Angie PetkovicFeatures

The importance of good communication

In the words of Bananarama: “It ain’t what you say; it’s the way that you say it.” All right, so I’ve used a bit of artistic license with the lyrics, but the point I’m making is that it isn’t what you need to say, but how you say it that’s important.

Read the news on any given day and there’ll be at least one ‘crisis’ story where a business or individual is under fire and is defending their reputation, and in the following days or weeks, you’ll see some come up smelling of roses, while others emerge with their reputation in tatters. The difference; how the words were phrased and how the narrative was controlled.

This is the most extreme version of events, but the core advice can apply at all levels of hotel management. Most commonly, this advice is organically implemented at front of house customer service level; it’s also where hoteliers do it best too. As it is so obvious and visual, it is easy to train into staff and to monitor ongoing customer service. What’s more, it draws on the natural talents of your team, empathy with customers, building a rapport, and being able to see a customer’s reaction in real time. Naturally, people, and your training, will work to give the best possible answer, in the best possible way.

So, what I instead want to consider is what you and your property are saying beyond front of house; the bit where direct engagement isn’t happening and you can’t adjust your response by ‘reading’ your customer.

I’ve stayed in two places recently who work perfectly for a comparison. Both provided fluffy white bathrobes in their rooms, and both had clearly been suffering from guests ‘helping themselves’ and taking the robes home. The first had taken the direct approach, stitching a hotel label in like a school child’s name tag and putting up a sign that said: “Feel free to use these bathrobes while you are here, but leave them behind when you go. Missing robes will be charged to your card.”

Fair enough, a direct approach and there’s nothing particularly offensive about it, yet it somehow implies they expect me to steal – an affront to my character. Maybe I am being oversensitive, but the problem with written word is that it’s read in the tone in which your guest chooses to take it, so it’s best not to leave any room for interpretation. What’s more, the sign is only relevant to the guest who does take the robe, so it feels a bit rude to assume my guilt in advance; innocent until proven guilty and all that.

The second hotel took a similar approach, but their language was so much different and warmer and therefore my reaction was too. Their little card said “I’m snuggly and warm and here for your stay. If you find you love me so much that you can’t part with me, you can pop me in your suitcase for just £36.” The upshot is the same – take the robe, we’ll charge you for it – but one told me off while the other almost encouraged me to take it home. In fact, speaking to the owners of the latter hotel, they’d seen robes ‘disappearing’ more after they included the sign, but it had become an added-value for guests, made a small margin income for the hotel, and left both parties feeling positive. No one complained about being charged.

I appreciate the nuances are small, but we can probably all name at least one brand that leaves us with that welcome and valued feeling, with whom we want to build loyalty and rapport, and who we think just ‘get it right’. The problem is, these brands often have a big budget or team to spend time thinking these things through, and you don’t have the time or money, right? The answer is no. Not right. Actually, everyone has the time, but not everyone has the impetus.

Let’s start with a little exercise. Working with the condition “paid for WiFi”, try to find five different ways to let your customers know they need to pay to surf. Write them down, and make sure each one is different to the last. Done it? Now read them back to yourself and if you can, get someone else to read them too. I can guarantee at least one will have an ‘attitude’ attached to it – whether you intended it or not – and there’ll be a clear winner in the friendly stakes. It may not be perfect yet, but it’s a start and it’s from this clear leader that you need to build.

Practice makes perfect, so keep going until you think you’ve got a sentence which perfectly balances your guests and hotel style, but which has no room for attitude.Next, it’s time to go on a tour of your own hotel. Walk through the door and try to see it through the guests’ eyes. What signs are on the wall? What notices are on the reception desk?

What about their bedroom or the menus or the bar signs? What are those messages? Are they right? Are they literal or are they engaging? How can they be improved? The investment is worth it – it improves the overall culture or personality of your brand and property and it pays dividends in repeat custom too. What are you waiting for?

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