Commonality: Refers to the guest’s perception that you both hold things in common—interests, beliefs, and values.
- Intent: An open demonstration of your interest in the guest’s success and well-being.
- Propriety: Expectations of business customs and the ability and willingness to meet the guest’s expectations.
- Competence: The perception you create in the guest’s mind that you have the capability and experience to meet his or her hospitality requirements.
In the world of hospitality, the requirement that trust be at the heart of every guest interaction doesn’t vary by interaction channel or market trend.
Leading hospitality brands understand that trust grows most profoundly from the “human side” of the equation. By helping staff gain competence in the skills that demonstrate empathy, they are equipping and empowering staff’s ability to anticipate, meet, and exceed guests’ expectations.
Wilson Learning Impacts the Head, Heart, and Hands
For more than 50 years, Wilson Learning has helped people and organizations produce best-in-class performance by providing powerful learning experiences that reliably produce a “change of heart,” ongoing bursts of insight and understanding, and practical skill-building applications that move entire organizations toward their strategic goals. Our original research in how customers build and sustain a perception of trust gives us direct access to how to instill excellence in the customer experience.
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