COMMENT: How to introduce the unexpected to delight your hotel guests

Random truths about making guests happy

Opinion, Columnists

I recently took some time to tidy up my office and put things in order, before my summer travels. When I opened one of my lesser-used desk drawers, I found – to my utter delight – a bag of gummy bears. Random sweet finds surely brighten up the day!

I’m generally a big fan of randomness. Random discounts just for using a particular debit card, randomly cancelled meetings that leave me with spare time to go to the beach, a random 50 dirham note in the glove compartment of my car – never underestimate the impact randomness can have on your day.

“But what about hotels, man!” I hear you say. Well, munching the randomly gained gummy bears got me thinking. What’s the best hotel you have ever stayed in? What made it special? Chances are, service played a part in making your time in the hotel truly enjoyable. Now imagine, you’re staying in this hotel for two days every week for the next year. What happens? Sure, you’ll still enjoy the hotel and the service, but after a few stays it becomes ‘the norm’ and you’ll stop noticing it and start taking it for granted.

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Now think about your hotel or restaurant and your guests. You and your teams work hard to deliver excellent service and it’s always nice if guests appreciate your efforts and reward them with positive reviews or social media mentions. We are always told to strive for service consistency and many of us manage this very successfully, but here’s the thing: consistency does not create ripples.

We humans are a funny lot. We get used to things quickly, but we also lose interest quickly. Don’t believe me? Google ‘the law of diminishing returns’ or simply look at little children who are given a new toy. For a limited period, they can’t part with it. Alas, after a while, the new toy loses its excitement and becomes just one of many.

Consistently excellent service is just like that. Now, I’m not asking you to make sure you randomly mess things up and cause complaints – that would be the wrong kind of randomness. What I’m asking you to do is look at your guests and service and find ways to introduce random ‘gummy bear moments’ into your service delivery.

Meet Bruno G., a totally fictitious guest I just made up. Bruno has been staying with you every other week for the past two years. When he’s in town, Bruno will automatically book your hotel, because he likes it. Bruno, though, is only human, and like many other humans – easily influenced by new and shiny toys, i.e. new hotels opening, random discounts from competitors who (as always) drop the pants rate-wise earlier than you’d like, or a new cool bar popping up near his regular haunt. Bruno may have stayed with you countless nights, perhaps leaving a review when he first started frequenting your hotel, and recommending your hotel when the topic pops up. That’s all jolly nice, but – uh, shiny object! – we’d like him to do more than just come back. We’d like to him to be excited about coming back, not just “Alright, let’s check in and have another perfect stay!” kind of excited, but “Yay, I wonder what they’ve thought of this time?” kind of excited.

In other words, Bruno craves random nice things happening to him during his stay. Things that will wake him up and make him actively tell others about your hotel or take to social media and go “Check out what happened to me today!”

Such randomness can take many shapes. A random free dessert. A random meeting with the chef to get a chance to see behind the scenes and have a favourite dish cooked. Generally then: something that doesn’t usually happen.

I call this ‘the theory of random service excellence’ and, one day, I’ll write a book about it. That’s once I have figured out how to manage randomness, because – like common sense – randomness appears to be either there or not and is, trust me, very hard to train. The randomness I’m talking about here has to be ‘organised randomness’ and has to be suitably managed. Not that ‘managed’ and ‘randomness’ usually go well together, but it’s got to be worth a shot.

I envisage this process to work like this: look at your daily arrivals a few days out. Spot likely candidates for positive random encounters – loyal guests, guests with thousands of social media followers, or simply random people (though I would not recommend this, because it feels a bit too, well, random). Find out more about them (guest history, social media posts, etc.). Consult your library of random events and match an entry with a guest. Pick a date and time and ensure randomness happens.

Stuck for ideas? Remember, ‘average does not create ripples’, so what we’re looking for here is something that’s somewhat out of the box for your property. A regular guest of a budget hotel requires a different random event than a regular guest in a luxury hotel. I once gave a German guest a personalised beach towel. Randomly, because you know – Germans, beach towels, kinda funny. It worked, but I did make sure the guest had a sense of humour. Yes, there are some of us Germans who do have a sense of humour (#RandomFact).

Randomness doesn’t have to be expensive – it’s not the value of the service or item that wows the guest, it’s the fact that it happens and seemingly randomly.

Whatever you do: remember to keep it randomly excellent!

About the Author: Martin Kubler is the founder of Iconsulthotels and the CEO of sps:affinity. Iconsulthotels is now sps:hotels — a leading hotel management consultancy that provides its clients forward-looking business strategies, keeping them ahead of the market. Email: hello@spsaffinity.com.

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