Hotel guests have never been happier. That’s not just a lofty statement—it’s a trend that J.D. Power reported in its 2018 North American Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index. Overall satisfaction jumped eight points last year, landing at 825 on a 1,000-point scale. “Hotels are in a good place,” Jennifer Corwin, senior manager of consumer insights for global travel and hospitality and digital practices at J.D. Power, says. “There’s a lot of product improvement: guestrooms are getting updated and lobbies and exterior facades are becoming more modern.”
However, as more brands, new builds, and alternative lodging options enter the market each day, concerted efforts to improve guest experience remain critical in today’s competitive lodging landscape. Owners continue to grapple with how to serve guests’ evolving needs in efficient and cost-effective ways, particularly in light of where we are in the current lodging cycle.
With this in mind, J.D. Power concluded in its 2018 study that hoteliers should return their focus to service. “It’s financially going to be easier to improve a hotel’s service level than it would be to make large-scale room renovations or upgrade your entire facility,” Corwin says. “One of the main drivers of satisfaction, especially in economy and midscale hotels, is consistency. We see brands that don’t have identical amenities or identical rooms that score very well in consistency because their service is consistent.”
Laying the Groundwork
Bruce Wienberg, vice president of operations at Best Western Hotels & Resorts, says that owners have much to gain by improving guest experience. In conjunction with its customer experience management platform Medallia, the company studied the relationship between guest satisfaction and a hotel’s financial performance and found that increasing a hotel’s Net Promoter Score translates directly into more dollars in top-line revenue. “That provability really builds the business case for the ownership and general manager to buy into focusing on improving the guest experience,” Wienberg explains.
At a very basic level, guest experience starts with a simple formula: “Provide a clean, comfortable, and well-maintained room, and be nice,” Wienberg says. “That doesn’t really cost much money. What it does take is discipline and an understanding of how to do it.”
“Each hotel has a unique set of circumstances and guest type based on location, so it’s really about individualizing what each hotel can do.”
Vice President of Operations
Best Western Hotels & Resorts
To achieve that consistency across its portfolio, Best Western has regional, field-based training staff who visit properties in person to consult with owners and managers on key issues. Wienberg knows this process first-hand—after serving as a general manager for more than 10 years, he took a position in regional services with Best Western, working with properties to build up the guest experience and drive revenue. “Each hotel has a unique set of circumstances and guest type based on location, so it’s really about individualizing what each hotel can do,” he says.
Guest feedback is an invaluable asset when it comes to identifying areas of strength and improvement. That feedback can come in the form of conversations with staff, post- stay surveys, online reviews, or social media posts.
“What gets measured gets done,” Wienberg says. Best Western uses Medallia to gather more than 2 million guest surveys a year globally. “We have measurements that we update hotels on every month and quarter, and we measure when they fall below a certain threshold,” Wienberg explains, adding that key metric areas include breakfast, overall service, high-speed internet, and clean and working amenities, among others. “The hotels are held accountable for their quality every single day based on what guests are telling us through surveys. We’ve found that this culture is driving improvements in guest experience to the highest levels in our history. ”
Designing the Guest Journey
A clean room and friendly service is just the baseline. Wienberg explains that Best Western’s goal is to “lead the industry in superior customer care.” That starts with a holistic understanding of the guest journey across all departments—operations, sales and marketing, IT, loyalty, reservations, etc.
The customer journey refers to the entire experience of planning travel through the hotel stay and beyond. It begins with researching where to go. The next phase is booking, followed by pre-arrival communications between the hotel and future guest. Next is the guest’s arrival, stay, and departure from the property. Finally, a guest may leave a review. Post-stay communications can influence that guest’s decision to return, and those online reviews may impact another’s choice in lodging.
“From the first time somebody is considering they need to go somewhere and stay at a hotel, how do we help with that experience and what does that look like? Then, during the booking process, after they book, and prior to arrival, what does that look like?” Wienberg asks. “What does our [post-stay] contact with that guest look like so that next time they want to stay at a hotel, we can help influence that?”
Since its launch in 2017, Best Western has rolled out its Mobile Guest Engagement Platform across more than half of its North American hotels, allowing guests to check in and check out, communicate with staff, purchase upgrades, and more without downloading an app.
“If we have your email address, you get a pre-arrival email that asks you some questions and lets you pre-check in,” Wienberg describes. “Then when you’re on property, the guest can text with hotel staff so they don’t have to call or go to the front desk. We give the guest that choice by using technology.”
Corwin says that the more ubiquitous the technology, the less it increases guest satisfaction. A large, flat-screen TV in a guestroom does not improve satisfaction, but not having one could have a negative impact. Similarly, WiFi is something a guest relies on rather than a perk. “It’s an expectation at this point,” Corwin says.
Conversely, guests do not assume their room will come with a tablet. In fact, adding high-maintenance gadgets into a guest’s experience could damage satisfaction if the technology fails to function properly. “Know your guests and what they want,” Corwin advises. “If you have guests who are able to and want to use that type of technology, then it’s great. Otherwise, you’re not going to get much out of it—there’s no bang for your buck there.”
As Wienberg puts it, “It’s really about leveraging technology to help guests stay how they want to stay and communicate how they want to communicate.”
Interactions with a hotel’s staff are often the experiences guests remember most. Wienberg says that Best Western’s culture, along with its “I Care, Every Guest Every Time” training initiative in partnership with virtual training platform Mursion, encourages employees to create memorable moments for guests. For example, staff at a Kentucky property recently went out of their way to help a couple celebrate an anniversary: decorating the bed with rose petals, folding towel swans, and surprising the guests with signage, balloons, and a hand-written note signed by the entire team. “It really made a special, memorable, awesome moment for those guests,” Wienberg says. “There’s a lot of creativity in our staff if you just let them loose to unleash it.”
Corwin says that these memorable moments pay the biggest dividends in customer satisfaction only when guests’ basic needs are met. “Guests are looking for unique experiences and they do want trips to be memorable, but there’s still a high percentage of people who just want a hot shower and a clean bed. It has to be comfortable and it has to be quiet,” she explains. “If you don’t have that strong base to build on, it’s really just lipstick on a pig.”