By Kent Sexton, Hamister Hospitality Group

One of the oldest cannons of business is to know your customer. The hotel industry has taken this piece of advice and made a science out of it. Endless surveys and studies tell us that the majority of guests are male corporate clients whose main expectations are a quick check-in, a clean room, and a quick check-out. We have had these facts drilled into all of our heads so much that these three aspects of a guest's stay have become almost a religion. We have even trained our guests to judge hotel experiences by the industry's "national" standards. This is fine for guests whose needs and preferences are identical to the majority. However, I believe that while concentrating only on cleanliness and speedy procedures we have forgotten to meet the many other needs of our corporate and leisure guests.

This emphasis on check-in, check-out, and cleanliness are truly the basis for a satisfied guest, but these aspects of the hotel experience are not exclusive in their importance. We need to get back to basics. We need to remember that each and every one of our guests is a unique person and has different needs and expectations for their stay. Our guests are probably strangers to the area. Instead of abandoning our guests in their clean rooms and leaving them wondering how to accomplish their goals for their stay, we should make them feel that they have a friend nearby. We can be a helpful assistant by providing transportation alternatives, giving directions, providing information about the area, or aiding them in countless other ways. Hotels know that guests often need these additional services, but how they choose to provide them has isolated our guests even further. For example, many guests need directions to their meetings, the store, restaurants. Our industry has determined that we should have a business center to meet these needs: that way guests can get on the computer and use MapQuest. Another example: guests need wake-up calls. The industry's solution is automated wake-up calls that guests can set by the touch-tone phone. We are teaching our guests that the front desk cannot be bothered with this and they should do it through a machine. Why not let the guests know that we will be glad to set a wake-up call or actually show them directions on a printed map? Once again, I agree with giving the guests the option of setting a wake-up call themselves, but I want the guests to have the choice of hearing a friendly voice wishing them a good morning.

In the hotel industry we try to convince guests that we understand their needs, and that we appreciate their business so much that we are constantly striving to provide solutions to all of their problems. We only ask that they do not bother the front desk because the front desk needs to concentrate on a speedy check-ins. Why do we not help our guests as friends? This is how we could really show our guests that we appreciate their patronage.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? But remember, we have trained our guests that they are flying solo. How do we let our guests know that we are truly there for them? We have to show our guests that we will treat them as friends. The most productive time to re-educate our guests is during the check-in process. The option of a speedy check-in should be always available. It is true that most guests do not want or need anything more than to quickly get to their room. But this does not mean that we cannot offer more at check-in. Our guests are usually very tired when they arrive at the hotel: they have been traveling, standing in line at the airport and car rental, and running to make deadlines and flight times. Many of them would like to have a short rest even before check-in. How do we know who these guests are? The answer is simple--ask them! Give them the option of a quick check-in or sitting down for a few moments by having chairs at the front desk and offering them a seat when they walk up. Guests who want a swift check in will simply refuse the chair. Even though they do not take advantage of our offer, we show that we truly care for their comfort. If they accept, we have shown them that they are more than a seat assignment on an airplane, a compact car renter, or just a credit card. We have the perfect opportunity to prove that we care for them and can be of crucial assistance. When we ask "How are you doing?" and "Is there anything else I can do for you?", we remind them that they are our guests and that we will personally help them.

I am surprised by the resistance I have received to this simple idea. We in the hospitality industry need to remember the definition of hospitality and guest. I was raised to believe that it was my duty as a host to offer a guest a seat and make them comfortable. Why do we insist that our guests, who have been standing in lines all day, stand in line and walk up to a front desk that has been built high enough to be a barrier that separates our guests and the staff? By getting our guests off their feet, we create an unhurried opportunity to explain the amenities that the hotel has to offer and why whey will want to return to this hotel.

This attention to personal assistance will become imperative as the extended-stay segment grows. Choice Hotels recently announced that the extended-stay segment is the fastest growing segment in the hotel industry. These guests are an anomaly to the way hotels think and operate. They are not just visiting an area, they are actually living in it, whether it is for a week or several months. Extended-stay guests need directions to the grocery store, restaurants, gas stations, etc. They need advice and suggestions for haircuts, office supplies, social outings, and countless other details. They are away from their family, friends, coworkers, and even pets. A friendly face that actually cares for them is essential aspect of the enjoyment of their long stay. It should be our goal to re-educate our guests that they are more important than industry guidelines. The best time to let a guest know that they will be treated differently by our hotel is by being friendly and hospitable during check-in. This is the perfect opportunity to surprise our guests and show them that we care about them and their reasons for staying with us. By removing the barriers that hotels have imposed on themselves, we will get back to the basics of being in the hospitality industry.

Related Link: Hamister Group, Inc.