Increase footfall. Not overheads.

Customer Experience in Hotels

A customer plans a holiday, chooses the best places to visit, looks for the best deals available and when ready looks for awesome places to stay (Any hotel, BnB, Cottage, Caravan or any other place to stay — making sure they are really good with a decent amount of good reviews, within a good budget etc). Hotels go the extra mile to make sure their customers have a great stay and work hard to make them come back again.

A quick read (below) on what matters to most customers and what hotels do to deliver that..

All hotels provide nearly the same kind of service, so why are some rated so high and command significantly more than others?

How some are nailing it..

Source — onforb.es/1UlSv41

Hotel staff are on their toes to ensure that a customer’s stay is as awesome as they dreamt of. The moment a customer walks into the shiny & tip top lobby — their mind goes on an expectations overdrive. Subconscious mind thats on the look out for anything that can annoy him / her.

Customer expectation is the start of an experience journey that can make or break a relationship and always reflects on the brand.
Source: Unsplash

How we started the learning process

What follows from here is part of a user research study that we undertook, speaking to 40 of London’s top Hotels. What we wanted to test?

What can drain hard-earned customer relationships in Hotels & we wanted to test our assumptions moving into a new customer segment.

So we donned our UX hats on and started working on a questionnaire that we would use in interviews during this research. The team went through some quick brainstorms to draft some simple open ended conversation openers and we decided to keep the interview short with a few set of questions, and start the conversation with one simple assumption —

How much time is wasted during an inspection within a hotel and the dependence on pen & paper by the inspecting staff.

We planned to do cold calls — walk in to the front desk of the chosen hotel and ask this one question that would either generate interest or turn us away (usually — here’s our business card, why don’t you call us to make an appointment kind of a reply..)

Some of the initial thoughts that made their way into the experiment board
Some initial thoughts — less noise more signal

Now we were getting on to something and the experiment board had our set of assumptions ready with what score could define or break an assumption. It was time to get out of the building — to meet & talk to people who mattered.

The team was ready to get the feedback from the people we were going to meet everyday. I initially thought meeting 4–5 different hotels in the same area would be possible (our 40 target hotels were in the the square mile of central London).

The Why, not the what.
What the user research was to look for

The team made full list of hotels that we would visit and hopefully talk to if we get lucky. The idea was to grab at least 5 minutes of an duty manager or an operations manager to get the conversation going.

Getting out of the building

Day 1 on the road: A list of 5 hotels to visit around Liverpool Street Station, London.

Hotel 1: I casually walked up to the front desk and asked one question-

“Hello, my name is Bala & I work at a Tech Startup and we are conducting a study to find the dependence on pen & paper by operations staff during inspections in your hotel.”

Sounds easy, isn’t it. Should have been a walk in the park. Well it was not. The first hotel listened very carefully to what I had to say. Then they asked me to wait and said — “let me check if the manager is free..”

Then she walked up to a door near the reception, was away for about less than a minute. She came out and handed me a card of the person responsible for the inspections in the hotel and asked me to call sometime and fix an appointment.

The first card in hand. Now we had a name & contact number to talk to. Let’s move to the next hotel.

Hotel 2: Same tactic, same question. Cold calling is easy.

The staff at the reception this time did not vanish behind a closed door. She picked up the desk phone and quickly checked I could meet the right person for 5mins. She politely rested the phone back and informed me that the operations manager is in a meeting, but I can have the hotel card and call up sometime to fix an appointment.

Card 2 in hand. A name agains the title. Sweet. lets move.

Hotel 3: This time I could not walk up-to the reception. A security guard stopped me and enquired what was I after. He looked more like a marine, than a front office customer service guy. He patiently listened to what I said and asked me to wait — “clearly meaning, don’t just walk up to the reception”.

He walked up to the reception and was back with a business card and a name. I could see this tactic working.

Now we had 3 names, 3 phone numbers.

Hotel 4 & Hotel5: 2 more names and 2 more numbers

Day one had me on the road for about 4 hours. Walking mostly, sometimes hopping on to a bus. I was tired.

Back at base:

Day 1 went on well and we discussed how we can continue on with the rest of the list. Day 2 was stepping into another 4–5 hotels. Easy work.

But there’s something else before another day on the road. I started calling up the 5 numbers acquired to see who would be willing to talk to us. Thats where user research really kicks in. Conversations, questions, contextual enquiry, those long silent gaps in a conversation — this is where we would find out if the assumptions were true or just assumptions.

Some of the hotels that we visited during the first day of User Research

Most people who were contacted had a simple response — Call us in a weeks time to discuss if they can meet us. We felt this as a normal behaviour, since someone who was cold called was not expected to agree to meet us straightaway. And we still could call them in a week to see if they are interested in talking to us.

So we went on with the next set of 4–5 hotels to meet the next day.

What we learnt? Exactly the same behaviour like the first set of hotels we met. Most were very welcoming and keen to listen to what we had to say, but they were quick in handing over their business cards to us. Why? So we could call them later , when they were not busy, to make appointments.

We could see a pattern emerging here. The hotels were keen to listen but quick to hand over the business cards. We were collecting business cards but still not had spoken to one staff who mattered. This pattern could go on and on and very soon we would exhaust out list of 40 odd hotels without one meaningful conversation.

Was something we missed, or cold calling was really dead? We did not know. Back to the drawing board — more like the questionnaire board.

We thought instead of giving away what we were asking them in the first instance why not tweak the intro question a bit to suit their situation.

So we had a pivot on the question and it looked like this —

We are measuring Customer Experience in Hotels. Can we have a quick 5 minute chat?
Armed with this new question, I walked in to the next hotel on my cold call list that morning. That “5 minute chat” lasted well over 45 minutes.

The intro question pivot changed everything. No more business cards getting handed out, no hiding behind unseen doors. People were more than willing to offer us a seat and asking us to wait so they could first serve that customer on the front desk and then talk to us. This was all looking so good. Getting out of the building works. Works really fast, if you are asking the right question.

The staff became more receptive when we spoke of the customer experience as a benchmark, since that what they could relate to immediately. This was something they were passionate about, something they wanted to champion, something that would make the customer happy.

We were making more conversations on a daily basis and one thing constantly emerged — how many tasks were repetitive, but had to be done. The inspection of every part of hotel was done in a meticulous manner — sometimes daily but mostly weekly, by different departments. All this was logged in manually and then was cross checked by a department head and then the general manager.

People were doing the same kind of work in a clockwork repetitive manner. Most inspections started with taking out a printed form and going around the hotel to check the various parts and noting down any issues that would then be passed to the relevant department for correction. Copies of this checked form were then photocopied and sent to the desks of the relevant managers who would then make copies for them and crosscheck if the tasks were performed or not. The general manager would have his own set of copies of these forms for his reporting.

And this repetition of work caused staff to be under constant pressure to ensure nothing was missed. Some used proprietary software to track the inspections, but still took print outs to pass on the relevant departments. Tasks would be sent out as emails with form attachments which the receiver would then download and mostly print out.

A good part of the day was spent in the hotels to do repetitive work, too much time spent working with paper forms and re-keying of data.

Customer Success

If the amount of time & effort spent working on recurring tasks can be centralised, with an easy access to team collaboration, tasks allocation and monitoring, reporting made easy and above all, less printing — it can easily let the staff free to concentrate on customer happiness and understanding more about the customers and increase more dialog with the people who visit the hotel.

The emphasis on conversations with customers and constantly learning to improve their experience while they stay at the hotel, should be the cornerstone to a good customer experience. Happy customers, mean repeat visits and more word of mouth and growth in footfall.

Overheads must be reduced where ever it’s possible to do so, letting staff do what they do best — keeping customers happy

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I write for startups, people who want to try out an idea and for everyone who puts validation & customer experience at the heart of their business. If you liked this post, you may follow me on twitter — @leanux_bala