Building customer loyalty by making guests feel like part of the family
The need for passion
I never really expected to work in hospitality. Starting a guesthouse came more from necessity, trying to make ends meet as a single mother to five children. So when two of them went to university, it seemed a good way to get some use from their now-empty rooms.
I was a bit shy about the whole idea initially, but I decided the best approach would be to do what I always do – throw myself in wholeheartedly. Whether in hospitality, my day job as a life coach, or life in general, I believe everything we do deserves to be done with passion. My motto in life is, "do things with the heart, for the heart."
If you try to fake that passion, people can sense it. But if you bring genuine warmth, people sense that too, and in my experience, offer it back in return.
What really matters in hospitality is to make people feel at ease, looked after, welcomed, and cared for by paying attention to each individual guest’s needs and wishes as best as possible.
Everyone deserves the VIP treatment
I traveled a lot in my youth, and many of the moments that have stayed with me are the small ways that accommodation providers went the extra mile for me. A drink on arrival, a bowl of fruit, a cheese platter, a slice of cake (home-made is even better), a little box of cookies or chocolates, a vase of freshly-cut flowers – little things that might not have cost much but meant a lot. All contributed immensely to the feeling of being “pampered” and looked after.
Those are the kind of experiences I try to create. They don’t have to be big, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. They can be small moments – little gestures that help people feel seen and welcome.
When it’s someone’s birthday or anniversary, for example, I get them a little cake with candles (often even personalized with sugared letters), a joyful card, and a bottle of bubbly.
Over the years, I’ve opened up my wardrobe for guests who forgot to pack a coat, cooked chicken noodle soup for guests feeling under the weather, and created countless itineraries for guests who didn’t know the area and were after suggestions for places they’d love.
Of course, some of this involves following the customer’s cues. Sometimes a guest wants a more solitary experience, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There are still plenty of ways to offer them an experience without intrusion – such as getting a newspaper for them in the morning, making them breakfast according to their specific dietary requirements, or setting the table with great attention to detail to please the eye and brighten the mood. Every detail matters.
The good news for smaller accommodation providers (and even the larger ones) is that none of these examples are hugely expensive. But in the rush to protect margins, we can sometimes miss the bigger picture and forget what it feels like to be a guest ourselves.
Turning guests into friends
Since I started the guesthouse, I’ve built friendships with people from around the world. I’m still in regular contact with a lot of them and receive Christmas cards from many more. I even had one invite me to visit them and use their vacation rental in Sardinia.
If you can create experiences people don’t forget, they’ll always remember you. It sounds simple when you put it like that. And, in truth, it is simple. But it’s something we need to constantly remind ourselves.
- Guest experience is built on little moments that help guests feel seen and welcome – such as a drink on arrival and a short welcome chat
- Bring warmth and passion to your attitude, and guests will usually match it
- Even more solitary guests might appreciate respectful gestures – such as a newspaper waiting for them or a cozy fireplace in the welcoming living room where they can read it with a nice cup of tea and a slice of homemade apple pie
- Margins matter, but not at the cost of guest experience