The elusiveness of loyalty

I have a strong loyalty quotient. That is, I am loyal to a number of establishments and brands with plenty of points to throw around.

Take restaurants, for example. My kids often criticize me for going to the same restaurants month in, month out, instead of being more adventurous and going to the latest new opening. My rationale for the tried and true is straightforward. My regular jaunts provide all of the basics (great food, fine atmosphere and a good wine selection) but also something more: recognition.

From the moment I am welcomed inside, through the course of the meal and to the time I leave, I am treated with respect and preference. In addition, on a random basis, I get extras, such as a complimentary dessert, drink or appetizer. This leads to me tipping the waitstaff anywhere between 20% and 25%. I have established relationships with these places. I’m comfortable there, and I know more or less what I’ll be getting.

While the frequency with which I visit my local restaurants is far greater than that for hotels, I nevertheless have hospitality favorites and a strong loyalty to them. Preparing for this post, I thought about why these properties merit my return and my positive word of mouth. Interestingly, it is not usually the obvious, such as the size of the guestrooms, the amenities or the location, as these core elements are usually available at many other properties in the surrounding area.

The reason I select one property over the other is the way I am treated by the staff. This is by and large the only unwavering distinguisher. These seemingly small, intangible efforts drive me to return, time after time. Examples abound: a warm greeting from a doorman, recognition by the front desk thanking me for returning, a bellman who anticipates my needs and housekeepers who do their job seriously and professionally. It’s always a relief to know there are people who are “on my side.” It helps give me comfort amidst a swarm of daily emails, meetings, conference calls, RFP submissions, pitches and all the other stressors.

Who in your organization generates this positive guest rapport — the type of relationships that actually generates loyalty? The answer: your line staff, and not necessarily your managers. Yes, those team members who are probably amongst the lowest rated per hour on your payroll. And yet, they hold the key to your guest loyalty quotient. Think of this the next time you are evaluating your hiring criteria, planning a service training session or even negotiating with your unions.