A car pulls up on the front drive. The valet opens the car door and the guest exits the vehicle. In that first instant, the valet captures a treasure trove of information: the guest’s name. As the guest approaches the front desk in pleasant conversation with the bellman who will be readily waiting with luggage to go to the room, the front desk agent is prepared because the valet has announced the guest’s arrival. “Mr. Jones, welcome back! We are so happy to have you here again. I understand you are back visiting us on business. We have you set to receive the New York Times each morning along with coffee service in your room. Is there a time that is most convenient for you?”

Isn’t that better than, “Checking in? Name and credit card please.”

Such guest history is not available on all guests, but any small confirmation–such as mentioning their home city or the purpose of their visit–can turn a ho-hum check-in into a true welcome. And, if we have no information about the guest at all, instead of “Checking in?” a “Good morning, how are you today?” makes even the most rushed guest remember that your hotel is now their home.

Recognizing the Importance of Guest Loyalty

There is a common saying which applies to the hospitality industry: “It costs three to five times as much to attract new guests than it costs to retain existing ones.” According to Bill Dunn, Director of Business Development for Ipsos Loyalty, this is just a myth predicated on a current of unrelated factors. But whether this specific ratio holds true or not, we in the hospitality industry know that a loyal guest is far less costly than a new guest and can come along with an ROI that a new guest may not.

First, loyal guests are less price sensitive than new guests because they understand company procedures and are familiar with the product, thus getting greater value from their relationship with the hotel company they frequent.

Second, loyal guests are more likely to inform management of service issues rather than simply swearing off a property. They like the hotel and want to ensure it stays the way they like it.

Finally, marketing efforts geared toward new guests are typically much more costly than those aimed at loyal ones, and loyal guests serve as free marketing tools via word-of-mouth.

Word of mouth, is arguably the most important aspect of loyal customers. People trust suggestions made by friends and family–and now even by strangers on review websites and social media platforms–more than advertisements or other marketing tools because they are based on real experiences.

Understanding Guest Loyalty vs. Guest Satisfaction

To understand the importance of guest loyalty, you must differentiate it from guest satisfaction. The level of guest satisfaction is based on the guest’s expectations of the service quality, the value of the service, and the quality actually received. High customer satisfaction leads to guest loyalty, and companies who experience higher guest loyalty perform better financially compared to their competitors because guest retention holds the promise of future revenue.

A highly satisfied guest becomes a loyal guest, and a loyal guest encourages new guests to visit a property. These guests, in turn, can become satisfied guests (and then loyal ones) if the property executes its services masterfully. In order to satisfy guests on a high level, it is important to understand the guests’ story and make every attempt to surprise and delight them. Simple satisfaction is not always enough to induce loyalty, especially at the upscale and luxury level; instead, it is those memorable experiences–when a hotel goes above and beyond–that create the longing to return.

The Basics of Creating a Repeat Guest:

Correct Name Usage: Using the guest’s name is one of the simplest, most effective ways to recognize a guest, and yet, it is one of the most commonly missed standards Coyle finds in hotel evaluations. Personalize the experience by showing the guest they are important enough for you to know their name.

Asking Caring Questions: Ask the guest how they are doing, how their trip was, or how their stay is going. The guest wants to feel valued, comfortable, and welcomed. This is a strong emotion, and it can only be achieved through proactive efforts.

Track and Utilize Guest History: Find out food allergies, room and food preferences, hobbies, and more through the guest’s activity and even through research. Instead of just catering to the guest’s needs as requested, note them in their profile for next time. If the guest likes spa, shouldn’t we give them a call pre-stay to schedule appointments or likewise for tee-times for a golfer? How about the business guest who wants housekeeping services at 8 AM so his room is clean before the lunch break?

Anticipating Guest Needs: This can be done on the spot or in advance. If a guest mentions casually that they are feeling under the weather, send a care package to their room. If another says they have dinner reservations at 8, and you know they don’t have a car, offer the hotel shuttle or a car service and provide alternative travel options. It is inexpensive and easy to perform these acts, yet even the best hotels miss them frequently.

Perfecting the idea of the “Surprise and Delight” can give you the edge you need over your competition, ultimately boosting your guest loyalty and improving your bottom line. And if you want to see how your hotel stands up to this ideal you could employ mystery shopping services to receive a detailed report.

Author's Bio: 

The author is a mystery shopper who excels at hotel mystery shopping.