Turning Check-In into a Second Chance

Think of the “plus 1”—is there just one more thing I can do to make this customer smile today?

By Kristy Westfall Moyer, Training Account Manager, Signature Worldwide

Do we ever get a second chance to make a first impression? Are first impressions the only ones that count? Have you ever realized that you judged a person or situation completely wrong at first? Moreover, what if what you were certain was an accurate impression turned out to be the complete opposite of what really was?

As a customer service trainer who works with hundreds of different people each month, I feel in tune with people’s energy and have a strong initial read on their “vibe.” In addition, I do my best not to form a short-term or lasting opinion about them until I know them better. This took years of practice, as I certainly got it wrong so many times. Eventually, I had to change the way I thought about first impressions and learn more about who customers are, and what motivates their behavior.

We teach in our classes that while we cannot undo a first impression, we can build loyalty through service recovery. In the hotel world, our first impression typically happens on the phone, during the reservation process or information-gathering phase. We can only hope that our employees connected with our potential guests, discovered their needs, built value, closed the sale, and created a legendary first impression on that phone call. But if they did not and the guest ultimately chooses our hotel, we DO get a second chance to impress them—at check-in.

The Tale of Two Experiences

Last week, I visited a new hotel client. When I called to make the reservation prior to my visit (which we teach people how to do), I was horrified at the experience. I was convinced I was being “Punk’d”! I did not hear above-and-beyond verbiage such as asking me if I had been to the hotel before, or the purpose of my trip so they could personalize benefits for me, or actually asking me to buy the thing I called to buy. To make matters worse, the reservation agent told me he did not think his hotel was right for me and suggested I call a competitor hotel!

I had to beg for prices. I felt like it was pulling teeth to learn if the hotel had a shuttle, a restaurant, etc. I had to ask him to make the reservation for me. Though he told me I would be better off making it online, he eventually (and begrudgingly) agreed to do it for me.

WOW, I could instantly see why this company hired us! With a bit of trepidation, I headed out to deliver this training class. As luck would have it, the same man I spoke with on the phone checked me in. He did not know who I was (yet), and certainly did not remember talking to me.

He taught me (for the 1,000th time) that the first impression is often wrong. His check-in was so amazing; I again looked around for hidden cameras (though I quickly remembered my life is certainly not exciting enough to be tracked via film crews).

This man greeted me with the biggest smile and offered me help with my luggage. He told me they had been waiting for me and were always excited to welcome a new guest to their hotel. He noticed I was a member of their loyalty program, so he thanked me for my loyalty and offered me a goodie bag.

When he asked why I was in town and I responded “business,” he proceeded to tell me how the transportation system in town worked; pointed out the hotel’s Wi-Fi, laundry services, business center, and fitness center; and invited me to relax in their award-winning wine bar. He offered me a wake-up call, asked if I needed help with dinner reservations, asked if I needed anything else, and wished me a pleasant night’s sleep! WOW, I was surprised!

He, too, was surprised the next day to see I was their sales and service facilitator for the day. I acknowledged his awesome check-in throughout the day but did not mention the reservation experience I had with him.

At lunch, he approached me and wanted to talk…I was pretty sure I knew what this was about. He apologized for my reservation call, said he felt badly about it, and that it was not typical for him. Turns out he had a lot going on at home and was upset with the management for not upgrading some amenities guests had complained about for quite some time, even though he continued to share these complaints with his leadership team. In addition, he had been turned down again for a supervisor spot.

I told him not to beat himself up about it, that I don’t form opinions based on my first dealings with someone, and reminded him that check-in is his second chance to make a legendary impression, and he did just that with me. He was visibly relieved.

Never Too Late

Remind your employees that it is never too late to try again to create a positive impression that will turn all customers into raving fans. The reservation process is, of course, crucial, but if you made it through that and the guest said, “Yes, you get another chance,” remind them to welcome their guests “home” at check-in and to truly care about them as individuals. Have them ask questions about their travel day, reason of travel, their familiarity with the hotel or area, and to share personalized services with every customer. Offer assistance repeatedly. Think of the “plus 1”—is there just one more thing I can do to make this customer smile today?

Your customers will come back repeatedly. And once you earn their loyalty, their overall impression of you is pretty hard to damage as their loyalty means they love you, and with love, comes forgiveness when mistakes happen. Their lasting impression is the one that counts the most!

Kristy Westfall Moyer is a training account manager with Signature Worldwide, a Dublin, OH-based company that offers sales and customer service training, marketing, and mystery shopping services for a variety of service-based industries. For more information, call 800.398.0518 or visit www.signatureworldwide.com. You also can connect with Signature Worldwide on Twitter @SignatureWorld and on Facebook.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.