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Embarking upon the customer journey
April 2 2012

The customer is always right. Knowing this, it’s important that staff members take the customer journey to understand guest experience and help solve emerging issues.

Highlights
  • Customer journeys begin with researching the booking of the hotel.
  • The customer journey does not end once the customer drives away from your property; make sure you’re following up with guests after their stay.
  • Look at the cause of the problem before deciding on the best solution, and ask why the standard has not been met, or what is causing the problem?

How often do you put yourself in your customers' shoes? Taking the customer journey is something every business should do so staff can understand the guest experience, helping you glean insights on what your hotel can do better. Your customer journey covers all the touch points of the guest, customer and client experience.

A customer journey overview
It starts with the research—the booking and the journey. How easy it is to find your hotel online and then make a booking either online, email or phone? To get the most accurate response, ask someone outside of the business to give you feedback on this. Does your website give all the necessary information to make a decision, make a booking and arrive in one piece? Do all the links work? Are contact details easy to find?
 
Then take the journey your customer takes from arrival to departure. This starts with driving into the parking lot and your walk to reception. Because many booking and travel plans are made online, the reception desk is often going to be the first and last direct contact your guests will have with a real person. How warm is the welcome, and how genuine the farewell?

Once you’re there, find out what it’s like during your stay. How easy is it to navigate to your room? What is your view from the window? How comfy are the beds?  How practical are your hotel rooms? Unless you experience a night’s stay for yourself, you won’t be able to see what works and what doesn't. It’s often little things such as no place to hang towels that become obvious after spending time in your hotel.

The customer journey does not end once the customer drives away from your property. What follow-up do you do with your guests? Do you thank them for their stay? If they experienced any problems, how do you handle them? Do you let them know of other events or offers that might interest them? All of these are part of the customer journey and add to the total customer experience.

The problem is we can become oblivious, and it's quite difficult to get a real first-hand experience as the service you get will never be quite the same as your guests' experience. Things also change gradually, so it’s easy to miss when something has passed below an acceptable level.

Get your team members involved
Taking your team through the customer journey is a great way to engage them. They are the ones who have to implement any actions required, so if they identify for themselves what needs to be done, they already bought into the idea.

So involve your team in the process, especially new staff members, who will be experiencing things for the first time. Even old hands can give you another perspective by experiencing another department. Ask your kitchen staff to take the customer journey in the gym, your housekeeping staff to dine in the restaurant when they’re off duty, your conference team to stay the night.

Create a checklist, so they know what they’re looking for while they’re on the customer journey.
 
Incorporate the customer journey into any training on customer service or for specific operational training. This works best when teams are mixed or crossed over so team members are not auditing their own departments.
 
It is key the department being audited has an opportunity to have a say, and that they are involved in auditing other departments. This avoids any departments feeling as though they are being criticized or pick on.

When giving feedback, encourage teams to talk about what was good, what was missing or what needs attention, and focus on how it can be improved. If this is not the team’s own department, it’s also good to get members to identify their role in the improvements.

 
Induction programs for new employees

You may include all or part of the customer journey as a part of your induction program for new employees. This provides a medium for them to become familiar with your services and encourages them to look at your hotel through the eyes of a guest. Being new, they will not take things for granted and may provide some valuable insights into what people see or might perceive.


Allocating responsibility
You may want to allocate responsibility to specific team members. This is an effective method for developing your team and introducing them to new departments, or simply to enhance someone’s existing role. Giving them a checklist helps sets the standards and enables them to be self monitoring and takes the pressure off you or your management team.
 

Agenda for team meetings
Take each department in turn as agenda items for team meetings, perhaps taking one department per week or month. Conducting an audit in advance enables team members to give some thought to the areas in question and to come prepared to discuss their ideas or recommendations for the area or department.


Using external input
In an ideal world we’d like our guests’ perspective in all these areas, but as a second best we might want to enlist the help of those external to our business. There are, of course, mystery guest schemes, but as a first step with the help of
an internal audit checklist you might be able to enlist the help of your existing contacts in exchange for a review of their own business or a meal in your restaurant or a night at the hotel. However, choose someone who will be objective, has the same standards and expectations of your ideal guest and who won’t be afraid of offending you by giving blunt and honest feedback. Having the checklists does help with the objectivity, but you’ll need to check on the other two criteria.

Review the results
Completing a review of the customer journey may flag up just one or two issues or maybe a whole host of things that are not perfect.

Look at the cause of the problem before deciding on the best solution, and ask why the standard has not been met, or what is causing the problem.
It could be down to:
• Operational pressures, staff shortages or lack or inflexibility in the team
• Poor raw materials, resources or equipment
• No procedure or system in place, out-of-date or complicated systems or too much red tape
• Staff not trained in the procedures or having the right skills
• Staff not understanding what’s expected of them or mixed messages
• Not understanding why the standards are important; an apathy or no incentive for the team to carry out challenging or unrewarding tasks

Get to the bottom of the problems first before throwing time and resources at solving the wrong problem.

Then decide on your priorities. It’s often tempting to devote time to the easy fixes, but if these aren’t having a major impact on the business or addressing the root cause, then you are wasting time, effort and resources that could be spent on high priorities.

What needs to be done to correct the problem and prevent it happening again? Ask whether these actions will completely resolve the gap, or do we need additional help or input? If it is a longer-term issue, what short-term actions can we take to contain the problem?

Allocate who is going to take responsibility for completing or overseeing the actions. Do they need support from other team members? What is the deadline for completion, and any short-term milestones? Then set measures in place to ensure these things get implemented.


Caroline Cooper is a business coach with over 25 years’ experience in business and leadership development, and founder of Zeal Coaching, specializing in working with hospitality businesses, and is author of the 'Hotel Success Handbook'. You can access free downloads and further articles at http://www.zealcoaching.com/product-resources/.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HotelNewsNow.com or its parent company, Smith Travel Research and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

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