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The Key to Great Guest Service is a Combination of a Reactive Plus Proactive Strategy

The methods we use have changed, but the cornerstone to great hospitality stays the same: great guest service and great guest experience.

This article was originally published in Hotel Executive by RJ Friedlander.

While service resolution has traditionally been in reaction to guest complaints after the fact, today we have can proactively catch issues or needs much earlier in the stay and deliver better results than ever. With the tools to gather guest feedback via a number of channels from various touchpoints and the processes to action operational and service improvements accordingly, we can leverage a combination of reactive and proactive methods to deliver exceptional guest experience.

Have you ever tried make a complaint to your telephone carrier or cable company? Chances are you were led through a series of irritating automated voice options and gave up. If you did get the chance to speak to someone, your gripe probably did not go much further than the short time you were allowed to vent.

messaging telephone

Reactive service recovery

Switch this to the hospitality industry. By comparison, hotels are so approachable they practically encourage complaints.

Hotel stays are laden with expectation, and guests make themselves heard if they are not happy with the service. Couple this with people’s tendency towards vocally sharing both their negative and positive experiences and you have a near endless stream of feedback.

Service resolution in the hospitality industry has traditionally been reactive. A problem is ‘fixed’ when it is brought to the attention of staff, usually after the guest has left the property and in the form of a bad review. At this point it’s about damage control. Complaints left on OTAs and social media platforms must be responded to quickly and effectively or they risk deterring bookings. Fortunately, most hotels have the tools and internal processes in place to both detect and quickly deal with any contingencies.

Responding to review swiftly is now a priority and part of the KPIs of many hotels. While less than positive reviews can negatively affect a hotel’s online reputation, a well-crafted reply shows that staff are listening, are responsive to issues that negatively impact the guest experience and are dedicated to making things right. This type of solid management response strategy is beneficial not only to ‘wronged’ guests but can also positively impact potential guests shopping for their next stay. After all, mistakes happen, but it is the manner that staff deal with them that counts.

hotel buildings

The shift to proactive resolution has already happened

Today, negative reviews are seen by hotels as a source of valuable information rather than an unnecessary burden. Guest feedback can be immensely insightful, helping guide operational and service improvements to boost a hotel’s game.

Feedback is so valuable that hotels now proactively seek the opinion of guests as a matter of routine. The most basic form is a survey sent after the guest has left the property. With post-stay guest surveys, hotels can structure questions to learn about the guest’s experience but also solicit further information necessary to make operational and service improvements.

Guest surveys can be optimized and tailored for fantastic results. Some guest survey providers will include customization that allows hotels to individualize their communications. This can include the languages the survey goes out in, the design, layout and logos within the email and survey, or the manner in which the questions for the survey are presented.

One independent hotel chain, HD Hotels, improved their survey completion rate by over 10%, doubled their NPS score and improved their Global Review Index by a huge 2.5% by changing the above variables. Getting involved with the process brings great results for hoteliers and improves the quality of the feedback and the insights that can be gained from it.

Guest feedback is the most valuable source of feedback there is

Savvy hoteliers know that guest feedback (whether an online review or survey) is a goldmine of information on what guests like and dislike about their stay. Basing improvements on guest feedback ensures that hotels listen to the experiences of those who matter most, put things right for the next guest, and constantly improve the guest experience and in turn the online reputation of the property.

Management responses are still hugely important for both online review and survey responses. Responding to reviews shows that your establishment is listening, cares about the issues that have negatively impacted guest experiences and that you are open to suggestions to improve. Hoteliers should ideally respond to 100 per cent of negative reviews, and a selection of neutral and positive ones.

Guest feedback can be used to drive key changes. For example, one hotel uses a question on its post-stay survey to separate guests that have used traditional check-in/check-out services from those that have used digital self-service check-in/check-out. Answers are then ranked to see how each method impacts guest satisfaction ratings, and this decision informs the roll-out of enhanced digital services (or not!).

Hotels can go a step further and use guest surveys to test the impact of major investments or refurbishments. glh Hotels piloted the introduction of new mattresses in select rooms and monitored feedback from those rooms to see if guest satisfaction increased, stayed the same, or decreased. After seeing positive results, the decision was made to conduct a refurbishment across the entire group of hotels.

be reactive to guests

Technological change brings new opportunity

As technology evolves, our perception of time has shifted. We are online 24/7 via our smartphones and expect immediacy. Hoteliers will naturally want to take advantage of the fact that virtually every guest carries around a ‘pocket computer’.

Proactive guest communication is also about facilitating ongoing feedback from guests during their stay. For this we have tools like in-stay surveys and guest messaging services. Both methods alert hoteliers to issues and needs while guests are still on site and provide opportunities to deliver service recovery when it is most needed – and before it turns into a negative review.

Corinthia Hotels uses in-stay surveys to connect with their guests soon after check-in to allow them to quickly address any issues and surpass guest expectations. The brand believes that gathering feedback earlier in the stay in order to respond quicker and to more systematically is important. By using automated systems and processes, the group manages respond to almost 100% of guest issues and requests in under an hour. This ensures that they can exceed guest expectations and deliver the kind of experiences that their luxury clientele expects.

hotel swimming pool

On-property resolution pays

A recent study using ReviewPro data found that resolving guest requests and issues on site significantly affected satisfaction. Guests who used in-stay surveys to communicate a problem and had it resolved while still at the hotel reported a 12% higher level of satisfaction than guests who did not report the problem either during or after their stay. It goes to show that it is not simply what happens on property but the manner in which issues are dealt with that makes the difference. Catching and resolving issues with a proactive approach certainly has its benefits.

Guests in control

With the ubiquity of smartphones, a newer proactive trend is emerging: guest messaging. While guests once phoned reception from an in-room handset, they now simply reach for their smartphones to type a quick message. Taking advantage of this ‘any time anywhere’ technology is a must for businesses, especially hotels, which are employing guest messaging strategies to enable smooth, efficient customer communications.

There are a number of advantages to proactive communication – in this case messaging – initiated by the guest. First, guests use a natural form of communication on their own terms and will enjoy the experience more. Second, guests can use messaging from any part of the hotel (or indeed, outside of the hotel), and to not only flag issues but to ask questions. This presents opportunities for hotels to learn more about guest needs at various moments during the travel experience and take guest experience to the next level.

Is prevention better than cure?

In-stay communication, whether surveys or messaging, can be seen as a form of preventative maintenance. Much like housekeeping and engineering staff perform routine maintenance and cleaning of guest rooms and public spaces to fix things before they get broken, hotel managers can perform check ins with guests before a minor issue becomes a problem.

It is also important to note that in-stay resolution is not solely confined to service lapses. The practice can be employed to check in with guests who are perfectly happy and do not have a specific complaint. By simply asking the question “How could your stay be improved?”, hoteliers can elevate the guest experience to the next level.

Proactive + reactive

The move toward proactive guest communication and service recovery certainly does not replace other ways of collecting and acting upon guest feedback. Online reviews are still immensely useful, providing large volumes of data from which to make decisions about operational and service improvements. They also help potential guests learn what to expect from your hotel. If you have a strong management response strategy in place, reviews also provide an opportunity for guests to see how you respond as a brand, turning even negative reviews into ways to show off customer service skills.

Pair this approach with an in-stay strategy of surveys and guest messaging, and you will ensure you catch any issues before they turn into problems, or simply elevate the guest experience beyond what it would have been. Both approaches are complementary, focusing on what really matters in hospitality: the guest experience.

Unfortunately, no method will ‘problem-proof’ your hotel; like anything in life, experiences are subject to change and vulnerable to disappointments. The most important aspect of hospitality remains the human element – how properties deal with issues, how they learn from them, and how they improve. Great guest service requires a balance between immediate, proactive action and longer-term reactive change.

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