a patio with black iron tables and chairs

How Small Touchpoints
Improve the Guest Experience

Independent hotels don’t benefit from traditional loyalty programs, so it’s critical for operators to integrate creative ways that will turn today’s guest into tomorrow’s lifelong customers. A core principle for all independents is to build and create a value perception.

Hotel News Now – 03 MARCH 2020

Building guest engagement through “curated touchpoints” can help build guest loyalty outside the branded distribution environment.

By  Gareth Brown

Independent hotels don’t benefit from traditional loyalty programs, so it’s critical for operators to integrate creative ways that will turn today’s guest into tomorrow’s lifelong customers. A core principle for all independents is to build and create a value perception.

One approach to lead the charge is through small, curated touchpoints. These simple, cost-conscious points of engagement improve the guest experience and help place your hotel on the top of guests’ booking lists. Read on for a guide on how to implement such touchpoints—without breaking the bank.

Listen to your team and your guests
Your front-line employees are the ones who interact with your guests on a daily basis. They are invaluable in providing feedback from your customers as to what they want or need during their stays. In addition to guest reviews, your team holds the key to knowing what your hotel is doing right and what needs improvement.

Oftentimes, some of the best touchpoints or services are ideas shared by team members, and it’s simple offerings that have the greatest impact. For example, an employee might notice many guests have asked to borrow a steamer in lieu of using the in-room ironing board. It’s a modest suggestion, and relatively inexpensive, to add in-room steamers in response to guest needs. Not only does following through with a staff member’s advice positively add to the guest experience, that employee will feel valued that his or her opinion counts. That leads to team buy-in and loyalty, in addition to establishing a strong relationship with the guest.

As your employees listen to and learn guest preferences, they’re collecting important data you don’t want to waste, especially as you work to build a personalized experience. Train your team to ask guests leading questions about their wants and needs. For example: “We appreciate you selecting our hotel for your visit, what were the factors that helped you to choose this property?” This prompts them to share the primary reason for booking—location, restaurant, spa, quality and amenity offerings, romantic or special occasion offerings, etc. The answer allows the staff to immediately know what is important to that guest and focus on those factors to make sure they are consistently at the forefront of interactions. Then, use CRM software to keep permanent notes. You can use that information to develop personalized touchpoints as those customers return to the hotel. It’s how you can turn a transactional relationship into a personal one.

Embrace local vendors
Partnerships with surrounding businesses are another great way to add small, meaningful touchpoints to the guest experience. Some hotels offer a welcome gift from a local business, such as house-made fudge, a small bag of cookies or saltwater taffy. Especially if you are negotiating a deal with these organizations, a check-in gift is inexpensive and promotes a gesture of goodwill—both for the guest and the community.

Additionally, look to your hotel’s own food-and-beverage outlet for touchpoint inspiration. Does your hotel’s bar use interesting ingredients in its cocktails, for example? Offer a complimentary welcome beverage upon arrival, which gives guests a taste of your property. They will appreciate the gesture, and the welcome gift could then drive business to your F&B outlets.

Personalize, starting with pre-arrival
To further develop guest loyalty, begin building the relationship before check-in with a pre-arrival phone call or note. Consider this: Many guests may have never been to your hotel’s destination before and might require some assistance with their travel plans. Anything you can do in advance for them, such as helping to shape their itineraries, will build a personalized experience and can even drive additional business to your property’s restaurant, lounge and spa.

The process starts by picking up the phone before a stay, making a personal introduction, and then working with the guest to anticipate wants and needs for the visit. Here, you can help curate a tailored experience that allows the guest to feel like a local from the moment he or she arrives in your city. Of course, everyone is different. Some guests may appreciate the assistance, while others want to discover the town on their own. A lot of it just comes down to knowing your audience and recognizing what they are looking for. You can do that through a single interaction, phone call or email. No matter the avenue your team takes, it’s crucial to let guests know that someone on-property wants to help them during their trip.

Keep it personal on-property
While pre-arrival personalization is key to building guest loyalty, don’t rest on your laurels when guests arrive. Consider adding a personal butler program, essentially assigning guests a go-to team member who can assist them during the stay. This employee can help guests with simple requests, such as restaurant recommendations, and grander calls, like assisting with a marriage proposal or the celebration of a special occasion.

Although personalization is an important human touchpoint, being at the forefront of technology further aids in building loyalty. Certain software programs offer text messaging services with guests—a prime way today’s customers want to communicate. When someone checks into the hotel, ask for their cellphone number and input it into the system. Guests will receive a welcome text, letting them know that they can text when they need something. As texts enter the system, employees can respond. It’s not removing human interaction from the experience; it’s simply providing a mode of communication that people want. And, because guests want it, you need it.

Enjoy the ROI
There is an ROI to successfully implementing a touchpoint program at your property. The personal touches you provide will create an emotional connection for guests. When you think back on happy memories in your life, what were the reasons you felt so content? Maybe someone was helping you, or perhaps you got to see or experience something you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Guests remember those things. When you get to know people on a personal level, an emotional attachment is created. One of the most important things in any business is having that repeat customer base and guest loyalty. Independent hotels might not be able to offer some of the touchpoints bigger-box brands are known for, however, they can make up for it with great personalities and thoughtful, personal, and memorable offerings that wow.

Gareth Brown has had a diverse career in hospitality spanning more than 20 years prior to joining Charlestowne Hotels as Corporate Director of Operations. Growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, Gareth worked in a variety of senior leadership roles in both independent boutique and upscale tour and convention properties while also attending the University of Alaska, Anchorage, for Business Administration. He was a recipient of “Top Forty Under 40” and “Hotel Manager of The Year” awards for the state of Alaska. In search of warmer climates, he moved to Southern California where he began his tenure with Montage Hotels & Resorts. Over the next 10 years he spent time in Beverly Hills, Park City, Las Vegas and Palmetto Bluff, holding senior and executive level positions which included oversight of operations, rooms division and residential services within these properties. Gareth was on the opening team of three renowned five star, AAA Five-Diamond Montage properties, and also attended the UNLV School of Hospitality during this time. Gareth now has multiple independent properties within his Charlestowne portfolio, ranging from the Southeast Coast to Central California.