Published on 28 March 2011

Customer Experience: How to Improve Customer Experience

In the concluding part of our customer experience feature, our panel of experts discuss how hoteliers can foster customer loyalty and identify strategies to improve the overall customer experience.

Note: You can read Part One of this feature here.

Our customer experience panel:

Hotel-industry.co.uk: How can hoteliers build customer loyalty?

Talbot: Customer loyalty is built by treating customers how they want to be treated. It is built by treating your team well so they treat your customers well. Customer loyalty can be improved by acting on customer feedback to enhance the customer experience.

Jones: Loyalty is ultimately defined by customer behaviour. Loyal customers – or promoters – are those who actively grow your business by returning, referring and extending their purchase by using more hotel services like dining and entertainment.

I think a clear indication of loyalty is a customer’s readiness to become an advocate or stakeholder of a hotel by sharing their views and suggestions through constructive feedback. By giving customers opportunities to submit their views of the business, hoteliers can not only measure loyalty but also nurture it.

Hotel-industry.co.uk: So the key is to turn customers into advocates?

McHattie: Yes! This is the real “Holy Grail”: the ability to move guests from ambivalence to loyalty to advocating. Advocacy from existing customers should be the goal of all hoteliers. It’s the most effective type of marketing and requires a satisfaction score of 90% or more. I think these customers are worth four times as much to your business.

Jones: Loyalty can only be improved if it is set as a priority by the most senior people in the business and then actively promoted, measured and managed. Leaders must send out a clear message to staff and guests that they are committed to building customer loyalty. If a hotelier constantly works to measure, communicate and improve the customer experience, always including staff as much as possible through regular feedback sessions, then they have a great chance of driving loyalty and building their business.

Hotel-industry.co.uk: What can a hotelier do in-house with their own staff to improve the overall customer experience?

Pike: There are a number of things a hotelier can do. These include helping the team to feel part of the hotel’s success, perhaps through some kind of reward scheme. Also, it’s important to trust them to be creative, resolve issues on the spot, ensure they are well-trained and listen to their ideas. All of this will rub off on the customer experience.

Hickie: Training is essential – and I think hoteliers need to improve the training and motivation of Assistant Managers and other supervisory staff. Time and time again, the majority of customer experience problems can be put down to “lack of managers managing” … a phrase that appears in nearly every report we write for clients. I’ve found that the reoccurring issues in hotels are a lack of clarity over how things should be done, a lack of monitoring and a lack of simple, polite ways of getting around problem experiences. Although written procedures often exist, they are not always used effectively.

Talbot: If a hotel wants to offer a consistent customer experience, then the experience needs to be carefully designed and thoughtfully planned out. This ensures that the right experience is delivered every time. Ultimately, this can only be achieved through employee buy-in. Employee loyalty and satisfaction play a big role in improving the customer experience because an unhappy employee won’t provide the type of customer experience the hotel hopes to achieve.

Hotel-industry.co.uk: How can hoteliers improve the overall customer experience?

Hickie: You should show leadership and motivate your team to achieve the high standards that you expect. This is not the Gordon Ramsay or Sir Alex Ferguson style of tyrannical leadership; it is the firm leadership which exudes clarity of vision, standards, expectations, and motivates your staff to follow. It starts by leading through example. If you expect your staff to be smartly dressed, then you need to ensure that your own dress and department are beyond reproach.

Hotel-industry.co.uk: What can third party suppliers offer in improving the customer experience?

Pike: Think of us as a critical friend, able to be objective and efficient in a way that is impossible in-house. Third party providers like us allow hoteliers to get on with what they do best, while providing the feedback and guidance to help them build the business. We can provide access to trending and benchmark data and we can cross-examine assessors about their experience in a way that would be inappropriate for a normal customer. Third party companies can therefore provide valuable data for hoteliers about the current state of their business.

McHattie: Third parties exist to support employers by offering a unique and objective view of the business. They are also well-placed to share best practice. As a not-for-profit consultancy for the industry we have a “helicopter” view of what solutions are available to maximise business opportunities and what is working best for other successful businesses through benchmarking.

Talbot: I think it’s important for third party companies to help clients increase profitability and sales … after all, this how hotels recoup their investment in our services! At Assured Customer Experience, our most popular tool is the hotel mystery guest assessment. This uses trained mystery shoppers to provide feedback on the customer experience and help hotels nurture staff engagement and satisfaction. Satisfied staff will help enhance the quality of the guest stay by providing a consistently great experience.

Jones: Working with a third party specialist gives hoteliers access to an independent view of their business and up-to-date theory and research into best practice. From our independent vantage point, we help hoteliers build a clear picture of the customer experience and then take positive steps to improve their service or facilities in ways they know guests will appreciate.

Hickie: There are some things only a stranger will tell you. Sometimes hoteliers know that something is wrong, but are not exactly sure what it is and how to improve. More often, they do know what is wrong and have made a number of attempts to put things right without any real success. They need outside help to make things happen. Occasionally, hoteliers are trying to right the wrong problem. Being too close to running things, they are unable to see what the underlying problems are. Hotel management consultants are there to coach or mentor hotel owners through to a more profitable, and hopefully less stressful, future.

Note: You can read Part One of this feature here.

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