I lived for a while in Southern California. In general the United States is renowned for giving good customer service but in my humble opinion Southern California sets the benchmark. For someone like me who makes a living from advising businesses how to provide better service, this was the ideal location to observe best practice and gather case studies.
During my 18 months based in San Diego I had the opportunity to visit and observe the serving staff of many bars and restaurants. That fact alone explains why I gained 15 kilograms while I was away but that’s not the reason for this article. It seems to me that every restaurant in America subscribes to the same formula for serving dinners.
Typically, you will be greeted by the hostess and taken to your table and given menus. Within moments a broadly smiling server will come to take the order for drinks which are duly delivered in a timely manner. Shortly after this your food order is taken and a little while later your meals arrive.
Up until now you might be thinking that this doesn’t sound so terribly different to a restaurant in any other country like Australia, New Zealand or the UK. You’ll have to trust me that all this occurs with way more smiles and efficiency but the big difference is what happens next. With a degree of precision, you could measure in milliseconds the server will return to the table in about a minute and a half. This seems to be the exact moment that the thought occurs to you that maybe a little Dijon mustard might be nice on your steak or that you realise the ketchup bottle is empty or that maybe a cheeky little red would go well with those lamb shanks.
If you compare that to a time when your meal has been dumped in front of you by an uncaring waiter who then seems to disappear from the face of the earth. Just at the same time you realise that you don’t have a fork. So you either stare around the room seeking help that never comes as your meal goes cold or you start to eat your chicken parmigiana with your fingers. Either way you end up frustrated and angry.
My Californian experience left me wondering why we don’t do something similar in the accommodation industry. Over the last 15 years I have travelled extensively staying in hotels and caravan parks. Regardless of the style of accommodation and no matter how efficient the check in process, it seems there are always questions or problems. Applying the old 80/20 rule most of those questions and issues will occur in the first hour after arrival.
If I’m staying in a hotel I will often struggle with the TV remote (or can’t find it), become overwhelmed with the AC controls or wonder where the closest karaoke bar is located shortly after checking in. If we are towing our caravan it will be in those early moments that we realise we can’t find the sullage point, not sure which way to point the TV antenna or wonder where the best place to launch my kayak might be.
Not everyone is comfortable calling down to reception to ask what might seem a silly question and the walk back to the office can seem overwhelming when you have just towed a caravan half way across the country. How good would it be if someone from the property just materialised at that very point in time to answer your question or provide assistance? Guests don’t want to, nor do they think they should have to, pull information from you.
If you run a three-bedroom B&B there is probably no excuse. You are probably so closely connected to the guest in a physical and emotional sense that you’ll just “be there”.
Unlike a restaurant server who might be looking after six tables you could be running a 100 room hotel or a 200 site holiday park. It’s quite unlikely that you can be there to check on the satisfaction of each guest just at the time they need it.
In these days of automated communications, the next best thing might be to message the guest shortly after arrival to check they have all they need and invite them to call if they don’t. A Triggered Correspondence feature provides an opportunity to send a text message to each guest at a predetermined time after check in.
Imagine a guest checking into your property and going to their accommodation. The typical post check-in questions occur to them and they discover all the things they can’t find or that don’t work. Just as they are getting to the point where they have to come to you they receive this text message.
“Thank you for checking into My Hotel. If you have any questions or concerns whatsoever, please call 02 555 555 so we can help you”.
All they need to do is press the phone number and you have an immediate opportunity turn what could have been a negative situation into a positive guest experience. This could be a very easy way to convert the guest into an evangelist for your property before they light you up on social media.
If they don’t have questions and issues? Even better, but they will have appreciated the fact that you cared enough to ask the question.