Guest relations have always been an important part of the hospitality industry, but it is extremely important as the size of the operation scales down to the smaller bed and breakfasts, and motels. Larger hotels use expensive computer systems to keep track of their guests to tell when they last stayed, how much they spend in a year, and which rooms they prefer. Chain hotels can access a lot of that information between properties, as well. People enjoy having a more personalized experience when staying at smaller operations. They have developed a romanticized vision of what it means to stay in a small bed and breakfast - having meaningful conversations with the owners, sharing stories with their fellow guests, and staying in a relaxing environment. It is easy to share that experience with people the first time around and have their needs met while at the property, but how do you do that the next time they stay with you?
If there is one thing that quickly annoys people more than anything it is repeating themselves. The more often you visit a coffee shop, for example, and keep repeating a special request, the less likely you may be to return there. What makes a coffee shop special is when one of the baristas remembers your order and can fix that drink for you without you putting in the request. It's a magical moment for both the barista and yourself when you get served without having to ask for room for cream.
One of the challenges faced by owners of any business is keeping track of these special requests. At restaurants and cafes, it's by memory. Most others are using some kind of system, whether it's an Excel spreadsheet or a paper trail. Thankfully, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems have been widely developed on the web lately to make this easier and make the information more organized than ever.
Here is a simple description of what a CRM is from Wikipedia:
Customer relationship management (CRM) is a widely implemented strategy for managing a company’s interactions with customers, clients and sales prospects. It involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize business processes—principally sales activities, but also those for marketing, customer service, and technical support. The overall goals are to find, attract, and win new clients, nurture and retain those the company already has, entice former clients back into the fold, and reduce the costs of marketing and client service. Customer relationship management describes a company-wide business strategy including customer-interface departments as well as other departments. Measuring and valuing customer relationships is critical to implementing this strategy.
There are four different kinds of information that a motel or bed and breakfast will want to keep track of with a CRM:
- Who the guest is.
- How to connect to that guest.
- What that guest enjoys.
- When that guest stayed.
Who the Guest Is
This is the most logical item to keep track of, but it goes beyond the name of the guest. Where they are from helps you develop a marketing plan to target that city, that region. Odds are if one person from that city enjoyed your hospitality, someone else will, as well. A simple ad in a local newspaper or radio advertisement may be overheard by one of their friends, they will bring it up in conversation, and then that person will mention that they stayed there and share their experience. Word of mouth is by far the best advertising practice - but it is up to you to put the bait out and help them spread the word.
How to Connect to a Guest
Again, this goes beyond an email address or phone number these days. With 700+ million users out there, nearly everyone has a Facebook profile now. Twitter is also a growing social network, and LinkedIn is the goto site for business connections. Knowing this information is related to the above mention of advertising. Inviting your guest to connect with you on one of these networks will be signaled to everyone else in their network. A small portion of those connections will likely ask for further details or look up your profile or website right away to explore. An email address is an invitation to join a newsletter or social network to keep in touch year-round. Even if that guest does not stay with your property again, they will most likely influence others to stay with you.
What the Guest Enjoys
This information is going to vary greatly between the guests and the properties as everyone and every place is different. The chances of a person enjoying their room as is are very small. Everyone has their preference with how many pillows they use, whether they like their sheets untucked, the temperature of the room, to whether they put their luggage on a rack or not. Some details are more important than others, of course. Maybe they prefer a different view from their room, or want to be in a quiet section of the building. It may sound tedious to keep track of this kind of information, but it will be quite useful in building up longterm relationships with guests that keep them coming back for years down the road.
When that Guest Stayed
This information is the most vital in determining when you reach out to the guest again. People get quickly annoyed when they receive multiple emails from the same address without their permission. One email a year without their permission is allowable, however. If you do not have an email newsletter, the best time to send the email out to the guest is within 30-60 days of the time period they stayed before. Most couples are taking getaways around their wedding anniversaries, birthdays, or other important dates in their lives. If they received an email 60 days before their anniversary, for example, inviting them to stay again, they will enjoy the personal touch and likely book again. Others will be staying while on holidays, so perhaps an email in March or April when they are planning a summer vacation is more favourable. Like the guest preferences, this will likely vary greatly depending on the property and the guest.
How to Store the Information
Knowing what to collect is important, but just as important is where to store it. Most of this information could be stored in an Excel Spreadsheet, or even your Address Book for your email account. The Excel Spreadsheet can be useful for deep analysis (i.e. tracking where people are from), but tedious to actually enter information into. The Address Book could quickly become a mess and the information is not easily trackable either.
I am a big fan of using online CRM solutions to keep track of information. I will mention three possible CRM solutions, although there are probably dozens of them out there, if not more.
Salesforce.com: a premium CRM solution with many other options available to customize the software dependent on your needs. It is probably a bit out of range for most budgets, but I include them because they are highly regarded in this space.
Highrise: another premium CRM, but there is a free version for a limited number of contacts, and their plans are quite affordable as you grow. You can easily keep track of contacts, tasks (connected to people, or not), deals (which I would use to keep track of individual stays), and more.
Base: a CRM with an emphasis on being free. They are paid upgrades to allow for more deals, but they include an unlimited amount of contacts, notes, to do's, and other information. It is my preferred CRM solution, because of its cost, but also because it offers a few little extras that are quite useful, which I'll detail below.
First thing to do is to get contacts into Base. There are three ways to do this:
- Manually enter in contacts
- Import with a CSV file
- Connect with a Gmail Account
Base has some great help features about using the import feature, but I thought I would share how a contact will actually look on the site.
Note that I filled in the Twitter profile section. You can also do this for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Skype. This is what the quick look of a profile will look like:
On the profile page, it adds the latest status message from Twitter right away. Highrise also has this feature built-in, but you have to switch to a different tab to view the information. With Base, the information is available right away.
Also note that I included a basic deal on the profile. The deal consists of a name, the amount, a date, a source, and a tag for quick reference. A basic deal would have the name be Length of Stay, the Total Amount of Revenue, Date of Stay, and the room (as a source). A more complicated deal could include the tags as the various services being offered or preferences (i.e. king bed, mountain view, in-room spa treatment, late riser, etc).
You can also include emails with a contact instead of writing manual notes. I'll include a video that showcases this feature:
The report section of Base is terrific, too. Apart from getting the overall revenue through a time period (displays daily if only a month is selected), you can also generate reports based by tag or by source. If you are diligent with your information records, you could tell right away which room generates the most revenue for you, or whether one service is more popular than another. If you are real detailed, you could even tell whether the majority of your guests prefer having untucked sheets. The options are endless.
Another great feature with Base is that it includes a contact form to include on your website. When a person fills out the information, it gets imported into Base automatically and you get notified. This is useful when you wish to reach out to a potential guest after a week of their initial email to see if they are interested in booking if you haven't received a response yet. You can see an example of this in action by visiting my Contact Form.
The final feature I wanted to mention is their mobile apps for iOS (iPhone, iPad) and Android devices. It gives you the ability to look up your contacts information on the go, which will be handy when preparing rooms in advance of the guest's arrival. Instead of printing out notes, you can review the information at your finger-tips or make notes as you think of it instead of waiting for the time to sit down at your office.
Collecting and organizing this information about your guests is a lot easier now with these versatile CRM solutions made available. Keeping track of it is a lot easier and the options available with what to do with the information are endless.
If you would like further assistance with getting an account setup on Base or Highrise, importing your contacts, and doing some of the initial groundwork in getting the database setup correctly, please get in touch. I would love to help you and your guests have the best experience possible.