Your Best Marketing Secret

or… Your Best Marketing Tool

During a B&B conference session on using Press Kits for your marketing, we tossed around lots of ideas about using press kits effectively. After more than half of the session had elapsed someone asked how effective press kits were for people in the room. Essentially the answer was, not at all. One innkeeper did succeed in getting an article because of a press kit she had sent, but not the article she had been fishing for.

Hearing that nobody was having success with sending press kits the conversation turned to, “how DO you build your business, then”. The most basic idea to come out of that conversation was that your customer service — how you treat your guests while they are with you — is your best marketing tool. It’s so basic that it’s easy to overlook. It’s so basic it’s affordable (we can all use affordable ideas, especially today). It’s so basic, let’s get back to it. Customer Service is you best marketing tool.

To help you develop and maintain your customer service attitude, you must have as your primary goal creating and keeping satisfied customers. Selling customer service to guests is important since that’s why you are in business and why they are coming to you. Customer service isn’t one thing to do a lot better, it’s lots of things to do a little better.

Customer service means different things to different people. Generally it means treating your guests generously, warmly, kindly, and anticipating their needs. You also have to be prepared for guests who will be difficult and give them extra attention and service. Customer service, that personal attention and one-on-one service, is one of the big differences between B&B inns and hotels/motels. It’s listening to your guests and giving them what they want, when they want it. Let them “have it their way”, within reason and don’t be too stringent with rules and regulations. The balancing act of running your business efficiently and offering abundant customer service is part of the reason I call my seminars “The B&B Balancing Act: Business vs Hospitality”. It’s not easy but it’s vital to your success.

You’ve heard me talk about the laser-beam versus light-bulb approach to marketing. One-to-one service is your laser beam while “take a number” is your light bulb. Customer service is your laser beam while advertising is your light bulb. Everyone is busy, including innkeepers, and service seems to be something left for “when there is time”. Focus on your product quality — customer service — just as you focus on marketing the inn. Great customer service is in the details. Pay attention to the details.

Let customer service help you thrive in this new economy by offering the right combination of intrinsic value and added value, giving great customer service and offer your service at a competitive price. Service is intangible and thus hard to see or touch. Make sure your guests are aware of the great service you are providing so they appreciate the value of their stay with you.

It’s important to remember that your guests are your reason for being in business, so it’s prudent and satisfying to take care of them and show them how much they matter. You need to offer solutions (your market niche to your clients’ buying decisions), offer service, choices, quality, and competitive pricing for your style of inn. I’ve said for years “under-promise and over-provide”, exceeding your guests’ expectations and building their loyalty to you. B&Bs have distinct personalities. Are you in charge of your inn’s personality or are you letting a great location, a great product, good prices and marketing shape the guests’ expectations and experiences? Be sure to let your personality shine throughout all you do for your guests.

Repeat guests are the key to your business success and a sign that you are “doing things right”. The greater the percentage of return guests the greater your success. Guests who care enough to return also care enough to tell others about you. That’s another signal you are “doing things right”, when you have a high percentage of referred guests. The way to build your rate of repeat and referred guests is through putting your attitude and service in line with that goal.

Don’t mistake a lack of complaints as an indication of guest satisfaction. Most people don’t complain and just take their business elsewhere. Look at your return rate to tell you if you are tending to your guests’ needs with your customer service or if you are missing the boat. Your success can be measured simply by looking at your sales and the sales increase from year to year.

Many innkeepers don’t appreciate the real cost of losing guests. They know how to attract new guests and how much that costs them, but they don’t know how many guests they are losing or the subsequent loss of income. Several years ago I worked in a resort community. I had been in the community only one day when a guest I was serving commented I was wearing the first smiling face they’d seen in the community during their two week stay! What a shock. What a shame! I learned that the prevailing attitude by many businesses in that community was “there’re more where they came from”. And the community was right. There are more guests out there — at a high cost.

I’ve heard statistics like “it costs you $10 to get the phone to ring for a guest to make a reservation” and “it costs five times more to acquire new guests than to retain existing guests”. The expense is one thing but the loss of income is yet another. Guest loyalty is often worth ten times the price of a one-time guest. Every business in that community would have been ahead of the game if they had just treated the guests they had as if the people mattered. Inns with high service quality average a higher percentage of return guests, increase their occupancy rate more readily, and have higher room rates — while inns having low service quality have a much lower guest rate of return.

We all want to feel important. Knowing your guests’ names is one way to start in making them feel important. It is your job to make your guests feel important, make them feel as if they matter, by taking a personal interest in them. Your guests want personal service delivered by a live voice on the phone and by a live person at check-in and during their stay. The more you extend yourself to your guests the more likely it is they will come back again, and again, and again. You are the main reason your guests come back so interact with them and be part of their experience. I’ve heard it postulated that it is possible to double your sales without adding a single new guest, just by making your current guests feel good about doing business with you. How? By coming back repeatedly, referring friends, and by buying more in your gift shop.

Having a reputation for great service can’t be taken for granted. You have to work daily to keep that earned reputation. By raising the bar of service you also raise the bar of what your guests expect of you. What are you doing to make your guests experience special and worthwhile? One of the first things you can do is make sure when your guests arrive they see people — your staff, you — so they know you are open for business, expecting them, and wanting to take care of them. Be sure to make it easy for guests to offer feedback while they are with you, and make sure they know they’ve been heard by acting on their feedback — and telling them about your action. Be available for your guests. By spending time with your guests you can glean information that you might not have gathered any other way.

A complaint is a request to “get it right” and to keep your promise of service. Janelle Barlow wrote “A Complaint is a Gift”, her message being that you should rejoice when some one cares enough to point out a problem they have found — then you can fix it and make it right. When a guest provides feedback you should have an immediate response, you should take action and extend an offer to make it even more right. And you should thank them for that “gift”.

Customer service is labor intensive without a doubt. If having the staff creates a better bottom line then it’s a justifiable expense. Reducing staff reduces your chances to serve your guests and ultimately reduces guest satisfaction. As a service oriented innkeeper I was pleased when one of my guests told me we had won his loyalty because we took care of him and made him feel at home. Then I was amused when that same guest told me I could save lets of money if I would cut back on staff. If I’d cut back on staff I would have cut back on loyal guests.

What are you doing to ensure that every customer leaves with a lasting impression to bring them back when they next think of you? Great customer service isn’t happening everywhere. It’s your best marketing tool. Is it happening at your B&B?