Making guests feel valued inspires loyalty more than amenities

By Pradip Patel

A misdirected focus only on hotel amenities overlooks a more important driver of guest satisfaction and loyalty—making the guests feel genuinely welcomed and valued. Guests rarely use all the hotel’s amenities and typically only remember an amenity if it was subpar. While it’s necessary to ensure that the basic facilities are clean and well-maintained, the true, memorable guest experience comes from employees who treat guests and perform their duties with enthusiasm and warmth.

Guests never forget how the hotel experience made them feel
Four major factors impact a hotel guest’s expectations: location, cleanliness, amenities and whether they feel welcome at the property. The hotel location can’t change, so that expectation is or is not met before a guest makes a reservation. Satisfying high expectations for cleanliness and ensuring that all physical amenities are in good working order are baseline standards that any hotel working to earn guest loyalty must meet. The genuine opportunity to differentiate a property from other local hotels that also meet baseline expectations is a staff and culture that makes guests feel safe, comfortable, welcome and special. Employees who generate an atmosphere of authentic and warm hospitality help produce a positive emotional reaction from a guest.

Meeting baseline expectations
A friendly, helpful staff won’t overcome the negative impact of a guest’s unpleasant experience when a hotel doesn’t fulfill baseline expectations of cleanliness and amenities. The staff can be as warm and welcoming as possible, but if the shower doesn’t drain, or the carpet looks unvacuumed, a personable staff member won’t matter.

The same principle holds true for falling short in the delivery of an advertised amenity. A guest is going to feel irritated, misled and not cared for and valued if the amenity isn’t available or doesn’t work well. If the property marketing material says it has a business center, then the hotel must have a well-maintained, professional business space with working computers and printers. Does the hotel promote its return to daily housekeeping? If so, it must provide daily housekeeping.

A hotel doesn’t need to make service promises or provide amenities outside the norm for its star classification. Guests understand the differences between a two and five-star hotel. What’s imperative is that the hotel lives up to the cleanliness and amenity promises it is making to its guests.

Promote a welcoming culture that leaves an impression
With baseline standards met, how managers and staff treat guests drives their lasting impression of the hotel. A hotel culture nurtured by ownership and management is where hotels can distinguish themselves from their local competitors. The keys to creating a welcoming culture are formal, ongoing employee training, employee rewards and remediation programs, and daily analysis of hotel reviews.

Ongoing training on guest satisfaction and issue resolution remind employees of the hotel’s standards about how to treat guests. Reinforcement makes it less likely that a new employee’s positive behaviors will decline over time. For example, guests should always see a smiling face, whether they’re checking in or passing someone from housekeeping in the hall. This small gesture can have an enormous influence on making guests feel truly welcomed and appreciated. Offering guests complimentary bottled water at check-in is another simple gesture with a big impact. Teaching employees how to personalize the guest experience, such as welcoming or acknowledging a guest by name, is another effective way to boost guests’ emotional response to their stay.

Management should train staff regularly on these practices.
It’s also important for individual employees to get the recognition and attention they desire. Reward employees who go “above and beyond.” When a guest leaves a positive review that singles out an employee by name, consider giving that employee a gift card or other form of recognition. If a franchise hotel gets a positive assessment, everyone in the team should be recognized, praised and rewarded. Positively reinforcing good behaviors supports a welcoming attitude for employees and cultivates a hotel culture that maintains a warm, friendly atmosphere.

At the other end of the spectrum is how management addresses an employee who’s not providing guests with the expected positive interactions. Educating employees, rather than criticizing them, should be the response. The manager can direct underachieving staff members to relevant training videos or share alternative ways for responding in future situations. Sometimes it’s necessary to let underperforming employees go, but it shouldn’t be before management has worked with them at least twice on how to treat guests. Managers should also be mindful of modeling the right, welcoming behaviors themselves in every interaction they have with guests.

Learning daily from the hotel’s reviews
A hotel’s online reviews are the best window into how guests genuinely feel about their stay. Some guests may be polite in writing their reviews, but that doesn’t mean they felt their treatment during their stay was exemplary or even satisfactory. The reviews and guest feedback tell hotel management and staff what guests appreciate and what needs improvement.
Reviewing feedback is where management learns what to reinforce in ongoing training programs or new training videos. The feedback also can highlight which staff members deserve recognition or need additional training. Plus, reviews can tell managers which guest-service initiatives really do and don’t work.

A hotel visit always feels personal
Quality amenities are important, but emotions will always trump physical features. Guests may not remember the details of their room or whether their favorite yogurt was available at the complimentary breakfast. Instead, they will always remember how they felt about their stay. Did they feel safe? Did they feel comfortable? Did they feel welcome? Did they feel appreciated? Hotel staff members make a strong, positive emotional impact on guests by making them feel truly cared for, and that’s an experience (and hotel) that guests will seek over and over again.

Pradip Patel is the founder/owner of Real Pinnacle LLC and has more than five years of experience in hotel management.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.