Boutique Hotels – Missing the Opportunity to Provide Personalized Services

One measure of personalized customer service, and perhaps its most objective indicator, is a hotel’s willingness to practice it over the phone.  Being one of only two possible first impressions a hotel has to work with, the personalized phone call is so simple it ought to be automatic yet it is increasingly rare. Less than 5% by one measure!

In part one of an independent national study to measure customer service and sales in today’s web-based world, Advanced Feedback, Inc. called over 250 boutique hotels to see if this traditional line of communication was any more personable than an online search.

“The phone shop doesn’t lie” explains Zachary Hooker, President of Advanced Feedback. “Unlike customer surveys or feedback requests, there is no upset customer or buyer biases, just the facts.  They either do it or they don’t”.  Zachary is referring to whether or not the front line is tasked with and performing the niceties of good old fashioned personalized sales and service:  “May I have your name?”, “Have you stayed with us before?”, “Would you have any special requests that I may help you with?”

The company began their study by focusing on a segment that should lead the pack in personalized services, boutique hotels, the popular personality or lifestyle brands of recent years.  Using a simple mystery phone shop to check rates and availability, Advanced Feedback was able to objectively determine if the hotel is intent on providing service any more personable than an online reservation form.

The answer is no.

In fact, based on their results one could argue that today’s hotel agents ask fewer questions to personalize the service than found in a typical online rate inquiry where we know we’re at least asked to select room type or bed preference.  One could also question if some properties have an objective to encourage guests to go online versus call their business. Looking at the data below tells us management is no longer committed to phone skills that include rapport and personalized services:

17%      Asked for the caller’s name

31%      Asked the caller if it was their first stay or reason for visit

9%        Asked about specific needs or preferences

10%     Mentioned any hotel amenities or benefits prior to quoting price

4%         Covered all four areas of personalization

Boutiques might be well designed to cater to a particular lifestyle or modern trend, but the Advanced Feedback study shows a missed opportunity to turn a hotel’s charm and personality into a memorable first impression.

Furthermore, looking beyond the qualifying aspect of the call, one might speculate that specialty hotels would at a minimum embrace each incoming call as an opportunity to highlight something interesting about the property.  Yet only 10% of those called mentioned even one unique feature or benefit of their boutique property!

“We started with boutique properties thinking this would be a benchmark for how good phone skills set the stage for a personalized hospitality experience.  We didn’t necessarily anticipate better overall skills from boutiques, as the major well known brands often have phone training systems in place, but we did expect the personalization to be there” continues Zachary.

Comparing the overall phone skills performance of boutiques to a sample of well known brands, collected during a control group survey, the study shows no overall difference, boutiques 37%,  majors 37%.  In addition to the personalization aspects of inbound phone skills  (rapport and needs assessment), the survey scored other phone handling and sales criteria such as the use of a professional greeting and asking for a reservation.  These scores, shown below, are also roughly inline with a random selection of non boutique hotels.

92%      Answered within three rings

82%      Used an appropriate hotel greeting

47%      Asked to secure a reservation

24%      Handled resistance to a reservation

33%      Attempted to lead the conversation

37%      Overall phone shop score

In general,  it can be concluded that the front desk or reservations is adequately staffed and trained to answer the phone professionally and politely, but that’s where the training stops.  It seems this is true across all brands, not just boutiques.  The company will know for sure when a second phase of the investigation is complete.  “Clearly when only 47% of hotel agents ask the caller to make a reservation, phone skills training is no longer front and center.  Excuses include cuts in training, attention to online sales, etc. but as long as you’re paying people to answer the phone, they should be selling your service”, challenges Zachary.

The survey covered a wide variety of self proclaimed boutique hotels, ranging in size from only a few rooms to over 500.  On average small boutique properties did worse in all areas.  Those with less than 50 rooms had the lowest average overall score of 21%.   Above 50 rooms, there is a weak correlation between a hotel’s size and practice of good phone skills, boutiques above 500 rooms faired best at 62%, but with a small sample size.

Rooms                          Average Score             Calls

1-49                              21%                             46

50-99                            34%                             49

100-149                        39%                             59

150-199                        44%                             30

200-249                        48%                             27

250-499                        34%                             31

500 plus                        62%                             10

All Boutiques                37%                             252

With regard to the drop in performance with fewer rooms, Zachary claims that it doesn’t have to be this way.  “Our on demand phone shops give small hotels an incremental and low cost solution to training, one equally as effective as programs used by the large hotels and groups.”

“Again, what’s keeping the scores so low are the components of communication where boutiques should excel, namely the personalization of the call.  Personalization as simple as asking for a callers name, asking if the caller has visited their property before, if there are any preferences, and mention at least one feature of the property that may be a benefit to the caller – on average, done less than 5% of the time” he emphasizes.

Advanced Feedback’s survey also looked at differences between specific cities, states and regions of the country.  In part two of this study the research firm will investigate variations in service between brands, independents and hotel groups.

Go to THIS LINK (http://www.advancedfeedback.com/hotelsurvey2011.html) for a copy of the full report, or to find out how your hotel fairs relative to others in your area, region or the national average.

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