Perfecting the guest experience

Perfecting the guest experience; Deborah Heather, Director of Quality in Tourism, investigates. Deborah manages a field force of more than 40 assessors, as part of the accommodation assessment scheme for VisitEngland; each assessor grades around 300 properties a year, ensuring that they are safe, clean and legal.

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 and so on, 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 ere 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 its 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.

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