Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of columns from J.D. Power’s Stuart Greif that analyzes and provides deeper insights into the company’s 2011 J.D. Power and Associates North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Study. (Read the first column.) The next column will run Monday, 17 October.
In the 2011 J.D. Power and Associates North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Study, satisfaction with the products and services across the guest experience was down across the board while satisfaction with costs and fees were up despite modest increases in average daily rate. Please recall the study covers guest stays from May 2010 to May 2011.
Returning demand causing operational strains
As guests returned and drove occupancy up, hoteliers remained reticent to add back staff who were reduced during the downturn—as remains true until they see more sustainable levels of demand return. A commitment to operate with leaner staff levels is true with many business sectors, not just the hotel industry.
But the combination of leaner staffs and returning demand is putting a strain on operations. At J.D. Power and Associates, we saw evidence of this strain manifest in declining satisfaction across the guest experience in the 2011 study. While some of these declines were simply a reversing of benefits that accrued the prior year during the recession when occupancy rates were lower, Check-In/Check out, Hotel Services and Hotel Facilities actually dropped below pre-recession satisfaction levels!
Research Ad Will Appear Here
Let’s take a look at Check-in/Check-out in greater depth. Every chain-scale segment saw a statistically significant decline across all Check-in/Check-out attributes, from Speed of Check-in to Courtesy of Staff.
As we look across the brands profiled in the study, many brands registered satisfaction scores significantly lower in Check-in/Check-out attributes. It was the rare exception for a brand to actually improve.
Courtesy of Staff took the biggest hit, with 47 out of 79 brands significantly declining and only one significantly improving. Knowledge of Staff followed with 24 brands significantly declining while none significantly improved. The Speed of check-in process significantly declined for 22 brands with none significantly improving.
Staff strain causing satisfaction pain
So what happened? Did staff suddenly act discourteous? Did they suddenly know less about their properties than they did a year before? The more likely answer is that with more guests checking in, staff members had less time per guest to interact and welcome them warmly to the property. Staff had less time to understand if the guest is a first-time visitor or to point out all the amenities and services their properties offered. They also had less time to inquire if guests were part of the hotel brands’ loyalty or member program and to share its benefits. As other guests waited in longer queues, the guests in line were experiencing longer check-in times even with staff trying to hustle. In short, the emphasis shifted from welcoming and interacting with guests to the simple processing of guest check-ins.
Three archetypes of guest/staff interactions
VP and GM of the global hospitality and travel practice, J.D. Power
In the hotel industry, we all know there is a tension between efficiency and leveraging that opportunity to connect with guests, which is a key driver of higher levels of guest satisfaction. And we all have experienced the difference in how we feel with other products or services. Let’s take airlines as an example.
1. First, think about how you feel when an airline employee is indifferent to you as their customer? Or worse, are you made to feel as if you are interrupting their day?
2. Next, think about how you feel when those airline staffers are very efficient in processing you at check-in or getting other passengers into their seats, even though they might not be very warm nor welcoming in appreciating you as one of their “valued” customers.
3. Finally, how do you feel when those same airline staff greet you with a smile, make eye contact and genuinely welcome you and exude an attitude of seeking to be of service and appreciating you for choosing to fly with them?
How do you feel about your satisfaction, loyalty, advocacy and commitment to that airline in these different archetype scenarios?
Refer to this simple example as you evaluate the check-in process at your hotel:
• How are your staffing levels and check-in/out times holding up under higher demand?
• How are guest expectations translating into satisfaction with those times?
• How is your staff responding in their interactions with guests with the rise in demand?
• What kind of welcome are your guests receiving? Are they being welcomed or simply processed?
• How is the check-in experience impacting your guests’ satisfaction, loyalty, advocacy and commitment?
• How do you think that is impacting the connection you are seeking to build with your guests and your property and your brand?
At what cost are some cost reductions costing you?
It will always be a challenge to strike the right balance in where to place the fulcrum between cost-reducing efficiencies and service. Those hoteliers that recognize the strategic opportunity that guest interactions represent and ensure their guests feel welcomed and not simply processed—and not just during check-in/check-out, but across the entire guest experience—will gain a strategic advantage over the competition. You wouldn’t expect anything less in a product or service you value. Nor do your guests!
Stuart Greif is VP and general manager of the global travel and hospitality practice for J.D. Power and Associates. Headquartered in Westlake Village, California, J.D. Power and Associates is a global marketing information services company operating in key business sectors including market research, forecasting, performance improvement, training, Web intelligence and customer satisfaction.
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.
No advertising or other promotional use can be made of the information in this release without the express prior written consent of J.D. Power and Associates. www.jdpower.com/corporate.