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Hospitality Relationships: Building Your Brand Starts with your Guests
By J. Ragsdale Hendrie, July 2007

It was Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, who uttered that reknown phrase, “All politics are local”.  The case can be made that all Hospitality relationships are initiated, molded and maintained on the local level, as well.

It is extremely difficult nowadays to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace.  Our Consumer is savvy.  Even when we artfully capture and promote our Brand message, others quickly ape our approach.  Therefore, we need to be smarter and more innovative to maximize our market presence.  Engaging our Guest and Customer is a means to distinguish ourselves.

Hotel Executives probably wonder how this can be accomplished.  They have no time, inundated with the flurry and criticality of daily events and challenges.  But, you have no idea how well you are performing, unless you bring your Guest into that equation.  Of course, they are usually beaten up by the time they arrive at your door, numbed by travel, wrapped pretty tightly from everyone wanting something from them – a passport, their patience in line, the cab fare – the smells, sights and efforts to get to that hallowed haven – your hotel. 

Likewise, the Restaurateur is beset with constraints.  Scheduling, purchasing, dining room readiness, reservations and crowd control can sweep you off your feet.  Yet, you also represent a haven, a respite for that weary Consumer, who needs to be graciously welcomed and refreshed.  

So, we have two parties, each dependent upon the other to meet various expectations, yet hardly jumping into each others’ arms, rather like Musical Chairs.  Now, we know where the term disgruntled came from.  But, we want our Guests “gruntled”, and we want to learn how to improve our operations.  Right?

To date our efforts have been simplistic and perfunctory, seldom face to face, where we can craft that relationship and rapport.  We use the Comment Card, which provides typically a skewed report and is not timely.  Or, we have moved into the electronic realm with robotic follow-up e-mails, requesting our Report Card score.  Maybe, we even have this on the TV screen in our Guest Rooms for immediate feedback. What is missing is the human touch, not only in our mechanism for a Performance Response but also in our lives.  We and our Guest can go through a day where the only human contact is when we pick up our hamburger order at the fast food window.  We can bank, get our laundry, shop on-line and have Phone Sex and not see another human being.  To have a person actually talk with us, care for us, treat us well, attend to our needs personally - what a marketing edge that would be.  And, quite memorable, too!

Several years ago, I proposed a means to WOW your Guests, where the General Manager and the Executive Committee, individually, actually “Room” Guests on selected evenings.  The crux of the idea was to meet the Guest at the Front Desk, escort them to their room, extol the many amenities, activities and outlets in the Hotel and community,  demonstrate the intricacies of the Room, thank them for their business and write a note  (by hand – how unusual) to them after their stay.  The objective was obviously relationship building (as well as Data Mining), and in today’s climate and Hospitality landscape this gesture would be indelible.  Plus, this does not take a great deal of time, especially when shared with your other Executives.  Do the math.  Your Executive team, of let’s say five people, each “touches” five Guests in a week; that is 100 in a month, 1,200 Guests in a year.  Memorable, you bet! 

The concept can be expanded, at little expense and time consumed.  This exercise can even include your employees, vendors and other parties (they all make the Experience work). You do not need a fancy-panted Marketing Professional to set this up; essentially, you can host in-house Focus Groups, quite informally, through small cocktail gatherings, breakfasts and coffees.  The atmosphere is casual and unstructured, however, you do have a script of sorts.  

The purpose is to elicit “feedback”, personally, and constructive ideas. These small events are RSVP, so you control the size and the mix. You want to hear about their stay, what went well, what needs improvement, who were the extraordinary employees, were expectations exceeded?  Just like the “Rooming” concept, this simply is not being done.  Most of your Guests will appreciate the effort and your interest.  You have created a new “bond”.  Their Experience will have been enhanced. 

We some times do this with Employees, but the framework is seen as artificial, perhaps cursory.  Many are curious yet cynical – “What do they want now?”  Employees are a tough audience, unless you are sincere, follow-up and through and demonstrate what is in it for them. There are other audiences, as well.

I surmise you have never met with Vendors in this type of forum. What a rich resource they are.   Your Vendors want you to succeed, for they get more business.  Your Destination Area Organizations want you to succeed, for you help to make the Destination more attractive to Visitors.  Your Associations, marketing and professional, need your dues and contributions; they are on-board.  And, even your competition recognizes that your health and prosperity helps to drive theirs. Common goals, collaborative action, relationship building – wonderful synergy!

These types of concepts work.  It is creating a face with the business; a warm, firm handshake with the Promise; a smile, laugh and concern to cap a Memorable Experience.  Most importantly, you have engaged your Customers.  Be on top of your game, just like Ed Koch, former Mayor of New York, who always questioned, “How am I doing?”  Time is a problem, you say?  You have all the time there is!

The author believes that Remarkable Hospitality is the portal to the Memorable Experience.  Seek solutions at:


John R. Hendrie

Also See: How Reliable Is Your Brand / J Radsdale Hendrie / July 2007
No Doorman to Greet You! How Reputations Fade / John R. Hendrie / July 2007


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