Many serviced apartments claim to offer a "home from home" experience. Jo Redman looks at how operators can actually deliver on that promise.
"We offer a real home from home experience."
We love that marketing strapline in the serviced apartment industry. It has a lovely warm feel and promise, but do we all challenge and check ourselves enough to really ensure that we are consistently delivering that promise and experience?
This was the question asked at the Association of Serviced Apartment Provides (ASAP) conference in December, where, encouragingly, much of the content focused on the guest experience and making the industry question how to improve and enhance the hospitality we extend to our guests
As our industry continues to mature and grow, and take its rightful place alongside hotels and other accommodation, I would suggest these are some of the key areas that we need to be most mindful of and focused on to ensure we are delivering great hospitality:
Home from home - Actually, I would suggest that our guests want something better than a home from home. They don't want to deal with domestic irritations such as light bulbs that need replacing, lack of kitchen equipment, temperamental heating, indifferent shower pressures, furniture that really should be replaced, and that "Oh, I must get round to giving the place a lick of paint" feeling. This expectation of course creates a tough challenge for us all as we strive for higher occupancies with fewer voids and therefore less time to keep our apartments pristine and aspirational.
Housekeepers - Love them and respect them. Recent research we have carried out at SACO with existing customers and potential customers revealed that one of their top priorities when choosing accommodation is cleanliness. This seems blatantly obvious, but how blissful is it to check into a serviced apartment that is spotless, probably much cleaner than one's own home? Add to that feeling the knowledge that the housekeeping team will be servicing the apartment and keeping everything up to a high professional standard on a regular basis and you will have a very happy guest. Be kind and oh so inclusive of your housekeeping teams, often the unsung heroes of your workforce.
Arrival and check-in process - This is much easier and more straightforward at aparthotels where there is an onsite reception team and hotel familiarity to the check-in process. But for the more traditional serviced apartment set-up, how easy is it for your guests to find their apartment, pick up keys, access the property and familiarise themselves with their apartment and neighbourhood? Of course, it's even more challenging when the guest is arriving from overseas and/or in the middle of the night.
Technology - As it is at home? Not if you can't do what you would normally do like watch TV, surf the internet, stream content, watch BBC iPlayer, Skype friends and family in far off places and so on. Are we providing technology infrastructures that enable our guests to do this easily and effortlessly? If not, are we being honest enough up front about our capabilities or our charges for allowing guests to connect and tune in?
Independence - Yes, we have sold in the benefits of guests having their own apartment and space and autonomous living style, but have we checked ourselves enough to ensure that we are there if they change their mind and want help? "Where do I go to buy a pint of milk and loaf of bread"? "Just how close is my nearest cash point"? "How do I get around on local transport in this city"? These are just some of the questions guests may have on arrival, so to get the best idea of their mind-set, visit a serviced apartment in a location that you are not familiar with and try to find the answers to the above without resorting to Google. How can we best provide non-intrusive but useful, friendly and effective service that suits the individual guests and is practical to manage?
People - "People are our most important asset". Heard that one before? A somewhat mindless platitude I would suggest and much harder to put into practice and on to the tactical and strategic agenda. But, our people really do make the difference when it comes to offering real, genuine welcoming hospitality that matches what our customers are expecting or requiring. We can all have beautiful apartments, clever booking systems, credible websites, but when push comes to shove it's our people that will make the difference.
Just like in a restaurant where you can possibly get away with indifferent food but fantastic customer service versus the best food you have ever eaten but terrible service (I know which I prefer, though of course the ideal is to have both great food and great service), our guests may forgive a problem in their apartment or the frustration of getting lost finding their apartment if they then experience warm, efficient, empathetic service from your people who are adept at turning a potentially difficult situation or complaint into a positive experience that increases customer loyalty.
Of course it's very hard for our people to consistently offer this kind of service, especially when under pressure, dealing with challenging guests and lacking the right infrastructures to support, guide, coach and recognise them.
Time and effort needs to be invested in training, managing, engaging and developing all our people and the managers who manage. Communication is the Holy Grail, keeping everyone on the journey and involved is demanding and never-ending, but vital if you really believe in offering high standards of hospitality.
All of the above and of course others are tough challenges to
juggle in conjunction with running commercially viable, profitable
businesses set for growth and success.
However, without focusing on the guest experience and really offering great hospitality that exceeds a home from home experience, then our businesses may not flourish. I would also even dare to suggest that our industry may not continue to develop and take its rightful position alongside the more traditional hospitality offering - hotels.
Jo Redman is the marketing director of SACO The Serviced Apartment Company.