Improving your guest welcome: 9 tips

Over the past 35 years of business travel, I’ve checked into around 500 different hotels. You would think that by now the process would be fairly boring and routine. Yet, with each trip there comes a moment of anticipation and excitement as my eyes take in the exceptional features and layout of each new setting.

To me, the check-in is one of the most important elements of the guest experience. While some may believe the reservation process is the first opportunity for guest interaction, in today’s interactive world, it pales in comparison to the physical visitor arrival. With this in mind, here are some suggestions (and questions you can ask yourself) to make your guests feel special when they reach your property.

1. The walk-through, part one: Exterior  

When was the last time you checked in at your own property? I mean, really checked in with suitcases and even kids in tow. What does the motor court look like? Is the first impression one of oil stains or floral arrangements? First impressions count. What is that critical initial look?

2. The doorman

One of the best doormen I know is Bobbie at Hotel Pennsylvania. This is a 1,700-room property, yet he seems to know just about everyone by name. He’s always smiling, and his gregarious demeanor is contagious. Don’t underestimate the importance of your doorman. His or her positive outlook can set the tone for a great guest experience. 

3. The bell staff

Like a well-orchestrated tag team wrestling match, your bell staff are the connectors between the doorman and the front desk. They should move your guest seamlessly from one to the other with the highest level of efficiency. Good bell staffers manage to get all your guest’s luggage onto a single cart effortlessly. Great bell staffers are also trained to learn about guest needs and, somehow, communicate this to the front desk staff or concierge without the guest even knowing. Remarkably, great bell staffers are a rarity, and if you are fortunate to have a solid team, take steps to protect them.

4. The walk-through, part two: Interior

In the less than one minute it takes for the guest to walk from the portico to the front desk, critical impressions of your property are made. I like to think of this as the “wow” moment. What does your guest see? Make sure there is at least one item that cues them to relax and be at ease, such as a grand floral arrangement. Take the walk yourself and see if you can identify the wow factors within your property.

5. The greeting

How does your front desk staff greet your guests? Are they consistent in their approach? Is there a script they follow? Frankly, I expect front desk staff to be warm, attentive and informative. They should not be distracted by the telephone or any other minor task. This is your true frontline staff. Make sure they are your best.

6. Value-added up-sell

Positive interactions with your guests at check-in afford you the opportunity to explain some of the features of your property. Here is your chance to sell dinner reservations, spa appointments or extended concierge services. Consider adding tablet computers to your front desk arsenal as a slide-show-style selling tool.

7. The handoff

As a guest leaves your front desk, check to see that they have all of the necessary paperwork. This should include room key or keys if requested, a copy of all of their reservations, valet parking receipt, a map of the property (the accordion-fold pocket maps are a few pennies each) plus any additional literature. Depending upon your approach, this may be given to the bellman or to another representative of the property who escorts the guest to the room. Ideally, this paperwork need not be given to the guest unless they have indicated that they do not want to have bell service. And, if it is being given to the guest, make sure papers are collected in an envelope or folder. Too often I have been given a batch of loose papers and had trouble keeping it all in order.

8. The elevator

For most visitors the next step is a trip in one of your elevators. When was the last time you looked at it critically? What does the advertising panel communicate? Ensure the flooring and carpets are flawless. And remember, an out-of-service elevator is a telltale sign of weak property maintenance.

9. The room

The first glance at the guestroom is an important greeting component. Make a good first impression: light on tent cards and offers, flawless housekeeping, spa samples and a welcome note or complimentary fruit platter are a few core elements worth noting. Think of all the little details you can use to enhance that initial feeling.

I strongly encourage you to undertake your own check-in routine and see if your property meets your critical needs. It might be hard to get yourself out of your own headspace, especially since your hotel is like your second home and you’ve likely been spending several dozen hours on the floors each week. If necessary, hire an independent contractor who’s knowledgeable in these critical areas to give you a third-party review and cover any aspects that you might have overlooked.