Chocolate Pillow | The Power of Choice
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The Power of Choice

13 Mar The Power of Choice

Every day, you make hundreds, if not thousands of choices and todays hotel guest is no different.  So I wanted to impart on you some advice regarding choice and enabling this and even using it to your advantage for complaint handling.

A choice is made either consciously or unconsciously.  For example:

Conscious Choice – you see a menu and consciously decide what you want to eat from it

Unconscious Choice – (also known as Unconscious Thought Theory) you walk passed a restaurant without looking at the menu as you are not hungry

The key here is that conscious choices involve actually thinking instead of acting instinctively; an unconscious choice requires no thought (in essence you are pre-programmed to a certain action).  As a hotelier or restaurateur you are always working to get people to make conscious choices – you can do almost nothing to change an unconscious choice (as these are often based on years of pre-programming to certain criteria or situations).

To simplify – you want to be the preferred option when people make a choice.  Take for example a hotel that offers chargeable car parking – many guests will use the hotel car park as an unconscious choice, it is done for simplicity and without thinking.  Some will make a conscious choice and research parking options – usually the argument about paying for a car park is made by those who make an unconscious choice.  In turn, this unconscious choice (as with most unconscious choices) relies on certain prepositions or assumptions.  In my current role, we have multiple arguments about charging for car parking usually centred around cost.  I would say this is split about 75/25 between those who disagree that parking should be chargeable and those who think it is too expensive.  When weighing up as a conscious choice you know:

  • The car park is secure
  • It is on-site
  • It is right outside reception with easy access to the hotel reception
  • It is undercover so no getting wet walking from car to reception
  • It is the same price as the neighbouring public car park
  • It is city centre so is chargeable
  • The charges are displayed on every website that advertises our rooms

However with an unconscious choice certain assumptions are made:

  • The car park is secure
  • It is on-site
  • It is right outside reception with easy access to the hotel reception
  • It will be discounted for hotel guests or free
  • It is city centre but I have paid for my room so it will be cheap

Can you see how different things are assumed with an unconscious decision – this is because the conscious decision relies on new information or information you have recently obtained, whereas an unconscious decision relies on information from prior experiences in similar situations – so if a guest has stayed in mainly out-of-town hotels with free car parks, then they will be surprised to be asked to pay for parking, even when you explain the benefits etc.

Similarly, choices apply to scenarios with other complaints – someone complains they had a leak in their room or their television didn’t work.  The key her is when the complaint was made – did they complain at the time (making either a conscious or unconscious decision to do so)? Or are they complaining on departure when nothing can be done to resolve it?  The key thing is that whichever they are doing, they have made a choice to do so and choice is a key thing in dealing with complaints and resolving them.

So, how do you deal with this?  Simple – offer a conscious choice, or ask if a conscious choice was made.  So ‘Did you notify us last night?’ can be an inflammatory question as it infers blame, instead why not ask ‘Who did you speak to yesterday about it?’ – this infers they made a choice to contact us, and then if they reply with ‘no-one as we didn’t report it’ you have already established they chose not to do anything to resolve it and you are within your rights to explain ‘as you chose not to report it yesterday, I am unfortunately not able to resolve the matters for you now…”

Choice also extends to purchasing decisions, and EVERY hotelier and restaurateur – pin back those ears and listen up!!! And listen hard!!

Being the husband to a vegetarian with a nut allergy, and also having dietary requirements myself, I can honestly say that we always choose to dine in a high-end restaurant, usually holding a Michelin star or similar.  This is not because of service, or because of experience (you can also get great service and great experiences and food in a back-street pub at times!), but because of choice.  Now hear me out!  As someone who spends hours perusing menus before booking a table, I cannot tell you how sick and tired I am of seeing staple foods on menu’s that immediately turn us off from dining somewhere – namely beetroot salad (or some variation thereof) as a vegetarian option for starter, and god-damn risotto for main or some pasta and cheese concoction.  These are staple things to find on menu’s for vegetarians and show a very limited imagination – recently I was looking for a restaurant in a large UK town and across over 50 menus, there were only two or three that extended beyond risotto and beetroot salad.  As a result, we are dining over a 30 minute drive from where we are staying – the hotel restaurant has (you guessed it) risotto or salad as their vegetarian options!  What amazes me, is that in our modern age of culinary exploration and excitement, very few restaurants are catering to a large portion of clientele.  Imagine spending a week in a hotel, on a dinner bed and breakfast basis with your company, eating the same thing for 5 days.  Would you be bored?  Your guests with dietary requirements sure will be!  Okay, my rant over on the vegetarian thing!

My point is that choices exist for everyone, and you could be bleeding money and losing customers purely through a lack of choice for clients.  For those wth restaurants, simply putting ‘any dish here can be made with meat-free substitutes upon request’ (it is possible – Quorn etc does not cost the earth!) will open up a world of exploration and taste to your diners and make their choice easier – trust me, if we saw a restaurant menu that said that, it would be our first choice for dining!

So, think about your choices that are being offered to guests – are you providing as much choice as you can?

One key example of how choice works for the better – when I began in my current role, we had a lot of complaints (and I mean a lot – every day at least 10 complaints) about noise from one side of the hotel – this is because one side of the hotel has better views but is noisier because of the location (there are trams, buses, people en masse on one side of the building and not the other).  We almost instantly stopped this by offering a choice when people check in – you can have the nicer view but it is noisier on that side, or you can have the quieter side with the view of the buildings and city behind us.  This made the noisier side a choice – the complaints stopped almost instantly as people had consciously made their own choice to be on the noisier side of the building, instead of being given a random room and having no choice at all.  And guess what…. when people do complain of the noise they accompany it with ‘we were told it was noisier and we did choose that side so we did know’.

Choice is a big thing and by giving the guest a choice, you are letting them determine what they want – if you choose to place yourself in a situation, you are less likely to then complain about it.  Where you have rooms overlooking bins, or without windows etc, consider discounts or room benefits (such as bigger beds etc) – so when you check people in you can offer ‘a bigger bed but a poorer view or a standard bed with a better view’.  By giving a choice of one benefit instead of another, or one poor aspect in compensation for another, you are letting people choose what is more important to them and thereby meaning that when/if they do complain, you can always refer back to their choice.

Choice – its powerful so use it to your advantage!

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Matt Shiells-Jones

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

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