Chocolate Pillow | The best welcome in the world?
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The best welcome in the world?

18 Oct The best welcome in the world?

There is one point with every hotel booking where you only get that one, singular, solitary defining moment that sets the pace for the entire stay at your hotel – the welcome.  But you would be surprised how many places actually get this wrong when there is so much more that you can do to make that guest feel welcomed.

Now, there is nothing more annoying than walking up to a check-in desk or reception, laden with bags, full of anticipation, only to be asked the most blatantly obvious self-answered question: ‘Are you checking in?’ (no, I just walk around everywhere with all these cases! Of course I am wanting to check in!).  This is never a good start, because it is a pointless question – why not ask how you can help, or what surname the booking is under as opposed to asking such an obvious question.

But your welcome begins far prior to this – it starts way back in your car park and entrance, even if you are on a shared road, the bins left out opposite the hotel or the leaves all the way down the road can have a negative impact.  All you need to do is invest in a leaf blower or have a quick chat with neighbouring businesses and work together to ensure the best possible scenario and impression for all customers.  It really does not take much effort to have a quick walk around the premises externally and review how the building appears – you may well be used to it with rubbish around, but remember that your guests will probably be seeing the hotel for the first time.

Be aware of returning guests and first time guests – if in doubt, ask.  I always go for ‘Is this the first time you have stayed with us?’.  You will get a yes or no answer from the guest.  I then follow this with a question asking the purpose of their visit, if I do not have this information already (i.e. they may be part of a conference booking).  This is just to obtain information at this point, and also to retain a mild conversation with the guest.  It also helps me know what I can up-sell to them and what services may be of use to them such as taxi’s or wi-fi.

So now you have gone through the first impression and initial greeting, we come to something that every hotel should be doing – up-selling.  Now the art of up-selling is a tricky one; you need to be able to assess the guest and their mood and behavioural patterns in the space of just a few seconds.  This can only really happen with practice and experience.  I have seen many reviews on TripAdvisor of where hotel staff have been too pushy on the up-sale; and yes there is such a thing as being too pushy and up-selling too much.  Now consider the point of view of the guest – they will be up-sold to during welcome,in the restaurant at the bar, in the spa and in the shops – if everywhere is pushing you to spend more, you (as a guest) begin to feel like little more than a cash-cow, a walking wallet!  Just remember, if a guest says no or tries to move away from you or bring the conversation to an end – DO NOT continue pushing up-sales on them!

Now the guest has refused any up-sales, has checked in and completed all necessary paperwork, you just give them the key and point them in the right direction? No!  You are not restricted to just that reception desk – it is not an invisible barrier that blocks you and the guest from ever touching or meeting at a distance of less than 4 feet!  If you have the ability to, and it does not go against company policy, then come out from behind the desk and ‘walk + talk’.  Remember the questions I asked earlier about first visit and reason for stay?  This is where we go the extra mile.

So I will have exited the reception desk and now be approaching the guest, with their room key in my hand.  This is where the magic happens.  Lead the guest away from the desk and towards the lift, offering assistance with luggage as you do so.  If it is their first visit, welcome them to the hotel and provide your name and the time that you are working until.  Tell the guest whether reception is available 24 hours a day, and how to contact you.  Then provide the room key and from the lobby, direct them to the main areas such as the restaurant, fitness club etc.  Finally direct them to their room, wish them a good stay and wish them well for their holiday/conference/interview etc (as per the reason for their stay that you enquired about earlier).

For example – “Well, welcome to Pillow Inn Mr & Mrs Smith, my name is Matt and I am the receptionist on duty until 11pm this evening, when my colleague Bob takes over for the night so we are available 24 hours a day.  If you need to contact us at all, just dial zero from the phone in your room. Your bedroom number is here on your key card (present card to guest).  Just from the main lobby here, on the ground floor we have the restaurant to the left and the leisure club to the right.  To access your room take the lift to the second floor and turn left.  The rooms are all signposted for you.  Do you have any questions for me?” – then once any questions are answered – “Okay, well have a great stay and enjoy your holiday to Mexico!  If you pop back a bit later this evening, I have some great recommendations for you on things to do there!”

Regular guests are slightly different; you can tend to be less formal with them and also they will normally know where many of the bedrooms are and will have been through the welcome process multiple times.  These are usually swift check-ins as they are uncluttered – there is no big welcome speech or walk and talk to do, but they still need t be treated in a friendly manner.  Take time to talk to them, find out how they are and what they have been up to.  How are the family? How is work? Do they want their usual drink bringing to the room? and the list continues – there is no reason not to interact with a regular guest!

There are also many hotels that will walk all the way to the room with the guest – and this really is a special welcome, but can be left uncomfortable…. generally it is assumed that the person who walks you to the room is to be tipped.  The guest could be doing all of that walk feeling uncomfortable and in trepidation at the uncomfortable moment of the person taking them to the room having that 2 second stand in teh corner in anticipation of a tip.  Now in many places, this is not the case; but guest expectation states that generally the person who takes you to the room is tipped.  Now this may be a great way for your reception team to get tips, but it could also destroy that great feeling of the welcome.

Think about things you do to welcome guest and how you can actually make that experience truly memorable – for example, on cold days why not do a warm winter punch or tea and coffee on arrival – it doesn’t take much to get some cups and thermos flasks brought to reception.  Why not try giving away some samples of restaurant foods such as flatbreads or desserts as this is a great up-selling opportunity.  How about doing hot chocolate with marshmallows when it is snowing and have these taken to order at reception on arrival and then delivered to the room? Or when it is really cold, have housekeeping place hot water bottles in beds when they turn down the rooms – these are all little things that can make that first impression a real ‘wow’ moment! These can also occur on departure (I have known people go out and scrape all the ice of all the windscreens in the car park so when guests leave, they do not have to do it themselves – most of those guests are all still returning to the hotel to this day!).

You can make your welcome as quirky and unique as you like, but most importantly it needs to ‘wow’ – think how you would love to be welcomed to a hotel and then implement it!  If you need inspiration, go to a few other hotels and watch their welcome process from their lobby – some will be poor, in which case you know what to avoid, but some will be great and give you some excellent inspiration!

Matt Shiells-Jones

Husband, Author, Hotel Manager and ambitious 'old cat lady'

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