Mind the Gap: Bridging the Divide Between What Hotel Customers Expect and What They Get

By the time a guest arrives at your hotel, his or her expectations have been set by everything they have gleaned from your website and online ads to past guests’ reviews to word-of-mouth from friends and family. Now it’s time to deliver the promise.  Is your team ready?

HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board recently discussed the growing two-way dependency and integration of marketing and operations – and what you can do to align and leverage your efforts to get the results you want (especially repeat stays and advocacy for your brand).

It’s a Two-Way Street

By helping the operations team understand and anticipate who is coming in to your property, customer service can be better aligned with the guests’ expectations. At the same time, marketing should rely on operations to understand the property experience from the guest’s point of view.  You’ll want to keep track of the guest experience at your property from the operations’ perspective in order to better focus on the key issues that truly resonate with your target guests.

Mine! Mine! Mine!

If one department – whether it is operations or sales or marketing – is claiming ownership of the guest, stop! Everyone owns the guest and is equally responsible for delivering the expected experience.

Start by developing a deeper understanding of your guests and their on-property experience. On the marketing side, track customer segments by spend and preferences. Spend time with your reservation agents to understand what the customers are looking for and what might be obstacles to their booking with you. Get out of your office and be where the guests really are. Spend time in the lobby! Help the ops team during busy check ins/check outs. Walk a mile in their shoes.

On-property staff members are incredibly instrumental in a hotel’s success. It’s all about the people.  So, help them by sharing your customer profiles:

  • Talk about customer profile(s) each week at a property leadership meeting. Make sure that leaders in all departments understand who the guests are so their teams can better deliver what guests are looking for.
  • At the operational level, help team members understand guest profiles and how a typical business traveler acts and spends versus a group guest or a leisure guest.

Leverage Your Tech

Leverage your technology resources, especially your CRM system, to the greatest extent possible. This is definitely the most difficult and resource intensive part of your marketing/ops integration strategy, but one with the most potential to help you rise above your competition.

Aligning your marketing with data from operations will differentiate your hotel and brand. Analysis of the right guest data can provide a wealth of information to be leveraged by marketing.

All Hail the King

Reviews are king, and customer service so often drives those reviews. At a minimum, have a solid process in place to respond to guest reviews in a timely way, in a genuine tone, and by someone the guest really wants to hear from (e.g., the general manager). Make the marketing team available to help the operations team write thoughtful responses.

Analyze your guest reviews to uncover your undiscovered assets.  For example, there is a hotel in Paris that highlighted its restaurant in its marketing…until the team analyzed guest reviews and discovered that, from the guests’ perspectives, being near the train station was the hotel’s most appealing feature. Based on that information and followed where their reviews led, the team modified marketing messages to focus on the hotel’s location and achieved significant increases in occupancy and RevPAR.

It’s All Social

Many new entrants are joining this space with direct messaging tools via text and apps in order to facilitate a conversation between the guest service desk and the guests before they reach the hotel. While they present pre-arrival communication and one-to-one marketing opportunities, the greatest advantage of these tools is giving the hotel the opportunity to get in front of issues before they become reported problems in reviews. Depending on the size of your property, these practices can produce an overwhelming volume of communications.  Make sure you deploy them systematically and be prepared to staff them.

Challenge your front desk team to be more involved in the social media world of guests. For instance, if a guest posts or tags your hotel while they are there, retweet/share their post AND look at the guest’s profile to see if there’s something personalized you can do while they are with you. Appoint a social media champion on each and every shift.

Walk the Thin “Creepy” Line

Anticipatory service is a bold promise, but one with a lot of potential. Walk the fine line between wanting to really understand the guest and be genuine, and knowing too much about them.

For instance, train hotel staff, especially front desk personnel, how to read people’s body language…so they can get themselves on the same page as the guest no matter the issue or circumstance. Help front desk and bar staff know how to be mindful and present when with a guest. Get all of the staff to think about being empathetic to the guest.

Bridge the Gap

When team members understand the what and why of a strategy, they are typically more supportive of it. From the marketing side, give the operations team opportunities to expand their horizons and feel empowered:

  • Offer marketing classes to ops team members. One hotel company gives a one-hour training each month so ops staff can learn about the basics of key issues (for example, the role of reviews in marketing and rate).
  • In the operations packet that goes out every morning, once a week add a fun fact about marketing in general, or a marketing initiative at your hotel, that gets read at every department meeting that morning.

And remember, it is not a hand-off from guest recruitment to service delivery. It is a symbiotic partnership that makes or breaks the guest experience and the brand.

About HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board

HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board leverages insights, emerging trends, and industry innovations to inspire marketing for hotels. Members include:

  • CHAIR: Maureen Callahan, Vice President of Marketing Communication & Public Relations, Destination Hotels
  • Michael Bennett, Vice President, Marketing, White Lodging Services
  • Tiffany Braun, Area Director of Sales and Marketing, Commune Hotels and Resorts
  • Katie Briscoe, EVP, Client Services, MMGY Global
  • Diane Briskin, Managing Director, DKC Public Relations
  • Matthew Clyde, President & Chief Strategist, Ideas Collide
  • Sean Dee, CMO & EVP, Outrigger Resorts
  • Agnelo Fernandes, Senior VP of Sales & Marketing, Terranea Resort / Destination Hotels and Resorts
  • Brian Hall, Chief Marketing Officer, Explore St. Louis
  • Natalie Osborn, Senior Industry Consultant, Hospitality and Travel Global Practice, SAS Institute, Inc.
  • Mandy Penn, Senior Director of Resort Marketing, Universal Orlando Resort
  • Florence Quinn, President, Quinn
  • Lisa K. Ross, President, rbb Communications
  • Andrew Rubinacci, CHSP, SVP, Distribution & Revenue Management Strategy, IHG
  • Bill Rubino, Partner, President, Panzano & Partners
  • Paolo Torchio, CHDM, VP, Product Management, Sabre Hospitality Solutions
  • Casey Ueberroth, Chief Marketing Officer, Preferred Hotels & Resorts

Categories: Marketing
Insight Type: Articles