Customer Satisfaction in New-age Hospitality

Customer satisfaction is a credo that is adopted by almost all industries these days  and in the hospitality industry, where cordiality, personal warmth and a pleasant atmosphere are crucial for the survival of business, an unsatisfied customer will not only be likely to abstain from visiting the given property again but she/he can also bring in bad publicity for the hotel or restaurant concerned.

Customer satisfaction is thus of prime importance for the hospitality industry, whose very name entails affability, amicability and friendliness. Ashok Malkani finds that the Indian hospitality industry is, by and large, abreast of the evolving needs of its guests and is adopting new and innovative methods to ensure or increase customer satisfaction.

If there is any place where customer satisfaction is of prime importance, it is the hospitality industry. From restaurants to hotels and everything in between, the job of the hospitality service provider is to maintain and enhance customer satisfaction.

The days when customers were satisfied with a mere “please” and “thank you” and being greeted with a smile are over. In fact, they are long over… Though these essential courtesies are necessary even today, they are not enough to satisfy a discerning customer in today’s Indian hospitality industry who is looking for a memorable experience. Customers nowadays are looking for receiving quick and  quality service and if you have to bend the standard practices – like extending a guest check-out or customising a menu option in the restaurant for customer satisfaction – it is likely to add to the hotel’s/restaurant’s popularity and an increased satisfactory ratings in surveys among the property’s network.   

Consistency, Innovation and Relation

Consistency is of utmost importance if you want to succeed in the hospitality business. Sustaining your discerning clientele is a difficult task, and sometimes it can be an uphill task, which requires continuous efforts to keep them satisfied. As Bruce Springsteen, the famous American singer-song writer, once remarked aptly, “Sustenance demands a consistency of thought, of purpose, and of action over a long period of time.” This is very true for the present day hospitality industry.

However, though consistency is an essential element towards customer satisfaction in today’s Indian hospitality industry, it is not sufficient. Along with consistency, innovation is also needed to keep the new-age discerning consumers in the industry satisfied and make the guests graduate to repeat guests.

 “Customer satisfaction and maintaining relations with them are extremely essential for the growth of any hotel. This is not just in the context of financial growth but also for the growth of perception of the given hospitality property in the market,” stated Satyajit Kotwal, General Manager, The Resort, Mumbai.

“Customers provide the revenues needed to achieve profitability. It is only through relations and conversations with different kinds of guests that we can get the desired feedback – feedback that can help in improvement of our services. This feedback goes a long way in helping to change the trends as per the likes and dislikes of the guests. Once we talk to our customers we get a clear idea of what needs to be improved and to what extent. Through continuing customer relations, the hospitality property can be always on the minds of the guests even if they have not visited us for a long time. Moreover, a happy customer can bring in more loyal customers,” Kotwal elaborated further.  

“We always ensure that our staff takes utmost care of our guests because they are what make or break us. Our guests’ comfort is our first priority and our staff knows that very well. Besides the regular steps, we have adopted what we refer to as intelligent e-mails. These e-mails are a faster and more effective way of responding to guest queries, which leads to better satisfaction. We also conduct Live Collaborative Chat, which is a part of several websites these days,” he informed. 

“Customer relation is the cornerstone on which brand loyalty, stickiness and repeat business are being generated. This has a direct impact on the revenue, and in turn, on the growth of the hotel,” affirmed Derek D’souza, Executive Assistant Manager, Hotel Marine Plaza Mumbai.

Personalised Hospitality

“Streamlining guest interactions and transactions and improving daily efficiencies around the hospitality property’s operations should be the primary focus of all hospitality properties. Improving operational efficiencies generally translates into shorter wait times and fewer overall guest inconveniences in the hospitality industry,” maintained  Derek D’souza.

“It may mean implementing Wi-Fi distribution platforms, parking access systems and self-service kiosks. It may mean implementing next-generation point of sale (POS) solutions, in-room entertainment systems, app-based electronic door lock systems and various third-party modules to address guests’ evolving demands,” he elaborated.

“Personalised service has a high impact and is a key-driver towards guest satisfaction, and is crucial to the hospitality property’s brand image. Personal engagement and ‘taking ownership’ are pre-requisites for bringing new services to success,” declared Biswajit Chakraborty, General Manager, Sofitel Mumbai BKC.

“Sofitel Mumbai BKC offers personalised service from the heart through ‘Cousu Main’ service that encourages staff to notice the finer details of guests’ needs and anticipate their requirements,” he added.

“Our hotel staff, referred to as ‘Ambassadors,’ happens to be our most treasured asset. We are consistently creating emotions in a unique and authentic way by providing ‘service from the heart.’ At Sofitel Mumbai BKC, we believe in customising our offerings for each of our discerning guests. Right from the time a guest checks-in, we promise to plate up the most exquisite details that are sure to make one’s stay with us memorable,” pointed out  Chakraborty.

According to him, from handwritten notes to simple personal touches in every gesture, the hotel endeavours to enhance the guests’ experience and facilitates to ensure that they have an unforgettable stay.

“At our hotel, guest expectations and preferences are identified through guest history. The guest services team prioritises every guest in the hotel by making personal calls and through face-to-face interactions. A loyalty program is in place where all guests at our hotel are rewarded for stays,” disclosed Derek.

Catering to the Discerning

It is nothing short of obvious that the hospitality properties have to remain alert to the expectations of the customers, be it concerning the rooms, the restaurants, the banqueting facilities or regarding any other facility/ies in the properties concerned.

 “Technology is advancing at a faster pace than ever before, and this is changing the expectations of patrons in the Indian hospitality industry. Nowadays, hotel guests who travel with devices such as smart phones, tablets and computers no longer see Wi-Fi as a perk, but as a must have when they check-in at a hotel. Hotel guests expect to be able to connect to the Internet seamlessly and without too many interruptions. When it comes to business meets, guests also need access to audio-visual (AV) and digital facilities for conferences. Hotel guests now wish to have everything at their fingertips via technology,” opined Kotwal.

“Also, guests these days are well travelled and many of them do not agree to settle for anything less but the best. Every good hotelier understands that to make sure customers come back again and again, it is vital that the hotel does everything it can to provide excellent customer service and exceed  guests’ expectations. We believe in the same. Hence, we do everything in our capacity to ensure that we give our customers only the best and live up to their expectations,” he observed .

“The customers these days are more independent and knowledgeable with a whole lot of information available to them. They are well aware of the service offerings of varied hotels, are aware of the standards of service which could be considered as fair and reasonable given the category of hotel, while at the same time they are aware of the cost involved in such services. Given all these information, they are looking at greater value adds at similar price points across similar category hotels while at the same time they are not afraid to try out different hotels that would meet their expectations,”  averred Derek.

 “The hospitality patterns of the guests in the Indian hospitality industry have changed over the last decade. With many of the guests at high-end hotels and resorts being frequent outbound travellers, they are gaining exposure to different international trends in hospitality;  hence there is a need for creating a demand for world-class international standards and services in the Indian hospitality industry,” opined Chakraborty.

“Not only are guests getting exposed to different trends through their travels but are also gaining insights via the Internet. With easy accessibility of Internet, the domestic traveller’s knowledge is increasing and consequently, her/ his expectations. Hence guests in the Indian hospitality industry these days understand the finer nuances of hospitality better than they did a decade earlier, and seek those experiences wherever they travel. They have also extended their palate to a wider breadth of tastes, flavours and ingredients, thus creating more discerning gourmands in the country,” he elaborated further.

Going the Extra Mile

The seasoned professional went on to talk  about Sofitel Mumbai BKC’s varied measures towards going the extra mile in terms of guest satisfaction. “Sofitel Mumbai BKC, throughout the years, is known for its ‘Magnifique’ food festivals, which promote the gastronomy and cultural aspect of the hospitality brand. Here international Chefs from various countries have been invited to showcase their native cuisine. The hotel has also hosted several local Chefs to showcase India’s regional cuisines such as Rajasthani cuisine, Bengali cuisine, etc. These initiatives taken are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of presenting our guests with a range of different experiences with regard to food and living,” Chakravorty explained.

“Keeping in mind the discerning needs of the experienced travellers, Sofitel Mumbai BKC offers a royal sleeping experience with MyBed™, which is a seven-layered bed with soft over-mattress, sheets and duvet, together with a detailed pillow menu that guests can choose from for their comfort, relaxation and the ultimate sleeping experience,” he further informed.

Of course, going the extra mile in terms of customer satisfaction in hospitality should extend to wellness too. “Understanding the needs of today’s jet-set traveller, Sofitel Mumbai BKC has made its signature spa a 24-hour offering. The hotel’s So SPA caters to the busy travellers with its ‘Pre Jet Lag’ treatments. Exclusively designed for frequent travellers, the Pre Jet Lag treatments stimulate circulation and ease muscle tension; leaving the guest feeling renewed and relaxed,” Chakravorty pointed out.

Offering extra and somewhat offbeat facilities at the hospitality property can also facilitate it to cater effectively to the discerning guests. 

“In the summer months, we started our own adventure zone that covers an array of activities to give our guests that much needed adrenaline rush. We have a host of activities including rock climbing, rappelling, air rifle shooting, archery, string balance, commando bridge, air obstacle, swing crossing, Burma Bridge, horizontal ladder and many more. These activities are conducted by expert trainers and coaches within our premises and a set up has been specially designed within the property where each of these activities are conducted for visitors who wish to enjoy some adventure. The adventure zone will now remain a permanent feature within The Resort and will cater to people who want to experience some moments of thrill while enjoying our hospitality,” explained Kotwal.

“Metro cities such as Mumbai and Delhi have a busy and fast-paced lifestyle. Vacations today have found a new meaning with the ideology of ‘Staycations’ as guests look for short-breaks or a getaway from their bustling lifestyle. We at Sofitel Mumbai BKC, offer our guests that much needed tranquil break through our 5-Senses Weekend Staycation Package. From pick-up and drop-in in a luxury car to a rejuvenating spa treatment at the 24-hour So SPA by L’Occitane, from delectable meals with the fine wine at any of our eclectic outlets to a relaxing time at the SJP Salon – this Staycation aims at pampering all the 5 senses of our guests and in re-igniting their sixth sense,” Chakravorty  averred.

The Edge of Technology

With the evolution in guest expectations, technology is helping the Indian hospitality industry to serve its guests better. Post-modern technology is facilitating the hospitality industry to come up with innovative ideas to meet the expectations of its guests.

 “Improving customer satisfaction can be done by anticipating the needs of the guests and giving them a product/products to match their requirements. Technology facilitates the two-way interaction between the hotel and the guests. It enables faster and better service that guests demand.  Technology also helps to better the interaction experience with the guests on a regular basis,” opined Kotwal.

 “Automation of many hotel operations falls squarely on the property management system. The feedback mechanism is now more efficient where the CRM module incorporated in the PMS helps in bringing about efficiency in dealing with all guest requests/issues in a time-bound manner, thereby raising accountability while at the same time raising the bar on service standards. E-mail, social media, mobile are other tools that are being used more efficiently in maintaining customer relations these days,” affirmed Derek.

 “At Hotel Marine Plaza, special emphasis is laid on Wi-Fi distribution platforms and self-service kiosks. It may mean implementing next-generation point of sale (POS) solutions, in-room entertainment systems, app-based electronic door lock systems and various third-party modules to address guests’ evolving demands.  Technology is being embraced where more of the hotel’s services can be accessed online given the change in guest consumption patterns, and communication is being made instantaneously through mobile /social media/e-mail to meet guest satisfaction levels,” he pointed out.

 “Online websites and mobile applications are some of the several platforms by which guests these days receive customised offers and discounts. The Indian hospitality space has become very competitive with increased personal communication between hotels and the guests. However, the increased competition is also a motivating factor for hotels to come up with interesting offerings,” expressed Chakravorty.

“Select hotels have started deploying tablets in place of traditional F&B menu cards. This is helping guests understand the F&B items in an interesting way;  using visual communication with details of a dish supported by a video and pictures, its calorie content, preparation method, serving time and more,” he pointed out.

“For example, occupancy sensors can detect when the guests have entered the room and activate the lights and temperature control. Alternately, lights and temperature can be controlled by having the guests insert their room key into a reader near the door,” stated Chakravorty.

“Succinctly, improved technology has introduced applications that can help hospitality properties collect important data about existing and new guests.  For example, hospitality properties can now easily gauge data of their top 100 customers and also save information about their personal favourites in terms of food, facilities, activity preferences, etc.,” he asserted.

“From an iPod docking station to providing a seven-layered bed called MyBed™, to seamless Wi-Fi Internet connectivity for multiple devices and an entire entertainment hub, we present the guests with the best in terms of hospitality, and here technology plays a crucial role,” iterated Chakravorty.

Summing Up

Overall, one must remember that maintaining customer relations in the realm of today’s Indian hospitality industry is an ongoing and evolving process which involves you keeping in touch with the guests before their arrival and even after they have left.

Every business needs to keep its customers happy but it is vital in the hospitality industry if the property wants to grow and prosper. Hoteliers must learn how to constantly innovate to meet the evolving expectations of their guests and provide excellent standards of service which its guests are likely to remember for a long time. This endeavour would facilitate some of their guests to graduate into repeat guests. In short, the customer should be considered as the centre of the hoteliers’ professional universe and the services must be designed around her/him only.

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