Proactive customer care

Why anticipating what your guests would want means more than giving them what they ask…

Proactive customer care can be defined as communication making use of mixed channels that pre-emptively engages guests by providing information before the need arises for the guest to ask. The main goal of proactive customer care is to strengthen relationships, increase loyalty and reduce unnecessary enquiries, ensuring that your establishment delivers a satisfying customerservice. It further enables an establishment to measure guest satisfaction and enables the destination to immediately resolve issues before they expand.

Customer service providers in the hospitality and tourism industry should strive to create a positive first impression. For hospitality and tourism destinations it is important to successfully attract, engage and capture new customers by proactively reaching out to prospective guests. By addressing anticipated questions early in the customer life cycle you immediately start the relationship in a positive way, influencing customers’ future behaviour. Such proactive activities are invaluable to successfully build future relationships between guests and the brand.

Proactive Customer Service (Image from: 1to1media.com)

Proactive Customer Service (Image from: 1to1media.com)

Some examples of proactive customer care include:

  1. Timely reminders:

Increasing guest retention through timely reminders of upcoming events, bookings, and other important reservations.  With the busy schedules of modern day customers, reminders of their appointments are much appreciated. From a hotel, guesthouse or restaurant’s point of view, these reminders not only aid in building guest loyalty, but also reduce the rate of no-shows, cancellations and past-due payments.

  1. Proactive confirmations and notifications:

Increase guest satisfaction by delivering proactive confirmations through the guests’ preferred channels. Also use these channels to communicate important information to guests to improve relationships and decrease the potential for dissatisfaction (pain points within the customer’s journey).

  1. Reduce guest service costs:

Reduce the service costs associated with reaching, satisfying and retaining guests by creating a positive brand image for the hotel, guesthouse or restaurant that will do the selling for you. Influence your guests’ buying patterns by incorporating current trends, designing the perfect unique selling point. Observe what guests do and identify guest expectations from there.

  1. Enable guest interaction:

Enable guests to interact directly with your destination if confirmation details are incorrect, a change to a booking is required or any other queries need attention. Think creatively – initiate new proactive services that set you apart from your competitors.

  1. Opt-in or choose yourself:

Providing prospective and current customers with reliable and relevant communication subscription options, through preferred channels, gives the destination the chance to win over customers at their own choosing. Identify how your customers want to be contacted – through email, direct calls, social media, or SMS – and also at what time and day they’re most receptive.

If you still wonder why proactive customer care is such a big deal, surveys have shown that it means customer loyalty, because customers repay anticipatory service with more loyalty which translates into long term value. The main goal of proactive customer care is to surprise and entice customers with convenient and useful information at the moment that they are most receptive.

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Knowledge is Power

“Knowledge is power only if man knows what facts not to bother with.” Robert Staughton Lynd.

True hospitality can only take place when you know and understand the unique expectations of each potential and existing guest, and how to exceed those expectations. Doing this requires knowledge of your customers: their wants, their needs, their preferences as well as how their expectations change. In the fast paced hospitality and tourism industries, this change happens constantly. Once you know these things, you will be able to focus your sales and marketing efforts on certain critical areas.

Knowing your customer” means gathering important information about your customers and using this information to keep your customers fixed to your brand. Knowing your customer can add value to almost every aspect of your organisation. In the hospitality industry, specifically, this knowledge carries immense power. Managers can use customer knowledge to ensure the atmosphere and ambiance is relaxing, waiters can use customer knowledge to know which dishes to recommend to their customers and chefs can use the information to assist in menu and recipe developing. This makes customer knowledge the most powerful of all information that an organisation can accumulate.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a typical customer, and all customers do not aggregate in order to announce what all of them want. In many cases, the customer might not even be aware of what he/she wants. Therefore, the first step in getting to know your customer is to start developing a database which collects and records useful information about them, such as birthdays, anniversaries, special requests, important dietary requirements, basically any pattern that might be significant, so that you will be able to tell your customer what he/she wants and needs. Once you have this knowledge, you can further use it to get full clarity on your value proposition.

Do you have the power of understanding your customer? A few helpful questions:

  • Why are customers interested in visiting your business?
  • Which needs are they trying to satisfy?
  • Why are customers going to your competitors?
  • How are your customers’ behaviour and needs changing?

Each question should represent an opportunity for you and your destination. If you have the knowledge about your customers’ behaviour and needs, you should know how to deliver a valuable and memorable product and/service.

We all know the saying “knowledge is power” and it has never rung truer. Businesses that can and are willing to meet expectations with true hospitality by means of customer knowledge will have the power to form lasting relationships with their customers, which in turn will transform customers into lifelong guests, giving you competitive advantage.

©Esrida Brits

Hospitality Working Hours – A different approach

In the hospitality and tourism industry it is almost expected that you will have at least one staff member complain about his or her working hours. It’s almost understandable, even though we all knew what we got ourselves into when we took the job.

Still, hospitality hours are hectic and many hospitality experts would agree with me that we need to find a way to make it work for both our customers and our employees. We can’t tell our guests to leave that we can go home now, can we? But we also can’t tell our staff to forget about spending time with their loved ones. We need to find a way to make ends meet.

But how?

Keeping guests and staff happy

Keeping guests and staff happy

Shift work is probably one of the first and best solutions. Shift rotating rosters are probably just as good a solution, if not better. This not only allows hospitality managers to balance the skills of employees during different parts of the day, but it also allows employees to learn about different departments in the industry. This stimulates and motivates them to go the extra mile and it teaches them the versatility of hospitality, allowing them to develop different skills.

Be a soundboard – listen to the employees’ complaints. Many times people just need someone to listen to what they have to say. Who knows – they might just have the ideal solution to the problem.

For restaurants it might be possible to make changes to the opening and closing times of the business. The Whippet Coffee Shop in Linden, Johannesburg, for instance, mentions on their website that

The Whippet believes in a lifestyle approach to business – we believe in giving our staff reasonable so that they can spend time with their families – this means our kitchen and store opens and closes early. This also allows our chef and store owners to keep their passion for the food, drinks and the people they serve. We hope you can share our philosophy on life.”

(See really cool photos of  The Whippet Coffee Shop here: Kikisofpeopleandplaces)

So, what is your philosophy on life?

Share your comments below or chat with us on Twitter (@TravellingMG).

Business or pleasure?

Is your establishment’s target market mainly guests who visit on business or pleasure?

As a hospitality and tourism industry expert, you probably don’t need me to explain to you why it is necessary to know your target market. The problem is, we get so used to our target markets, that we sometimes forget that they are also people, and people change.

As our environment, whether it be our technological or our physical environment, undergoes certain evolvements, we tend to change with it eventually. Therefore, as an accommodation establishment, restaurant or venue, it is important to keep up with trends in the industry.

Here are three trends TMG noticed feature in certain sections of the hospitality and tourism industry that you as a professional in the industry probably need to consider:

Environmental Responsibility:

This is not only a trend, but also a necessity. It has come to TMG’s attention that many travellers prefer accommodation at establishments that prove to be environmentally responsible. Guests are even willing to give up certain levels of comfort for this.

Kids entertainment:

Guests travelling for pleasure normally include families. Families often require some entertainment for children, which includes jungle gyms, swimming pools, and possible movie nights for when parents want to enjoy a romantic dinner. It is also important to remember that parents are well educated on this subject and therefore your establishment is automatically expected to provide them with service that will exceed their customer expectations. Think educational and try to include outside activities for kids. Take them on treasure hunts or short kids’ hiking trails. Use your environment and be creative.

Wi-Fi:

Businessmen are often on the road and with the fortunate evolvement of cell phones, computers and emails, many people unfortunately do the work of three or more by themselves these days. Wi-Fi has always been a luxury and not too long ago only top hotels and restaurants provided the service. Today, however, more and more hospitality and tourism establishments are adding this to their list of services and these establishments are the ones who become popular amongst business travellers especially very quickly. If business guests form part of your establishment’s target market and you do not provide your guests with Wi-Fi, you will need to revise your list of services.

For more tips and ideas on how to exceed your customers’ expectations, perhaps you should contact TMG and attend one of our workshops? Contact Renate on 082 336 1562 or enquire@travellingmystery.co.za for more information.

Products from Travelling Mystery Guest

After identifying a gap in the hospitality and tourism industry with regards to customized customer journey evaluations (another, better way of doing mystery guest visits) and customer service, I (Renate de Villiers) decided to start Travelling Mystery Guest – a company that identifies accommodation establishments and restaurants‘ advantages and assisting them in using that as a method of providing customers with the best possible service.

Here are a few of the products Travelling Mystery Guest offers:

TMG Products and Contact details

TMG Products and Contact details

Environmental Responsibility

With Earth Day on the way (22 April), environmental responsibility is the word on everyone’s lips. What are you doing for Earth Day this year?

Earth Day 2014

Earth Day 2014 (Photo by Renate de Villiers)

I’ve been noticing two very distinct behaviours with regards to this topic in the hospitality and tourism industry. It goes both ways. Some accommodation establishments have gone the extra mile to increase awareness about environmental responsibility. Many have created their own vegetable gardens and some have even gone to the length of “farming” on site by adding pigs to the establishment’s environmental cycle. As the kitchen throws out vegetable peels, the pigs eat the peels, they get fat, get slaughtered and eventually guests are served organic food. It’s all very clever.

On the other end, we find hospitality and tourism establishments that have not been educated on the subject of environmental responsibility, or those who are not interested in being educated. This is normally not necessarily due to ignorance, but rather due to the fact that they are scared of not being able to pull it off.

Therefore, TMG has compiled a few tips for kicking off your guesthouse, hotel or restaurant’s environmentally responsible operating system:

  • Try to reduce the amount of printing in the office. Rather use PDF’s to send proof of payments, invoices and quotations to guests and suppliers.
  • Replace all light bulbs with energy saving bulbs – inside and outside.
  • Restaurants can create a very romantic feel at their tables by using the popular solar lights in mason jars these days.
  • Wedding venues can incorporate green wedding packages into their marketing strategy – I can promise you: more and more brides want to get married as green as possible (no pun intended).
  • Replace your old shower heads with new, water saving shower heads.(Try Eco Shower for more information).
  • Get tips and ideas from your guests. Put short questionnaires in the rooms or at their breakfast tables asking them for ideas on how to reduce your footprint on the environment. Also let them take part in your initiatives.
  • Use dishwashers (domestic for smaller establishments and industrial for hotels) to save water while washing dishes.
  • Put up notices in the rooms requesting guests to make sure that all taps are closed properly and ask them to leave their towels in the bath when they want them washed. This will prevent housekeeping from washing towels every day, reducing the amount of water utilised for washing.
  • Add recycling bins in the kitchen and train your staff on what goes into which bin. There is no use in adding the bins but the staff still throws glass bottles into the paper or the plastic bin. Training forms a very important part of the smooth running of any company, including the hospitality and tourism industries.

Have you started your journey in becoming friendlier to the environment yet? Share your experience and tips with us by commenting TMG’s blog posts.

For more tips and ideas for Earth Day, visit our Pinterest board: Ideas for #EarthDay2014.

Happy Earth Day to all!

What makes one guest different from the other?

Being in the hospitality and tourism industry one meets hundreds of different guests – not one being the same. I sometimes wonder what makes them different, yet choose the same home away from home.

Even though choosing the same hotel or guesthouse to stay at, not one guest has the same expectations or interests. Some of it may be the same, but I’ve never met any guest who had the exact same “customer DNA” than another.

Here are a few things that differentiate one guest from the next. Keep it in mind for when your next guest arrives and see if you can understand them better when you know a little more about where they come from…

Culture

In South Africa alone we have more than 11 different local languages and even more different cultures. With such a rainbow nation, it is only natural to have different kinds of guests and that is just domestic! When we look at guests from foreign countries the gap becomes even bigger. Understanding foreign languages, cultural habits and lifestyles become a challenge in many ways, but also food to a true lover of hospitality and tourism.

Levels of Education

Whether we want to know it or not, the level of education plays a very important role in a guest’s manner of dealing with certain situations. Professionalism, understanding, knowledge and communication skills are but a few characteristics that will differentiate a man with a degree from a man who has never finished high school. There are exceptions to the rule and therefore it might be better to rather refer to experience than education. Someone with more experience will evidently be more professional, understand better, know more and communicate better.

Age

Experience also comes with age. Therefore an older person will have better communication skills than a youngster. They will obviously also have different expectations and needs and therefore it is important to be able to cater for both guest types.

Sex

Men and women have been said to come from Mars and Venus respectively, so why would we treat them as if they have the same needs and expectations? Women enjoy the finer things in life while men are mostly happy with a braai and a beer. Once again there are exceptions to the rule.

Different personalities

This can be related to many things – where they grew up, who their friends are, genes, culture and more. This just means to say, once again, that not one guest is the same.

Interests

People have different interests. Some enjoy arts and culture (which is one of the top reasons for travel in 2014 according to a survey done by American Express Travel). Others like nature and sports or even history. Getting to know what your guest’s interests are might make understanding them a little easier.

Responsibilities

A parent will be a different kind of guest in comparison to a student for example. Parents are much more careful and considerate, while students can sometimes act impulsively and appear to be a little more selfish (in a good way…or bad).

Life stories

Everyone has a story. Your hotel or guesthouse too. Some people like sharing them, others don’t. Some people are happy with their stories, others not so much. Some have just gotten married, others just lost a loved one. Knowing these things about your guest might help you to give them the best customer experience they’ve ever had.

Share in your guest's stories

Share in your guest’s stories

I once read somewhere about a business traveler who carried a photo of his daughter with him everywhere he went. He stayed at one hotel quite often and left the photo on his bed side table during his stay. One evening when he returned from work the photo had been framed and put next to his bed. The cleaner thought it well. On departure he asked the receptionist who had framed his photograph and she explained that the cleaner had noticed him carrying the photo with him everywhere he went and that she wanted to help him protect it. He then told the receptionist that the girl in the picture was his daughter who recently passed away.

Get to know your guests. Share in their stories. Make them feel at home.