Many hoteliers seek to satisfy their customers in an effort to deliver positive results for their business. However, the relationship between satisfaction and other desired goals such as customer loyalty has not been conclusively proven by research. Whereas some studies assert the relationship exists, others have failed to find enough evidence for the satisfaction-loyalty connection. In light of this, many have looked at customer delight as an alternative approach. Customer delight is about engaging your guest at an emotional level and appealing to their higher-order needs. After all, wouldn’t you rather have an excited customer as opposed to ambivalent one?
Over the last few years, I’ve devoted many of my efforts to discovering the drivers of customer delight in the hotel experience. In a study published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, my colleague Dr. Kline and I explain the process of attaining customer delight. After reading and analyzing letters of customer feedback from seven different hotels, we identified five themes that drive the emotion of delight among guests:
1. Make them feel important—I call it “Fulfillment Delight.” Hoteliers can delight their guest by appealing to their need for esteem. After systematically reading the letters, we discovered that many satisfied guests remarked “feeling special,” enjoyed being treated as a “welcomed guest,” or felt like “the most important person in the world.”
2. Offer genuine friendliness—I call this “Charismatic Delight.” Friendly employees leave an impression on the guest’s mind. Our analysis revealed that many guests used words such as “charisma,” “friendly,” and “pleasant attitude” to describe their interactions with service workers. Although friendliness might sound like an obvious answer, the practice of delivering friendliness is not always straightforward. Mandating friendliness can lead to a phenomenon called “emotional labor,” which ultimately has negative effects on employee wellness. Hiring people who are naturally friendly is a smoother path to attain this goal. Furthermore, creating a work environment that stirs such reactions is another necessary step.
3. Know your stuff—I call this “Professional Delight.” After reading many customer letters, it is apparent that guests appreciate professionalism and mastery of essential duties. Customers noted that “events were well planned,” recalled being “impressed by the quality of people” in the hotel, and commented on the staff’s “attention to detail.” Developing expertise in a profession can be challenging in a high turnover environment such as the hotel industry, but proper training, adherence to quality standards, and demeanor can make this goal possible.
4. Be better than your competitor—I call this “Comparative Delight.” Guests noticed when a hotel was “superior” compared to its competition, or when a hotel was simply “the best.” What can be done to attain this? Gain a better understanding of your competitors. For example, read their guest comments on feedback sites, ask customers how your service compares to other hotels, and seek to deliver unique service.
5. Use a problem as an opportunity—I call this “Problem Resolution Delight.” I used to view service recovery as a process of neutralizing negative guest attitudes and emotions. However, not only can we neutralize emotions, but by virtue of our recovery efforts, we can create delight. Numerous letters highlighted guest’s positive reflections regarding hotel staff who went out of their way to solve problems. To attain this, it is necessary that the staff pay attention to opportunities to help the guest, especially those in which there’s no service failure, but the guest still faces a challenge.
Moving from customer satisfaction to delight requires a change of approach, as well as a change in both thinking and behavior. As we mutually strive to design and execute better guest experiences, these five guidelines will do more than satisfy your guest, they will create a truly delightful hotel stay.
Torres, E.N, & Kline, S. (2013). From customer satisfaction to customer delight: Creating a new standard of service for the hotel industry. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 25(5), 642-659.