April 30, 2013

Customer Service or Guest Comfort?

Customer service is essential. Companies spend millions training employees in customer service, researching customer service techniques and are proud to advertise their outstanding customer service. Some are starting to understand the subtle difference between treating someone as a customer (someone who gets charged) and a guest (someone who is welcomed). I laughed yesterday when the cashier at our local discount store called out to the line and said, “I’ll help the next guest.” Her statement stood out like a sore thumb because I knew I was a ‘customer’ in the chaos of the store, not a ‘guest.’ She was saying what she was told to say and not because she thought of me as a guest. Here is our advantage; we know the customer is our guest. We know the difference between customer service and guest comfort.

Inn at Woodhaven, Louisville, KY
In an effort to provide customer service, hotels have amenities for frequent guests. But these little extras are established at the corporate level or perhaps on property by a general manager who has most likely never met the customer/guest. For example, a frequent business traveler might be given a bottle of wine in his or her room; however, after a busy day of meetings, they are trying to catch up on emails, check in with their family and plan the next day. While receiving a bottle of wine is a nice gift, drinking a bottle of wine by yourself alone in your room will probably make it difficult to complete these necessary tasks. Additionally, they are probably flying, so taking the wine home to enjoy later is not possible.

I know many stories of how innkeepers treat frequent guests as they get to know them. Many of you have a setup for a nightcap after their day is complete, have dessert bars out, and pack early breakfasts to take on the go that include delicious scones and more. Then there are the personal stories such as the innkeeper who knew a frequent business traveler’s daughter loved ducks. When the innkeeper saw a Beanie Baby duck in the store, she picked it up and left it in his room with a note saying she hoped his daughter would enjoy it. On his next visit, he told her how much his daughter loved the gift and that he felt badly about how often he traveled. He had wanted to pick her something up at the airport and didn’t have time, so he was happy not to have arrived home empty handed.

Marigny Manor House, New Orleans, LA
How can we get the message out about guest comfort and the experience and treatment our guests should expect, so that more potential guests become first-time guests? First, since it’s not possible for us to stay in all of your inns, leave a note in the comments section about some of the special things you have done. These stories are examples I like to use when I’m doing interviews with the media. Second, when appropriate ask guests to write reviews and have reviews on every site where your inn is listed. Yes, you need the most reviews on Trip Advisor because it’s a review site. However, you also need a few reviews on marketing sites like BnBFinder.com. Repeat guests who have written a review on TA already are the perfect guests to ask to write these reviews. This way when a potential guest finds you and likes you on BnBFinder.com, they don’t leave to find reviews on your inn. In the process they could lose you and choose another inn or get distracted and not come back to make their reservation with you. We don’t want you to lose the guest once you have them. Read my previous blog “Reviews=Reservations” for some ways to get your guests to leave reviews.

Speaking of reviews, I have one last comment on guest comfort. In an effort to provide a “better way to stay” and dispel the myth of hovering innkeepers, some guest reviews have suggested that innkeepers may be going too far in attempting to provide guests privacy. The only disappointment in many glowing reviews is that they didn’t see the innkeepers during their stay. You are part of the experience and the ones who know the area, can answer guest questions and make suggestions for activities and restaurants. Each inn is different in staffing, set up and innkeeper and guest personalities. My suggestion to you is to think about your availability to guests and whether it’s enough or too much for your guests. Embrace the idea that you don’t provide customer service, but provide guest comfort. In Chapter 12: Taking Care of Guests in Running a Bed and Breakfast For Dummies, I start at when the guest arrives to when they check out, and offer tips on how to provide the ultimate in guest comfort along the way.

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