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Complimentary Service That is Uncomplimentary to Service 

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by Roberta Nedry, President. Hospitality Excellence, Inc.
June 2011

It is better to give than to receive... right? What happens when hoteliers give a complimentary stay or experience, a "comp", to support a special program or fundraiser and the recipient, the lucky "comp" winner, shows up to experience their reward? When that guest begins to make their arrangements, are they treated the same as other guests, better or worse than other guests? And, what value does this guest have for the hotel and the employees if that guest appears to be there 'for free' and not directly contributing to the bottom line? How can hoteliers harness the power of gift certificates and communicate their potential to hotel employee teams?
 
Based on my survey, I am amazed at how differently properties treat this issue. Some treat the certificate bearer as a pariah and low man on the totem pole and others place huge value with a welcoming spirit-very dramatic differences and perspective!
 
What kind of marketing and guest service potential is there behind these awards? Should there be guidelines in place to ensure consistent responses and behaviors for these 'free' guests? Could they be powerful new ways to instill or anchor loyalty in new or returning guests? Or, will they end up being 'FREE" gifts that make NO MONEY?
 
Some hotels and organizations have a philosophy, procedures and orientation in place for their employees in both delivering the awards and receiving them for redemption. Others do not. It appears that each hospitality environment handles these awards differently. Some have standards in place...and some don't.
 
When seeking donations and potential awards, some hoteliers recognize the value in the presentation BEFORE the award is even given. While a certificate or letter is often the norm, outlining the offering, details, policies and logistics, the packaging and presentation of that gift is quite subjective. It can simply be presented in an envelope or it can be presented as if the award itself was the first stage of welcome/introduction for the future recipient. In fact, the organization presenting the award is actually beginning the "experience" for that future guest.
 
At the il Lugano Hotel, a luxury boutique property in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, a recent comp stay gift to benefit a school fundraising effort, arrived in a beautifully wrapped package, included a soft stuffed bear with the hotel's logo, presented descriptive and inviting collateral materials and provided a thoughtful and warm welcome letter. Even before the gift was awarded, all those at the school had a fantastic impression of the hotel and the property gained several new fans and potential guests. The word of mouth spread in a very positive way, based on this very simple and thoughtful gesture.
 
"At the il Lugano Hotel, we value and foster our relationships with our internal as well as our external guests. Our external guests include our local community. When we have the opportunity to donate to the causes that support our community, it is important that we present the donation in a manner that creates a great 'first impression,' said Patricia Coffey, Director of Guest Relations and Chef Concierge at il Lugano. "Then, when the recipient of the donation arrives to our hotel, we strive to continue the experience by providing exceptional service and product. This is a great way for us to market our hotel for future business."
 
Other properties may be thoughtful in providing gift certificates and comps but completely miss the impression making opportunity of presenting and packaging the hotel. Adding a personal welcome letter from the General Manager and promoting potential experiences and reasons to visit/stay at the property can go a long way in influencing other potential guests and referral sources. The complimentary gift can become a significant touchpoint in the guest experience before any guests set foot on the property.
 
How the comp is redeemed can also be a revealing indicator of service and attitude....or not. When calling another major luxury brand property to redeem a two night stay, the Public Relations Director, listed as the contact, impatiently answered the phone, expressed no enthusiasm for the excited guest who was calling, explained she was just leaving for the day and asked the potential guest to call back another day. The guest persisted as plans needed to be made so the hotel contact agreed to check dates. Her response was that the hotel was too busy and then chided the guest for not recognizing the seasonal busy period or for providing alternative dates as noted on the certificate. The certificate did have blackout dates. The certificate did not have "too busy" dates! This hotel public relations director closed the door and yanked away the welcome mat before the new guest ever had a chance to enter.
 
Perhaps what is not so obvious is that when that guest eventually does arrive, they will have many opportunities to spend money beyond their comp nights and to form impressions leading to referrals and repeat business. This small touchpoint of just phoning to get information and make the reservation was not the luxury brand of service that hotel was promoting. It certainly was not good PR.
 
On the other hand, at a resort property in the Bahamas, the guest representative who took that first comp guest call could not have been more welcoming. From the first inquiring phone call to each following and confirming email communication, sincere enthusiasm and appreciation for the pending guest was phenomenal. In fact, the enthusiasm and great feelings generated by the resort's sales and reservations team were so great that that same guest invited another family to join them with fully paid room reservations. The hotel has already benefitted and will now receive two sets of new guests based on their gracious comp and the service that went with it. That hotel's management made sure that their sales and reservations teams understood the power of genuine hospitality in converting that guest. Their standard of service applied no matter who was calling.
 
In person redemption can be "unredeeming" too. In some cases, guests have reported that the hotel staff assigns a lesser room, based on their coupon or comp award. The employee's perception is that the guest is not as important and they need not focus that much effort on the guest with a comp since they are not paying. This short sighted vision may also short cut potential revenue. The flip side is the guest may feel more at liberty to spend more on food and beverage, entertainment and more since they have their room charges covered. They may even extend their stay or plan to come back, based on this initial experience and how they are treated. They certainly will tell others and can become new loyal guests, a precious commodity for today's hotel performance goals. The average unsatisfied customer will tell 10-20 people about their negative experience. A disturbing consequence of the initially generous comp offer made by the hotel.
 
To ensure compliments come from the comps, consider putting the following behaviors and standards in place:
 
1. Recognize the power of first impressions in simply packaging any comp award or gift certificate and integrate a personal touch where possible. Community relations efforts and their potential to impact referral business and new guests should be part of any hotel's strategy.
 
2. Train employee teams on the receiving end to be prepared for these award redemptions and to understand the value for that guest and creating their experience. Be sure to help them understand these guests deserve no less value and in fact, present huge opportunities to secure new fans.
 
3. Consider ways to better acquaint the pending guest with your property and get them even more excited about the award they have won! Don't let them figure it out on their own...guide them into the best guest experiences.
 
4. Remember the organization that asked for the comp in the first place. They can also be a strong network of steering even more guests, meetings, and functions your way. Reinforce the value of that relationship...don't let it start and stop at the comp.
 
5. Make sure directions and plans for redemption are clear and simple and that the guest will actually be able to speak to someone "in the know." Guests, especially first time guests, don't want to be exhausted by the runaround on this first time around.
 
Complimentary service should yield even more compliments, not complaints! Inspire enthusiasm for these excited guests at each point of contact before, during and after and reap your own awards for exceptional service delivery, with our compliments.

Reprinted with permission from hospitalityexcellence.com and hotelexecutive.com.


About the Author

Roberta Nedry is President of Hospitality Excellence, Inc., leaders in guest experience management. Ms. Nedry has developed a unique 3D Service(sm) methodology to take guest service to the next level. Her firm focuses on guest, customer and client service, the concierge profession and service excellence training for management and frontline employees. To learn more about Hospitality Excellence programs, exceptional service and the new 3DServicesm Online training program - a New Dimension in Service Excellence, visit www.hospitalityexcellence.com. Ms. Nedry can be contacted at 877-436-3307 or roberta@hospitalityexcellence.com
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Contact:

Hospitality Excellence
Roberta Nedry
877-436-3307
roberta@hospitalityexcellence.com

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. Published Articles:
Accounting for Service: How to Make Financial Roles Fantastic / Roberta Nedry / April 2011
Service in the Bedroom: Making Experiences Memorable / Roberta Nedry / March 2011


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