“I stayed in a really old hotel last night; they sent me a wake-up letter.”
Many have said the hotel industry is like a steam train: powerful, focused, full of momentum but also dependent on inertia and therefore, obdurate and resistant to change. OK, I’ll say it. It’s true. Anyone who disagrees, well, they are probably driving the train.
Why do people, specifically guests, feel we are slow to change, slow to improve, slow to respond to their needs? Aren’t we investing millions of dollars in high speed Internet access and increased bandwidth? Aren’t we upgrading and renovating at a hurried pace? Aren’t we adding kiosks to the lobby and grab-and-go food options? We’ve improved our coffee options, added hot breakfasts and some brands have even said, “OK, guests, just pay for the room and everything else is free.” We are listening.
Our industry is great at several things. We are the best at seeking guest feedback and acting on it. Though, what about the tiny annoyances that occur during a guest’s stay that sends that person into a rage? A rage so powerful that they … Wait, they don’t do anything. They don’t complain, they don’t yell and they don’t scream. I mean, no one wants to be that guest who complains about the little things.
But that doesn’t mean those small things aren’t important. I think everyone on the planet by now has read Dr. Richard Carlson’s book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff … and it’s all small stuff.” Well, there’s your answer, hoteliers. It may be small to you but add up a few of these baby annoyances, and you’ve got yourself a hospes non reditus, a guest with no plans to return. And you’ll never know why.
To guests, these small annoyances are like getting pecked to death by ducks. They don’t say a word to anyone, they just don’t come back and that is a Silent But Deadly (SBD) occurrence.
"Silent" because these complaints are often not heard at all because they are made to friends, family and colleagues and not to hotel employees.
"Deadly" because these everyday annoyances will inspire a once loyal guest to look elsewhere next time they are visiting the area. This could kill the return guest business leaving most scratching their heads and blaming the recession, the government, the owners or other outside influences for their deflated occupancy levels.
The hotel industry has many SBDs. I’ve asked numerous guests and have also experienced some duck pecking myself in the past several months while traveling. Attack these SBD's like a leak or fire—small issues become big issues when left unresolved.
1. Bottled water missing in the guest floor vending machines.
Guests aren’t going to settle for a Gatorade if they wanted bottled water, but they will settle for bottled water even if they wanted a Gatorade. Keep your water stocked. An even better solution is offering free water in the guestroom. At 24 cents per 16-ounce bottle, having bottled water in the room is a highly effective way to ensure a SBD guest dressed in pajamas doesn’t visit your front desk seeking a bottle of water.
2. Empty coffee urns.
When we give it away, we sometimes take it for granted and forget about it.
3. Eliminate waiting in line.
We are a “we-want-it-now” society. Guests will only wait for two things: their kids and vanilla-soy-caramel-chai-no whip lattes. Waiting for anything else is unacceptable. Create a mechanism for killing lines. This is different from a panic button but should be treated with the same urgency. Call it an “all-hands-on-deck” button. Press it when there’s a long line. Once you serve the guests, then you’ll kill the line.
4. Rude valet attendants
Firstly, attendants often aren’t employed by the hotel. Secondly, they are the first and last impression. This rude attendant will most likely be the last person who ever sees the guest—ever.
5. Billing errors.
The guest books via Expedia, changes dates, changes rates, then arrives and it’s all a mess. It’s been more than 12 years of excuses. The guest will always place blame on the hotel regardless how they booked the room. It’s the hotel’s responsibility to see billing errors before they occur.
6. Electrical outlets not near the bed.
Gizmos, gadgets and gear. Too many devices, too little charging outlets. There are hundreds of solutions to retrofit your hotel at minimal costs. I recently stayed at a hotel that just received its 12-year refresh and had the same number of outlets as it did before. It was either a missed opportunity or a bad decision by the person driving the steam train. I spoke to Chris Butlak, principal of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Barringer Construction, said the best time to add permanent outlets is during renovation. This is also the most costly. Butlak said the most cost-effective solution with the least amount of headaches (usually no permitting needed) is adding furniture that have outlets included, such as lamps or desk/docking stations, which require no added voltage.
7. Keys expiring.
FYI– the guests are smarter today than they were in 1997. The “you must have put the key next to your cell phone” excuse has been met with rolling eyes for years now. They’re onto us! Same with billing, see it before it happens and fix it.
8. Just say no to urgent knocks on the door (before 8 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on weekends)
I understand why we do it, but do we have to still do it? The answer is no. There are mechanisms and processes that can be put in place to avoid having to do this to a guest ever again.
9. Just say yes to late check-out requests
When I was a front office manager, one of my all-time favorite GMs, Stu Damon, told me to approve all late check-out requests. Not for just one day, but for every day. This was in 1998. I thought he was nuts. I didn’t get it then, but I get it now. It’s basic cost/benefit analysis. The cost of annoying a guest outweighed the benefit of getting a guestroom back by 11 a.m. versus 3 p.m. He understood the value of a return guest. Thanks for the lesson Stu (and you thought I wasn’t listening). I can hear the steam train drivers now: “But what about when we have 200 check-outs and 200 check-ins on any given Sunday?” I didn’t say it was easy turning a train 90 degrees. Let someone else drive.
10. Excessive follow-up phone calls to the room.
The guest probably appreciates the gesture, but there’s no need to call the guest and ask them if they’re satisfied with the paper towel roll that was just delivered to their room. Since cell phones have become so prevalent, the sound of a hotel phone ringing can be shocking and annoying.
Though well-intentioned, these follow-up calls to the guestroom can be quite annoying to most travelers. Single travelers are more pragmatic than one may think. I was recently on vacation with my family and had a couple requests that were promptly serviced and received a phone call from the front desk just to be sure I was satisfied with the batteries that were just brought to my room. "Um, yeah, they're the best batteries ever. And thanks for waking up my kids from their nap."
Lastly, if you're a hotel employee and sense one of the above issues occurring at your hotel and do nothing, then you're the worst SBD of them all. Attack these SBDs and pretty soon, there will be no small stuff to sweat. In the world of giving guests a reason to say yes, don’t forget about how powerful and easy it is for a guest to say no. Don’t give them a reason.
Good luck and have fun!
Adam Zembruski is President of Pharos Hospitality, a Charlotte, NC-based hotel investment platform explicitly designed to develop, acquire, own and operate franchised upscale and upper-upscale hotels. Adam oversees all operating entities at Pharos, including Development and Acquisitions, Property Assessments and Takeover, Sales and Marketing, Revenue Management, Human Resources and Culture Development, System Implementation, Financial Analysis, and Talent/Performance Tracking. Adam can be reached at 704-333-1818, ext. 12, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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