I remember when I was about five years old in the early eighties our family visited Singapore for a family holiday, and I will never forget it...
Despite the fact my mother no doubt took us to all sorts of attractions, the two things I remember most about that trip were waiting endlessly for a taxi in the stifling humidity (alas things haven't changed) and secondly, the attention I got from the beautiful Singaporean waitresses at the 5-Star Grand Hyatt hotel we were staying at courtesy of my fathers fringe benefits...
Those waitresses showered me with attention and adoration and lavished me with compliments, probably because of my peach blonde hair, and that was for me a very magical moment.
This wasn't an ordinary or predictable moment, but a really remarkable experience for me. And when it comes to hotel guest experience, it is those magic moments that make up the bulk of what we remember.
It can be an abstract thing to get your head around but think of it like this. You are absolutely not selling rooms, you are selling memories!
And those memories may remain with guests for a lifetime (like my experience at 5 years old).
So how can a smaller independent hotel conjure these magic moments out of thin air?
MICRO ANALYSE THE GUEST JOURNEY
Well, it starts with a complete micro analysis of the entire guest journey from the moment they start researching for hotels, to the moment they reach the airport on their way home. It is every single touchpoint whether that is online, face to face, email or sms.
Looking at the entire guest journey in detail from a first person perspective allows a consultant like myself to analyse every touch point. But before even thinking about ways to add magic to the guest experience, there is still that low hanging rotten fruit to get rid of!
There is no point getting some fancy guest experience consultant in to train your staff how to add "magic moments" when there is probably already friction pain points in the guest experience that can be eliminated first.
In other words, a careful analysis of the guest journey from an outsiders perspective (like Locus Focus Consulting services) will allow the following process to happen:
THE ACTUAL PROCESS
Identify touch points that can be improved to reduce the friction pain of anxiety, waiting times, discomfort, confusion, noise and any other negative experiences. Then implement systems, policies and procedures to passively solve these problems permanently.
This is the low hanging rotten fruit that exists at every hotel, and it's about reducing the negative experiences first.
As these solutions are almost always passive (for example, reducing the steps required to check-in) once they are implemented they provide compounding benefits to every single guest. It as much about avoiding pain as it about providing pleasure, and pain points must be dealt with FIRST.
ADD BUILT-IN DELIGHT
Now that the negative stuff has been dealt with (at least for this time around — as this is an ongoing process) you can then look at adding pleasure. What I mean by this is adding or improving touch points and making them more enjoyable, memorable, surprising, fascinating and delightful than before.
The key here again is to add these improvements passively and as part of the experience for every single guest who experiences that touch point. They should be "built-in" to every touch point they can be.
An example of adding pleasure could be something as simple as changing the way your phone is answered from "Welcome to the Lofotel" to "Welcome to the Lofotel - How can I help?
It might be a signed letter from the hotel manager with your direct phone number and mobile phone number left on the bed with a drink voucher.
You get the idea, the key here is that every guests gets the same improved treatment so the benefits are massive and not confined to one guest.
ADD MAGIC MOMENTS
Then we get to the hardest and most labour intensive stage which is how to add MAGIC MOMENTS. These are unpredictable and undefined in process, and opportunities emerge largely as the result of guest interactions with staff who identify ways to improve the guest experience that go outside normal operating procedure. That's right, this is completely "off the books".
For these magic moments to occur with any frequency we must acknowledge one thing about human nature and personalities in general... Because for real magic moments to occur with regularity you need to have hired staff with empathy.
Without empathy and warmth and compassion, your staff will come across as cold and perfunctory.
Some bad news here —you can't train staff to have empathy, they either have it or they don't.
Lets assume you find some staff with empathy then the next stage is to empower those staff to exercise that empathy and give them license and recognition to do so.
INCENTIVISE AND MEASURE
You should incentivise staff to provide magic moments within your hotel to make this part of the culture. There needs to be a formal way to measure and recognise and even reward those staff that have the biggest impact.
This is where you may need a Guest Experience Management layer on top of your existing PMS or CRM platform (if they don't already have these features). As a manager you need to know when these magic moments have happened, to which guest, and by which staff member.
Incentives don't always mean paying out bonuses or rewards, it can be done in other ways such as staff member of the week or month, or some other benefits like badges or other forms of recognition.
It also helps to provide staff with individual business cards with the name of each staff member on it (first name only if possible). Not only is this a great way to recognise staff and make them feel important (which they are) it also means that the guest is able to mention that staff member in any subsequent review such as TripAdvisor.
You should also make sure it is very clear on your website contact page how to contact the General Manager or owner of the hotel directly. This facilitates the entire process where guests can (a) be blown away by a magic moment facilitated by a staff member (b) contact the manager to reciprocate the favour or good deed.
This can be done simply with an alternative email address on the contact page such as firstname.lastname@example.org or even the first name of the hotel owner e.g. email@example.com
Some consultants recommend having your TripAdvisor logo on this business card, and even go further as to suggest the staff member asks whether they would mind leaving a review on TripAdvisor. I personally think this is somewhat contrived, although the TripAdvisor logo on the business card is something I do recommend!
Improving the Guest Experience takes time and careful analysis. The biggest returns on investment come from removing pain and adding pleasure in "built-in" ways.
A small investment in Guest Experience improvement can have long lasting and significant impact on Guest Reputation leading to repeat bookings and improved TripAdvisor scores. All of which allow you to eventually raise prices and make more profit.
Chris Jack is the editor of Locus Focus and a professional hotel photographer based in Brisbane with over 20 years experience in digital marketing. He also hosts the weekly "Sharper Hotel Marketing" podcast.