Personal interactions are everything in the hotel and hospitality industry. Good communication with guests and among staff is proven to develop long-term customer loyalty, and can essentially make or break the success of a hotel.
At the customer service end, hotels must understand the needs of guests and ensure they have great experiences. Online, hotels need to respond to reviews and manage digital communications with the public. Behind the scenes, a hotel's team of staff needs to run like a well-oiled machine and that requires excellent communication.
In fact, research shows that communication practises among staff and customers are intrinsically connected: if hotel staff including operations have good communication with each other, communication between front-of-house staff and customers tends to be better, and the opposite is also true.
As a simple example; if a customer requests additional towels at the front desk and this isn’t communicated to the rooms division, of course, this will impact the customer’s experience. As you can see, it’s vitally important to get communication right on all sides of the business.
Whether you’re a manager or staff member, working with customers or behind the scenes: here are 10 tips to help you improve communication with customers.
1. Practise active listening
Have you ever forgotten a hotel guest's or team member’s name immediately after learning it? Maybe you were just hearing words without really taking in information. Active listening is a great communication practice for better customer service and better personal and working relationships. Active listening involves being fully present in the conversation, paying close attention, repeating statements you hear, asking follow-up questions, practising empathy, and allowing space for the speaker to expand on their topic rather than jumping in with a response.
2. Develop your customer service voice and tone
Working in hotels can sometimes be stressful, and stress is communicated directly through our vocal tone and pitch. Actually, studies show that 7% of communication is verbal, while 38% is tone and inflection, and 55% is body language. Unless you consciously practise moderating your voice, keeping a calm and friendly tone and managing your stress levels, you will unconsciously change the mood of the person on the receiving end of your verbal communication. Practise breathing and other techniques to remain calm under pressure, and work on your vocal delivery using professional speaking techniques like voice modulation.
3. Communicate with more than your voice
Communication in our daily lives actually occurs across five communication areas: verbal, nonverbal, written, listening and visual. Whether you’re interacting with staff or customers, use your eyes as well as your ears to understand what is really being said.
Does a customer appear stressed, tired or anxious? Perhaps there is a deeper emotion underlying their insistent request for a specialised service; perhaps they’ve got off a long flight or have a major issue in their life. Empathy may be the real solution they are looking for. On the other hand, be aware of what your posture and expression are communicating, as well.
4. Making good first impressions
As highlighted in the point above, communication in hotels goes beyond verbal messaging into the visual so no matter which department you work in, pay attention to first impressions. For example, if a guest arrives and their room is dirty or they have to wait for service, that sends a clear message to them that the hotel doesn’t care about their experience. After one bad experience, there is a 91% chance they will never do business with you again, and they will on average tell between 9-15 people about it.
5. Learn how to respond to online complaints
Managing a hotel in the era of social media means you have to manage the fallout from bad reviews and respond to complaints online. There is a right way and a wrong way of doing this. The right way is to be timely, polite, empathetic and helpful, and to learn and improve from customer feedback. The wrong way is to argue with customers, deny wrongdoing or ignore feedback. Learn more about how to manage your digital complaints here.
6. Clarity in communication is key
Whether you’re talking to staff or guests, it’s important to be clear, succinct and honest at all times. Avoid filler language and vague sentences, don’t over-explain yourself or waffle, and be honest and to the point. If you’re a manager, it’s essential to make sure you stay concise and address one task at a time when organising your teams, for example.
Setting clear boundaries in the workplace ensures everyone is aware of what’s expected of them. Establishing a ‘come directly to me with your issues’ culture of honest, open dialogue with your team is the best way to ensure the smooth resolution of issues over the long term.
7. Keep communication lines open between departments
Information silos occur when one part of a business stops effectively communicating with another part of the business. In the case of hotels, for example, this could be when information is not passed on correctly from the front-of-house to the restaurant or rooms division, with the result being incorrect meal orders or issues with double booking.
Information silos are bad for business, and the only solution is to develop effective communication strategies and implement communications systems across the whole organisation. As a hotel manager or staff member, you play an essential role in ensuring vital information is passed along to the right people.
8. Maintain an ongoing conversation with guests
Developing customer loyalty requires ongoing, friendly, personal interactions with guests. This means putting in place an organised but still personalised system of check-ins: before, during and after each stay. Check before to see One way that hotels are maintaining an ongoing conversation with guests is through the use of direct messaging via branded apps. This allows hotel staff to follow a thread of conversation, and keep track of any special requests or needs the customer might have.
9. Learn conflict management techniques
In the fast-paced environment of hotels, issues can sometimes arise that need de-escalation and resolution. If you’re at the customer service, human resources or management side of the hotel business, it’s a great idea to learn some professional de-escalation and conflict resolution techniques.
10. Be a communication role model
For any hotel manager or team leader, it’s important to remember that a workplace culture of good communication starts from the top. When hotel leaders are clear, honest, calm, empathetic active listeners, then everyone working under them will follow their example.
On the other hand, if hotel managers shout, neglect to set up communication systems, or don’t listen to feedback from staff or guests, then they can’t expect good communication from staff. Setting a good example is particularly important during staff training and onboarding: create a culture of good communication during onboarding, and your hotel will be set up for success.
Thinking of a management career in the hotel industry? See here for more information about Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School (BMIHMS) at Torrens University Australia.