First impressions count in hotel business
 
First impressions count in hotel business
13 FEBRUARY 2015 1:43 PM
Changing a guest’s initial view of your hotel is difficult. Here's how to make sure the first impression is a good one. 
We’ve all heard the expression, “first impressions are lasting impressions,” and it’s true. Once a first impression is made, it is difficult to change your views. Have you ever sat in a meeting waiting for a key member to arrive? When they do arrive, they are rather late, looking a bit rumpled, shuffling papers, apologetic for being late, and then boisterous. Everyone in the room is forming an opinion, spoken or not, about the late-arriving delegate. Adjectives that come to mind include disorganized and messy. The impression is lasting.
 
So, too, we make impressions with our guests when they arrive to our hotels. 
 
But wait, perhaps we’ve created an impression or set an expectation long before arrival. The impressions formed start with basic marketing and e-commerce. Look at a website: Is it fresh and current or old and stale? Does the website load quickly, and is it optimized for smartphones? Can a guest find the photos? How do the photos present? Are they small thumbnails or glorious full screen? Do we create impressions when guests attempt to use our booking engines? For example, are the number of rates and room types easily understood and do customers find it easy to use? Or do customers get stopped with error messages and practically need to send a fingerprint to make a booking? 
 
What about the call center, which can really set expectations, both positive and negative? You should monitor the call center and review the statistics. How many rings before the phone is answered? Does the customer go into “voicemail hell” or is the call answered by a real person? Do calls get dropped or abandoned? (If so, you just lost a customer to the competition; he’s not calling back.) Are your agents able to quote rates, discounts, cancellation policies, make changes to group reservations, or are they confused and stumbling?
 
Setting the tone
The answers to these questions really set a tone of what the guest is going to expect. The answers form the first impressions of our hotel. If we’ve done a good job, we get the booking. (Some guests might have booked us despite a poor impression with our website or call center, out of necessity, and they too, have formed a first impression. These guests are unhappy before they arrive!)
 
Now comes arrival and more first impressions. Guests are looking at everything even before they enter the front door to our lobby. They are checking out the street and street life, the landscaping, the curb appeal, the signage, the lighting. Does a bellman open the door and greet them with a big smile and sincere welcome? Is there gum on the sidewalk and trash blowing in the wind? And for those of us in cold climates, has the snow been removed? Are the sidewalks clear of ice and debris? How does your landscaping present? Is it overgrown and show dead foliage, or is it lush and neat? 
 
Our guests have formed some impression of us long before they enter our lobby. How they are treated in the lobby and at check-in will further reinforce opinions of our hotel and team before they make it to their rooms. The uniforms are neat and clean; the reservation is retrieved and the name is spelled correctly; the agent uses the guest name; the rate and room type is right; the dates are correct; the staff is engaging and warm; the lobby smells good and the music is just right; and the space is spotless.
 
And so it goes, every step of the guest’s journey ultimately factors into the guest experience and evaluation of us, our team, our service, our hotel. So you must take this same journey with eyes wide open. Sometimes, we are standing in the forest but cannot see the trees. Recognize this human nature and step out of your comfort zone. Shop the competition:
 
  • search for a hotel;
  • book it online;
  • phone the call center afterward and confirm;
  • take a cab to the hotel;
  • check in;
  • use a public washroom;
  • have a drink at the bar;
  • go to your room;
  • stay the night;
  • check out;
  • depart;
  • check your credit card statement; and
  • did you receive pre-stay and post-stay confirmations and thank you?
     
You do not have to take notes or be overly critical. Just travel like a normal consumer; experience their journey. Once your journey is completed, chances are your first impressions were true (good or bad) and lasting. 
 
Now comes the difficult part: Do it again. This time, look in the mirror and shop your own hotel. You will find that as goes the website and call center, so goes curb appeal; guest arrival/departure; cleanliness; comfort; safety; security; service; value; and ultimately guest satisfaction. 
 
So let’s make some great first impressions. It starts with the leadership and finds its way to the guest.
 
George Jordan is the senior vice president of operations for Oxford Hotels & Resorts, and Chicago area hotel cluster general manager for Hotel Cass, Hotel Felix and Godfrey Hotel. Over the past 30 years, he has held key management roles with The Arizona Biltmore, The St. Paul, The Marquette, The Drake and The Raffaello Hotel. Jordan rose through the ranks while attending college at University of Southern California and Arizona State University, where he obtained a B.S. in Finance. He served as area food and beverage director for Hilton International, based out of The Drake Hotel Chicago, and also as hotel manager at The Drake. Today, he contributes his extensive operational, revenue management and marketing expertise to Oxford's national acquisition activities. Reach him at george.jordan@ohrllc.com.
 
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