The Benefits of Mystery Shopping

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Many managers usually ask us, “Why do we need mystery shopping?” or “How will mystery shopping benefit our hotel?”We are here today to answer these questions for you and more.Let’s start with the most basic, but very important question of, “What is Mystery Shopping?”To TrueGuest, mystery shopping is a training and observations tool for managers.With shoppers acting as normal customers writing detailed reports about the service they experienced, managers are able to get the rare glimpse of the service from a guest’s perspective.Mystery shopping provides a great look at the service a hotel provides that you, as a manager cannot personally see.By using these reports, a service improvement training program can be implemented with the proper accountability.How often do you train and train on service standards only to get poor “official” scores on guest service?How do you know where to begin to find out what went wrong?Mystery shopping reports provide that accountability tool for managers.They can find out exactly what is or is not happening that creates poor service.

magnifying_glass1There are many hotels that tell us, “We are doing well in our guest service scores, so we do not need any mystery shopping!”To those hotels, we say, “Congratulations!”But think of it this way; who fills out those comment cards that you regularly base your success on?The guests that take the time to fill out the comment cards are almost always either the guests that had a wonderful visit or the guests that had a completely terrible visit. This probably accounts for only 1% of your total guests.What you are essentially saying is that you do not care about how any of the guests in between feel; a good 99% of them.You are risking the loyalty of the guests that you provided below-average service to, who did not feel like filling out your comment cards.How would your corporate office respond to that?Comment cards are like a crapshoot; you hope that you get “good” guests this month and that they give favorable scores.Why not turn that crapshoot into a sure thing?Mystery shopping provides an unbiased, objective look at your service at any given time.Managers are then able focus on keeping service consistently high by pinpointing and correcting any service deficiencies instead of waiting for a guest to comment on them.Unfortunately, they probably will have chosen another hotel by then.

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A Hotel Housekeeper Confesses

housekeeperBudget Travel ran a great article in their February issue as part of their confessions series.  Read the full article here. The article is written by a hotel room attendant who clearly does not enjoy her job and took every short cut possible from skipping the vacuuming to placing a do not disturb sign on a door or two.

We believe that hotel cleanliness has greatly improved over the last decade or so.  Remember the old days of room attendants washing the drinking glasses in the bathroom sink and having comforters that were cleaned once a year?  Whoever invented the triple sheeted bed deserves an award.  We also love new hotels that skip the bathtubs and just install showers.  I could not imagine taking a bath in a hotel room and doubt many guests ever do.

When you click over to the magazine article, be sure to read the comments at the bottom.  There is some great stuff there!

Thinking Strategically in this Recession

In this time of recession, there has been widespread panic throughout the hotel industry.  With much lower occupancy forecasts, hotel managers have been trying to prepare for 2009 as it seems like it will be a grim year.  But what are some of these managers doing?  Some hotels have been laying off employees to meet the demand, finding any way to cut some costs, and even working hourly shifts themselves to save some money.  But is this really the right way to do things?  We will provide you with a new perspective and maybe you will begin to look at your operations in a new light.  You will find that your job as a manager should mean more than trying to catch up to the present.manager1

If you think about your job description as a manager, what does it contain?  Is it to remedy situations and deal with issues as they arise?  Or is it to strategically plan and steadily improve the hotel as a whole in the long-term?  If it was written well, your job description should include a combination of both of these areas.  Unfortunately, at a time of a worsening economy and with the uncertainty of where your next dollar of revenue will come from, it is hard for managers to think of anything else than the short-term.  They begin cutting employee shifts, finding cheaper supplies, and doing anything they can to make that bottom line more attractive.  Though yes, some of the cost cutting is necessary to meet the lower demands, do the managers have the correct mentality when they are going about these profit saving measures?  My guess is no.  The managers are usually just thinking, “How can I get this month’s P&L looking good even though we are not getting any business?”  Newsflash!  If you have no revenues, your profit line will not look good no matter what you try to do! 

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Simple Guest Service Reminders

For the new year, resolve to improve guest service throughout your property.  We all know it will be tough year to hit budgets and to attract more business.  A great, and cheap way to keep the business you already have is to make sure your guest service exceeds standards.  A very simple way to do so is by making sure that your team  is trained to say the right things to guests.

customer_serviceAt a recent stay at a very fancy and expensive hotel, we ran into many issues.  The issues ranged from very small to a very large one but regardless, it did not seem that the guest service team was properly trained to handle the problems that we encountered.  Though they were able to fix the problems quickly and satisfactory, the guest service team was not empathetic or even apologetic at all.  This made our mystery shopper feel very unimportant even though we had just paid over $400 for the night.

To see the effect of slight changes in your team’s words on your guest service, please read this article on the Hotel & Motel Management website.

The author, Doug Kennedy, provides great examples of what many of your associates currently say to guests and what they should say instead.  It is a great way to improve your guest service without much cost!  For example, Kennedy points out the dreaded way to greeting a lone-diner at a restaurant with, “Just One?”, making the diner feel even lonelier.    He provides an excellent way to greet those guests by using, “Welcome to the restaurant  are you ready to be seated?”  The author also gives a few other great examples but leaves you to figure out how this concept can be applied to the many other areas of guest contact in your hotels.  It is a great way to keep your current guests happy and have them continue to choose your hotel in the future without spending any money!

WSJ Reports Businesses See Rise In Employee Theft

WSJ-LogoThe Wall Street Journal posted a great article on the rise of employee theft as a result of the recession.  You can read the entire article on MSN’s Money page here.  The article reports that ‘New research shows that employers are seeing an increase in internal crimes, ranging from fictitious sales transactions and illegal kickbacks to the theft of office equipment and retail products meant for sale to customers.’  The article also mentions that ‘To many employers’ chagrin, the workers guilty of the most grandiose theft frequently turn out to be those deemed to be highly trustworthy’.  Don’t let this guy work for you!

We have seen a dramatic increase in internal theft while in the field and expect to see a continued increase in 2009, especially in employees who rely on tips for a large part of their salary.  Many hotels have been forced to dramatically reduce the number of hours as occupancy declines and many of the hotel restaurants have slowed down.  Many employees are now really struggling to make what they made in the past and most cannot afford to take a pay cut and still pay their monthly expenses.     Continue reading

Are Rising Food Costs Killing Your Restaurant’s Profits?

Are rising food costs decreasing your restaurant’s profits?  You better act now!  We anticipate the cost of food, especially the staples, to continue to rise.  Food and Beverage Departments for hotels are typically low profit areas and can easily turn into no profit areas if you do not react quickly.  Here are some things that you can do: 

Know Your Food Costs – It is surprising how little hotels actually know about their food costs.  Most hotels have a breakfast buffet, however, few hotels have any idea what their food cost is on the buffet.  Most just assume they are making a high profit because they were taught that buffets were always high profit.  Not true.  Spend the time to calculate your buffet cost.  You may be surprised to find out that your buffet food cost is 40 or 50 percent!

Here is a simple way to find out the food cost for your buffet:  Have the kitchen log every single item that is used on the buffet during a 7 day period (10 cases of bacon, 22 cases of eggs, etc).  At the end of the week, add up the total food expense and divide it by the amount of revenue you posted for those days.  Be sure to do it for a whole week because you will find that your weekend food cost is very different than your weekday food cost.  Also, be sure to add in all items included with the buffet such as juice and coffee.

Re-engineer Your Menu – Hopefully, you are using a spreadsheet or computer program to monitor your menu engineering.  Be sure to re-evaluate your menu every single month.  For additional menu engineering help, check out this article.

Evaluate your menu prices – Now that you know your food cost and your menu engineering, be sure to evaluate your menu prices.  You will most likely have to raise prices.  However, don’t just raise all of the prices across the board, be very strategic.  Raise only the prices of the items that are the best sellers but do not have the best profit.  Keep the prices the same on the items that do not sell well but have a high profit.  Replace the items that do not sell well and do not have a high profit.

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The Ultimate Arrival Experience

welcome-matMany hotels have valet service, bell service, and a good team at the front desk but still fail to provide a great arrival experience.The main problem is that the three teams do not work together as one team with the guest’s interest at heart.  While the valet attendant, the bellman, and the guest service agent may all do a great job individually, the guest sees the arrival as one experience and may be frustrated.

The solution is communication…  communication between associates and to the guest.  Here is how the ultimate arrival experience takes place:

A guest pulls up to the hotel and is immediately greeted by the valet attendant.The valet attendant welcomes the guest to the hotel and offers luggage assistance.  The valet attendant does the normal tasks such as filling out a luggage ticket and asking the guest his/her name.  The valet attendant loads up all of the luggage onto a bell cart and escorts the guest to the front entrance of the hotel.  The valet attendant is then ready to hand off the guest to the waiting bellman.

Here is where the first important communication is required.  The valet attendant should introduce the guest to the bellman and the bellman to the guest by saying something like “Mr. Smith, this is John.  He is going to assist you with the check in and then escort you up to your room”.  We also recommend that the valet attendant discretely hands the bellman a small card with the guest’s name on it.  Hopefully, the valet attendant got the guest name when the guest first pulled up.

Now the bellman can escort the guest to the front desk to check in.  Again, here is where communication is key.  The bellman should introduce the guest to the GSA and the GSA to the guest by saying something like “Hello Lisa, this is Mr. Smith.  He has a reservation for this evening.”  Again, the bellman can refer to the card the valet attendant gave him if the name is difficult.  Lisa can then handle the check in while the bellman waits off to the side.  Once the guest is checked in, the bellman is ready to escort the guest to the room.  The bellman can escort the guest to the room, tell the guest about the hotel’s amenities, and thank him/her for staying at the hotel.

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Guest Room Knocking Etiquette

Hotel-Room-Door-HandleHaving stayed in many hotels, we have experienced our share of disturbances.Unfortunately, many of these disturbances have been caused by the hotel’s staff.  The most awkward and uncomfortable ones come from the knocks and entries at the guest room door.  People treat their guest rooms in a hotel like their bedrooms at home.  Unfortunately, they do not think about the fact that many employees in that hotel have a key to these bedrooms.  On the other hand, many hotel employees do not think of hotel guest rooms as being private to the hotel guests.  Three knocks and a quick key swipe and they have entered the room, too quick for the guest to object.

Most guests like to be comfortable in their rooms and are not in their normal, public attire.  It is very embarrassing to be seen that way in an unplanned fashion.  Make sure that all employees in your hotel are properly trained in the etiquette of how to properly knock and enter a guest’s room.  Here are some the tips to remember: Continue reading

TrueGuest Service Tips for Every Hotel!

Logo_Mark-Five_Diamond_Hospitality copy2We are very fortunate to be able to stay at some of the top hotels, including some amazing five diamond properties.  While your hotel may not have the staffing budget of a five diamond hotel, there are still plenty of service tips that everyone can learn from the five diamonds.

Here are some tips for providing five diamond service that does not cost much:

  1. Teach all of your associates the phrase ‘my pleasure’:  When a guest says ‘thank you’, associates at top properties always respond with ‘it is my pleasure’.  Other properties respond with ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘no problem’.
  2. Every associate must be guest focused instead of task focused:  At a three diamond hotel, a housekeeper held up the elevator that I was in to wait for her friend so they could go to lunch together.  The next day at a five diamond, an engineer who happened to be walking near an elevator saw me walking down the hallway and automatically pressed the elevator button.  The engineer was aware of my need as a guest.  The housekeeper was only aware of her own need for a lunch break.

What is Your Hotel’s Internet Reputation?

Ever watch someone under 30 book a hotel room?  They fire up the internet and go to a site like expedia.com or hotels.com and do a search of the city they are traveling to.  Then they narrow their choices to a handful of hotels that fit their budget.  Then the fun really starts.  People who have spent the last decade on the internet know how to get the most out of it.  No 25 year old is going to trust that 4 star rating that Expedia gave your hotel.  They don’t believe that your hotel was ‘hotel of the year’ for the last five years as stated on your website.  They are going to see what actual people (well, internet people anyway) have to say.

IE_logTheir decision to stay at your hotel starts with a quick review of your website.  Does it have a pool?  Check.  Steakhouse?  Got it.  Gym?  Ok.  They take your hotel into consideration.  But is it better than the hotel down the street that has the similar rates?

A quick Google search will tell them what they need to know.  They read the reviews on tripadvisor.com.  Maybe they check out yelp.com or read your Yahoo Travel ratings.  Oh, Mary from Iowa says your staff is rude and your food is lousy.  Three people say that your hotel lost their reservations and two people say that they were overcharged during their stay.

You just lost a reservation.

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