Great Expectations

By: Joanne Sasvari

Five Ways to Manage Customer Expectations, No Matter What Happens

Every business is facing much the same challenges these days: staff shortages, supply chain delays, and the rising cost of everything from paper to potatoes. But for those in hospitality, there’s an added challenge. Customers still expect service as good as, or better than, it was pre-pandemic. Throw in today’s higher room rates and guests become even more demanding. (Read: downright angry when things don’t go their way.)

So, what is a hotelier to do? It all comes down to managing those expectations.

Even before that first pandemic lockdown in 2020, consumer expectations (CX) were already on the rise. According to a PricewaterhouseCooper global report on “The Future of CX,” 86% of people surveyed were willing to pay more for a great customer experience. But perhaps more tellingly, the report also found that 32% of customers would walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience. And another study, this one by McKinsey, found that over 75% of consumers have changed their buying habits since the start of the pandemic and are increasingly willing to change brands, regardless of any loyalty program.

That’s a lot of pressure to get things right.

What Do Guests Really Want?

Expectations can differ widely depending on both the type of property you operate and on the individual traveller. However, whether you run a roadside motel or a luxury destination resort, and whether your clientele comprises road warriors on a business trip or leisure travellers on vacation with young kids, all guests demand two things above all: cleanliness and clear communication.

A 2021 study by the industry website Hospitality Net found that 57% of guests would pay more for a room that was “certified clean”—that is, it followed a posted checklist of cleaning protocols that include ventilation, sanitation, and using disinfectants as well as regular cleaning products. A good example of this is the Hilton chain’s CleanStay program, a collaboration with Lysol and the Mayo Clinic Infection Prevention and Control team.

At the same time, and a little counterintuitively, Hilton and other hotel chains have been addressing staff shortages by making daily housekeeping opt-in only. Now guests who want their beds made and towels changed daily need to ask for it at check-in. As Cvent, a global meetings, events, and hospitality technology provider, says: “This will unburden your housekeeping team and cut costs for equipment and cleaning products.” There has been little backlash to this largely because the communication around it has been clear and consistent.

Technology to the Rescue

Technology, of course, helps with that communication, and our adoption of new technologies has been accelerated by the pandemic. Guests of all ages and backgrounds are now accustomed to using e-commerce and in-app communication. As the website Hotefy points out, “Technology has simplified many aspects of life, and gradually, when it comes to hospitality services, its influence is moving toward greater digital expectations.”

“Consumers expect the control, choice, and instant communication that technology can provide.”

Consumers expect the control, choice, and instant communication that technology can provide, as well as the convenience of features such as mobile check-in and digital keys. “Tech innovations like contactless check-in and in-app messaging with hotel staff are no longer novel add-ons,” notes Operto Guest Technologies, a Vancouver-based hospitality software company. “Instead, they’re key to giving guests the experience they’re looking for.”

The good news is that about a third of Canadians expect to spend more on travel this year. With any luck, some of them will be visiting your property. When they do, they’ll enjoy your nice sheets, deluxe amenities, and commitment to sustainability. But the real trick to managing their expectations all comes down to communication. Here’s how to do it right.

Talk the Talk (and Text and Email)

  1. Be Realistic

If you set realistic expectations from the start, guests are more likely to be understanding when things don’t go perfectly. Even before they arrive, let them know if, say, your award-winning restaurant is only open on weekends, or the pool is closed for maintenance. Urge them to pre-book dinners, spa appointments, and any other experience they don’t want to miss. Place a banner on your home page, send regular email updates, post on social media. Respond quickly and clearly to questions and complaints. And don’t forget to highlight the wins, too! Like anyone, your guests just want to know what is going on.

  1. Upgrade Your Tech

Fast, reliable, free WiFi should be a given at any property. Also consider features such as self-service kiosks, online check-in, and chatbots that can handle simple customer queries, all of which can help streamline your operations. If you have enough bandwidth, consider augmented and/or virtual reality to add value through, for instance, an interactive map to the top tourist spots.

“Keep in mind that they expect a reply when they @ you.”

  1. Right Back @ You

We’ve become a mobile society, with smartphones and apps replacing desktop computers and email, especially among younger travellers. Note where your customers are engaging most (Instagram? Text? Email?) and keep in mind that they expect a reply when they @ you. This is an opportunity not just to resolve immediate issues, but to gather information that will allow you to offer a better experience, even with fewer staff.

  1. Keep Your Team in the Loop

When things go wrong, your customer service team is on the front lines. Make sure they have the most up-to-date information possible, especially if they are handling a sudden wave of calls and complaints. Having the facts ensures that they keep messaging consistent and don’t inadvertently give out false information or make promises they can’t keep. At the same time, keep morale high by offering training and technology support, as well as asking for feedback (and listening to it, too).

  1. Get Personal

Personalization is the future of hospitality. And personalization is really just great service. Study after study shows that service is what brings guests back, encourages them to spend more, and has them posting on social channels. It starts with the friendly smile at the front desk and could include a welcome note in the room, a special in-room amenity, or helpful tips from the concierge. Tailor your guests’ experience with the information you gathered when they booked, but remember: Technology can never replace the human touch.