The evolution of the welcome


The evolution of the welcome

The evolution of the welcome

Founding Director, Sally Whelan, explores the changing nature of the guest welcome.

Tablet check-ins and online ordering mean that the human element of the welcome has reduced in recent years for both hotel and restaurant guests. Whilst substituting your team members for technology might seem like a risky strategy, with 75% of guests agreeing that they’re more likely to trust a business that uses up-to-date tech, incorporating technology into the welcome process makes sense. So long as it’s matched with a positive (if reduced) human interaction to complement efficiency, technology can help create a calm, fuss-free guest experience.

Groups such as Village Hotels provide tablets for guests to check themselves in if they want to, whilst at an Accor hotel, you can check in online before you arrive. These simple innovations reduce queuing and faff and are a response to the recognition that the priority for most hotel guests is to begin relaxing as soon as possible.

This rings true, but equally, when operators reduce the human element and substitute it with a technological one, it unquestionably makes remaining face to face interactions all the more important. Examples of great welcome from our mystery guest feedback include a recommendation for a pop-up restaurant that didn’t appear in a guest’s guidebook, mentioned on the way to a guest’s room after check-in and a personalised greeting with front of house staff in the hotel bar on the first night of a stay.

Likewise, humour is a winner when it hits the mark. Visitors to a well known restaurant chain told us: ‘We waited at the front door for roughly three minutes. The waiter approached and apologised before asking whether we had waited long. When we said just a couple of minutes he joked that he took back his apology. It was funny and we immediately relaxed.’

The way you welcome guests is a no brainer way to set a positive tone from the off, whatever the nature of your business. It’s equally important across the board. For a fast-turnaround coffee bar or sandwich shop, our mystery guest research demonstrates that the first few seconds of an interaction is a key opportunity for operators to get it right. It’s something that evolves with customer demand, and varies depending on the individual guest or customer. Recently at a conference, I heard a representative from a high street café chain talk about the evolution of their policy on customer service. When half the clientele now have their earphones in or are checking their phones as they wait to be served, the desire for conversation is no longer there.

As a result, this particular chain has adapted its staff training. A less interactive service is now standard and this works well for the majority of customers who are there to get in, grab a sandwich and a coffee and head off. In contrast, guests may be looking for a far greater level of responsiveness in a traditional restaurant.

I recently popped into Bill’s in Bath for a coffee. I have been there a number of times before but I don’t live in the city and didn’t expect to be remembered. But the waiter who greeted me had been there on my previous visits and asked how I was. He even remembered how I liked my coffee. It was an organic, authentic welcome and one that put me immediately at ease.

Those first few seconds of warmth and friendliness on arrival are just as important for hotels despite the fact that they have deeper and wider-reaching opportunities for welcoming guests. Even something as minor as front of house staff looking up and making eye contact with a friendly smile and the words: ‘With you shortly,’ whilst they’re checking in a guest ahead of you, shows care and consideration.

When the human element of the welcome is entirely removed – a growing trend in the food industry, restaurants must rely on the décor, cleanliness, and efficiency of service convey their guest experience to visitors. Last March, Tossed opened their first completely cashless restaurant in London. Orders are input at self-service kiosks, and although the kitchen is manned by staff, there are no traditional servers on the restaurant floor to wait on or greet guests. Eatsa in America do something similar – although their guests collect their food from cubby holes, eliminating all contact between guests and staff. I even heard about a restaurant in Japan where customers are served by robots, watched over by humans behind the scenes.

At the moment, this seems more like a Blade Runner style novelty than the future of the service industry, but I would argue that something valuable gets lost in such an experience. We’d all be wise to remember the fact that one of the most common complaints from guests when customer service falls wide of the mark is that it seemed ‘robotic.’

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