Monday, May 02, 2011

Sense and Sensibility in the Hotel Industry

Traveling and needing to stay in economy hotels and eat out gives you a different perspective on what passes for customer service, value and "sound" business practices. Take, for example, our recent experience at the Inn in Grass Valley. We got an insider's look at how one family does business. Does reputation mean ANYTHING in the world of business these days? It ought to when all of your referrals and testimonials come from "word of mouth"!

What generates a good referral base? If a satisfied or a set of satisfied customers rates you "5 Stars" on Tripadvisor? Maybe. But what's most important is treating the folks who work for you as if they are your most important asset! Why? Because healthy, well-paid and cared for employees generate the most goodwill. They tell other people how great your establishment is. They invite people they know to come (like we did for the Inn before we knew better.) They feel motivated to spread the love. And that's essential for generating local and internet referrals. Who's most likely to ask a guest to post a positive comment on Tripadvisor? The happy employee working behind the front desk. And how do locals know where to send their friends when they visit from out of town? Most likely after hearing good things from a friend or friend of a friend. The same thing goes for competing motels that get booked up and need to send people elsewhere.

But the opposite is also true. We tracked down more than one ex-employee of the Inn before we left town. Guess how we found the second one: We told our sad tale of woe at the motel we had to escape to last Wednesday night and the co-manager's first response was "I know someone else who had a terrible experience working for them! She's working just down the street!" News gets around fast in a small town. Think she'll refer any more guests to them? Not likely.

Other thoughts... which would you prefer? To stay at an establishment that wants to give the perception of hospitality or at one that goes over the top making you feel like the price you paid was well worth it? For example, some places provide a coffeemaker and packets of coffee but no sugar or creamer (even the dry powdered kind). Unless you enjoy your coffee black you won't be using it. And, according to the orientation we received earlier this week, that's on purpose! It's all about perception. You feel like you're getting something for nothing but the intention is that the longer the coffee packets stay unused, the better. Contrast that to a place that provides coffee in the lobby 24 hours a day for free. An Econolodge we stayed at in Santa Fe does that. They do better than that. A real hot breakfast is served every day for not much more than staying at the run-down Motel 6 just down the street that does not. They also offer free wi-fi. Motel 6 charges $2.99 for one person. If two people want to use separate computers it will cost you double! $6.00 for wi-fi? Motel 6 is usually an okay place and we've been to Econolodges that were horror stories! But when you do find one that goes the extra mile, it makes a big impression. The impression you get staying at the typical Motel 6 is that it appears to be a bargain on the big sign by the highway but by the time you've paid extra for your spouse to stay, too and add in a wi-fi card or two... You might get enticed once or twice but once you've tasted better for the same price you think better of it.

Brand loyalty took a lot of businesses far back in the day and branding was all about perception. But these days, caring about people enough to provide true service is the name of the game.

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