Hoteliers looking to discover the magic formula for making their guests feel comfortable and happy can pick up a wealth of tips at this year's Independent Hotel Show
Whether it's friendly or formal, relaxed or attentive, it's not always easy to ensure that your service strategy matches and exceeds the expectations of today's customer.
Targeted and distinctive customer service can set your hotel or restaurant apart, but getting the right combination of welcome and attentiveness doesn't just happen by chance.
Owners need to assess their business and target their audience carefully when developing and instigating an effective, positive and memorable service strategy.
At this year's Independent Hotel Show, leading hoteliers and service consultants will be exploring the various service options available and offering guidance on best practice. Here they share their tips.
What do guests look for?
Alan Williams, founder and managing director, Servicebrand Global: "Today's customer values authenticity and the 'humanising of service'. Service style reflects how staff want to be, rather than following an operations manual."
Monica Or, hospitality consultant, Star Quality Hospitality Consultancy: "The mindset of the customer is as important as the establishment. Occasion customers may want a fine-dining experience, whereas those constrained by time or budget may look for a more relaxed and casual approach."
How would you describe the best service style?
AP: "Respectful and discreet, but also friendly and accommodating. Engage with guests as much or as little as you think they would prefer; adaptability is key."
AW: "Relevance is a powerful tool. Create a service style that reflects your hotel and your guests, offering something that sets you apart from other hotels."
MO: "These days there is no longer one service style that fits all. As customers search for more diversity and choice, hoteliers need to tailor and personalise the service they offer."
Should service style differ across a hotel?
MO: "Service style should be aligned to the values of the hotel. So if the values are centred on looking after guests, then this should be evident wherever the guest is in the hotel. From doorman to concierge, reception to guest services, housekeeping to the foodservice team, we offer the same style and standard of service to reflect how we do business as a whole."
AP: "A change in service style may be appropriate to create a strong sense of identity for a standalone restaurant or bar so that it can be promoted independently of the hotel."
How do you ensure your service style is conveyed across all your communication channels?
MO: "Think about how your hotel is perceived by guests on your website, on social media or during booking - this all builds up the expectation of what guests will experience once they arrive."
AW: "Put yourself in the customer's shoes and ask the question 'does this experience reinforce or detract from the intended brand identity?' Focus on the specific elements of service your hotel is known for and that the customer cannot receive elsewhere."
What are the benefits of verbalising your service style?
AP: "Guests want to know exactly what to expect and how they are likely to 'feel', so verbalising service style is important. It also ensures employees understand the aim to deliver the best possible service, avoiding any mixed messages."
MO: "Manage your guests' expectations and build relationships by demonstrating exactly what you are offering and what they can expect."
How do you monitor levels of service?
AP: "Engage with your guests prior to, during and following their stay to understand what they liked, didn't like and what you could do to enhance their next stay."
MO: "Hire a mystery guest or external consultant. They really open the eyes of the hotelier to things that staff and management are often blinded to, as they are too close to the business."
AW: "By being hungry for feedback in a number of ways, with a particular focus on emotion - how does the customer feel?" What tip would you offer to hoteliers?
AP: "Don't over-promise. It's always better to exceed expectations than fall short of them."
AW: "Focus on the customer and what they value."
MO: "Look at simple ways to improve your service. It's usually just the small tweaks here and there that will make the biggest impact."
Capturing the critics: how to generate column inches
Hotel critics Fiona Duncan and Tom Bell will share their experience at the show on what hotels need to deliver to receive a great write-up. Here are their tips on securing those column inches.
What makes a hotel attractive and stand out to travel writers and reviewers?
Fiona Duncan (The Telegraph): "A hotel must have at least one stand-out element, whether that's the view, setting, food, style (whether traditional or contemporary), character, or even the personality of the owner, for the writer to pick up on. "The signage must be appealing, the entrance attractive, the welcome warm and sincere - first impressions are everything. "With independent hotels, I'm looking for comfort and character, a home from home that puts the guest first, whether it's a stylish contemporary place or an old-fashioned one. A hotel that chooses to put tourist leaflets or leftover magazines on its hall or
sitting room table rather than well chosen books is a bad sign for me, as are corporate name badges for staff in small, intimate places."
Tom Bell (Alistair Sawdays): "Poor photos on a website are unlikely to tempt us, so invest in good photography. But that alone won't win you plaudits - if we come up and find your hotel doesn't quite match the promise of your website, we are going to be decidedly unimpressed. So stay honest, too."
What is the value of social media in terms of securing a review or making contact with a journalist?
FD: "I am a poor user of social media. Although I use Twitter, the best way to approach me is direct, by email. I am bombarded with requests, mainly from PRs, but also from hoteliers. I always reply. The more charmingly persistent (but not too persistent) you are, the more you are likely to get a yes in the end, but please take 'no, this is not right for my column' for an answer!"
TB: "If you post regularly but not obsessively and deliver good pictures and off-beat stories, you're in with a chance. If you view social media as an obligation,
your postings will be dull and do you no favours."
What are the common mistakes hoteliers make when trying to secure editorial reviews?
FD: "Hoteliers would do well to identify the reviewers they most want to attract and write to them personally. I almost never look at or react to press releases, especially boring ones about minor changes or events. In fact, it's a turn off. "Having said that, I do keep an eye out for 'hooks', so if a hotel has a really strong
package or experience, be it inside track vintage shopping followed by a vintage tea in Notting Hill, or fossil hunting in Dorset or a carving masterclass with Mark Hix, I may like to hear about it."