For the majority of B&B owners, offering a home away from home is not likely to be something you are formally trained to do; instead, it is probably something that you feel passionate about and which has the added bonus of supporting your monthly income. In all likelihood, you deliver a service that you yourself would like or expect to experience, topping up your personal approach with ‘on-the-job’ learning and whatever credible resources you can lay your hands on. Interestingly, while this can create an exceptionally personal service and one which has the ability to build relationships and even friendships between you and your guests, it also leaves room for you to miss small opportunities that make a huge difference to your patrons, and an even bigger difference to your bottom line.
A huge part of our assessment is based on the ‘customer journey’, also known as the guest experience at your B&B. This refers to all the occasions and ways you and your customers will be in touch. It starts from the ‘first impression’ that they get of you, perhaps via a website, or an online directory listing, progressing through the booking process, the confirmations, the greeting on arrival, right through to how well you meet their expectations, how the staff are presented and the check-out process. I asked my assessors to tell me the most common pitfalls they encounter with guest experience and they told me:
- Failure to confirm bookings: Whether a booking was made online or with a call to reception, a large number of the B&Bs we inspect don’t see the need to confirm a booking via email. Yet this can lead to post-purchase anxiety (known as buyer’s remorse) and potentially cancellation, as well as increasing the likelihood of a no-show. Confirming bookings via email helps to reassure the client, increases the likelihood that they will actually remember to stay, and importantly builds a level of trust. Importantly by 2020, it is predicted that almost 50% of bookings made by travellers will be made by the so-called ‘millennial’ generation, who are tech-savvy, process-hungry and who have expectations of something as small as a booking confirmation – an opportunity not to be missed. We appreciate for some, tackling confirmation emails may seem daunting, time-consuming and perhaps even terrifying, but there are a number of booking management systems which will automate this process, or you can find templates online and then set them up yourself.
- Interact with the guests: not everyone will love talking to you, but generally speaking, creating opportunities for a quick chat, such as asking whether they enjoyed breakfast or dinner, or whether they slept well, will help create a friendly atmosphere and will also provide opportunity to identify any looming issues and fix them before they become a problem. This is especially important to help avoid negative reviews and to create a good rapport. As with any advice, use this on a case-by-case basis; if you have a very timid, shy or quiet guest, or one whose body language is closed, then it is probably best to avoid too much interaction, but I always prefer to err on the side of friendliness than worry too much about overstepping the mark.
- Be up-front and clear about your expectations of guests: Strange as this may sound, whilst you need to be friendly, approachable and open with guests, you also need to be really clear about your expectations of them. Common stories told by our assessors, are tales of woe about turning up at a B&B with a card, only to find out that it’s cash-only payment. Similarly, letting guests know that payment is due on arrival/departure, and being clear about appropriate arrival times, all help you to run your business, but equally help your guests to form a positive expectation, so that they don’t get a ‘surprise’ when they do arrive.
Aside from that, it is all about the little things and an annual assessment can help keep you and your business on track. I was recently asked whether there was truly any ‘value’ in being assessed each year when you can just as easily ‘self-assess’, and my answer was this; a huge part of the ‘value’ derived from being assessed is the impartiality and objectivity of having an external assessor, coupled with extensive, relevant and current guidance and advice to help you make the most of your business, and offer the best experience to your guests.
In the spotlight: Forest View Walkers Inn, Byrness Village
The Forest View Walkers Inn is popular with walking and cycling tourists hoping to take in the Northumberland National Park. The hotel takes a positive approach to the environment, with central heating powered by a wood-pellet boiler and a hot water boiler powered by solar panels.
Forest View is a four-star inn, whose regular upgrades and improvements have helped ensure a comfortable four-star rating. Owned by Mr and Mrs Taylor, our assessor described the property as: “A rather unique and very well managed property catering primarily for the walking market and providing modern comfortably appointed accommodation in a friendly and convivial atmosphere.”
The property has a very simple, unassuming design for the website, which although not complex is well-suited to the walking market and does receive positive compliments from guests. The TripAdvisor reviews have a positive trend and this set the expectation of a comfortable and welcoming visit. Our inspector continues: “The Taylors are very welcoming and the process from start-to-finish has been reassuring and well-thought out. Not only are they offering a great B&B provision, they are also taking into account their target audiences – walkers and cyclists. The property includes a drying room for wet clothes and boots and since the last inspection, the couple has introduced modern digital alarm clock radios, with USB charging points to allow walkers to re-charge their portable GPS devices overnight – market specific and very thoughtful.”
Joyce Taylor from Forest View Walkers Inn says: “The thing we value most about an inspection is a fresh pair of eyes in case we are missing something which could be improved. The inspector is able to give advice on problem solving by recalling what other accommodation providers have done in similar situations. The best piece of advice we were given by an inspector was to concentrate on attention to detail and buy a smaller amount of better quality rather than a lot of poor quality. It was an inspector who persuaded us to replace our almost new flat pack furniture with good quality wooden furniture and a number of guests comment on how good it looks.”
Although situated in a Forestry Commission village and catering exclusively for walkers to the area, many guests still arrive totally unprepared. Forest View operates a free mini bus to drop off and collect guests from the official walks each day. They also spend a number of nights, torch in hand searching for lost walkers who simply don’t turn up. Taylor says: “Although the hours can be long and punishing, we find it very rewarding and meet a lot of kind and interesting people.”
In the spotlight: Rosslyn House, Whitby
Rosslyn House is a Victorian property, steeped in history; it has retained many of the original features, yet has been sympathetically modernised to the highest of standards. The Guest House is one street away from the seafront and a short stroll to the historic town centre.
Rosslyn House has a four-star grading, however exceptionally high standards across many aspects of the property and guest experience are five star, warranting the additional awards of both a Silver Award in recognition, and a Breakfast Award for their cooked breakfast using locally-sourced ingredients. The assessor says: “Prompt confirmation from the third party agent, plus a second follow up e-mail from the guest house extending a warm welcome. Good clear name signage assists the first time guest in identifying the property on arrival.”
Rosslyn House has carefully thought about the guest experience and works to ensure that each and every guest feels welcome and cared for. The assessor continues “A friendly and smiling greeting on arrival (16.30) with the guest engaged in pleasant conversation and issued with a parking permit before being escorted to the allocated room, where a thorough orientation with the facilities was carried out. Refreshments including home baking served in the dining room shortly after arrival. Everything is careful, considered and discrete and the owners are very unobtrusive.”
Vanessa Gummer from Rosslyn House says: “We really value having a professional independent review with feedback. Feedback from family and friends and guests will always have a bias therefore an unbiased review by an industry professional who sees all levels of hospitality provision on a daily basis is really valuable. We now have a report with suggestions for enhancements and improvements which we can factor into our future plans and we have a contact we can call before we make potentially expensive mistakes for advice.
“At our first inspection, the one piece of advice that we put into place immediately was with regard to guests travelling alone. Our inspector suggested that we should remove the second place setting from the guest’s table (we do not have specific tables for rooms so guests may choose where they wish to be seated) once they were seated. Never having travelled alone this was something we had totally overlooked and I am sure it has enhanced the guest experience.
“We find it hard not knowing when the inspection will be. Ours was on a day we were having a new range cooker fitted and guests expressly asking for very well cooked breakfasts – so the bacon snaps. In hindsight had we known the Inspector was staying we probably would have felt under pressure but we just did what we do and everything was fine.”