Elevating the guest experience

Chances are you’ve recently heard someone in your organization say, “We must focus on delivering superior guest experiences.” But is anyone really taking steps to address this? If not, don’t worry. You have more power than you can probably realize to drive positive change for your hotel brand.

All you need is awareness, creativity, and a commitment to action bundled with energy and belief in yourself. With these assets, you’ll be well on your way to designing and delivering exceptional experiences that inspire brand loyalty to your guests. Whether you’re a housekeeping manager or a sous-chef, a head of sales or a concierge, seize the opportunity to make a difference to your brand.

Awareness

Begin with mapping the current state of affairs. Look at your brand from the perspective of your guests, rather than that of your organization. The quality and memorability of the experiences you offer matter more these days than having a best-in-class physical product. I can’t recall the brand of the super-high-end TV in the Maldives water villa where I spent my most recent holiday, but I’ll never forget how exhilarating the night fishing was.

You can start by reviewing any customer research you may have access to, but the best and most proven method is to keep your ear to the ground. Walk the halls and talk with guests to stay in touch with their evolving needs. One general manager at an upscale Bangalore hotel makes it mandatory for executive staff to be in the lobby between 8:30 am and 9:30 am every day. This allows them to get closer to guests, understand their concerns, and resolve problems immediately and effectively.

A guest journey map is also useful here. Take a close look at a guest’s functional and emotional needs across all aspects of the hotel experience, from becoming aware of your brand, making a booking, arriving, staying at the hotel, checking out, and returning.

Start by focusing on your function. If you’re a front office manager, get your staff together and take a long, hard look at the way you welcome guests to the hotel. Try to immerse yourselves in the guests’ world by asking questions like these:

  • How would you describe your typical guest?
  • Which touchpoints are meeting guest needs?
  • Which are exceeding them or falling short?
  • How do your competitors handle these same needs?
  • How do you stack up against them?
  • Are there internal processes that hinder delivery of some experiences?

Creativity

Following the awareness stage, it’s time to brainstorm ideas for improvement and for developing new experiences that are both outstanding and in sync with guest needs.

You just need to have an open mind, challenge assumptions, and take a constant “what if” approach. It’s all about creating stories that guests will want to tell long after they’ve left. Remember how Virgin Atlantic offered head massages to business class passengers on its transatlantic flights? So many people still talk about this experience that it has become a fabulous word-of-mouth endorsement for the brand. You want viral stories like this for your hotel.

First, review what your brand stands for. If this hasn’t already been stated in a brand platform, positioning statement, brand story, or mission, start developing one. This platform is vital for delivering the desired guest experience as well as for aligning and motivating employees.

Choose three words that best define your brand and then dive into ideation. A brand that is youthful, fun-loving, and refreshing will have a very different take on the arrival experience from a brand that stands for time-honored tradition.

This exercise can be lots of fun and an opportunity for team bonding. Take your team out of the work environment to encourage the flow of ideas. You can use a trained facilitator, but if you don’t, just keep in mind that no idea is too outrageous during a brainstorming session. The goal is to generate as many suggestions as possible for developing brand experiences that can be etched into the minds of your guests.

With the arrival experience, for example, could you eliminate check-in altogether? Can you think of a memorable way to transport guests to the hotel? One business hotel in Goa uses high-speed boats for airport transfers leaving its competitors who rely on the standard cars or mini buses in the dust.

Commitment to action

Finally, it’s time to put your ideas into action. This is the most challenging part of the process.

You’ll want to whittle down your list to the top three or five ideas that not only have the power to elevate the guest experience but are also easy to implement. For each one, carefully think through all aspects of delivery and then put in writing how you will execute them.

Do what it takes to get the budgetary approvals for a pilot program. Be sure to gauge the guest response to each idea (anecdotally or more scientifically through a survey, depending on your appetite for process) and then adjust, scale up, or abandon it. Given that you have selected only a few ideas to try out, it shouldn’t be too daunting.

And you don’t have to do it all alone. Encourage your colleagues to take part. If you’re a leader, delegate. The general manager of a leisure property in the Maldives gives his staff a free hand to come up with experiences based on a specific brief. One assistant food and beverage manager there designed a tequila-tasting experience that no hotel in the world had attempted before. That’s what empowerment can do.

Your employee engagement strategy could be a combination of classroom sessions, on-the-job training, and online tutorials. If this is outside your area of responsibility, bring it to the attention of your team leader. Here are a few points you’ll want to address:

  • Do employees have a strong, intuitive grasp of guest needs?
  • Do they understand the desired brand experience?
  • Do they know how to adjust delivery of the experience based on an individual guest’s profile?

In addition, your human resources team should develop a plan to engage, inspire, and reward the frontline staff who will be executing and delivering those special guest experiences.

Perseverance

Individual initiative and action are so critical to creating guest experiences. But be forewarned that the process is somewhat of an infinite loop. You can never rest easy, which is why it’s so important to start with lots of energy and enthusiasm. Just dive in and don’t forget how much power you hold in your hands. You’ll be amazed at how small changes can add up to big successes for your brand.

 

This article was first published by Hotel Management Asia (13 July 2010).
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