You know your hotel inside out, but do you ever see it through your guests’ eyes? In many cases, there is a disconnect between what hoteliers think is important to guests and what actually matters to them. Paying close attention to guest feedback can help bridge this gap.
Back in 1985, Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry came up with the “gap” model of analysing service quality. In their seminal article, they recognise that several gaps can exist between the expectations and experiences of a guest, and between the perceptions of guests and management, and that it is in these gaps that service quality, as perceived by the guest, often falls short. They describe five gaps:
Gap 1: Consumer expectation vs management perception gap – management isn’t always aware of what guests expect in an establishment in order for it to meet the level of quality that they were expecting.
Gap 2: Management perception vs service quality specification gap – management knows what needs to be done in order to satisfy guests, but doesn’t deliver it. This might occur because it cannot physically be done, because management believes it can’t be done, or due to poor management.
Gap 3: Service quality specifications vs service delivery gap – although the standards have been set at the appropriate level to achieve guest satisfaction, they are not being met. This is often because it is impossible to completely eliminate human error, especially in an industry like hospitality, where excellent service delivery depends on multiple front-line and behind-the-scenes staff.
Gap 4: Service delivery vs external communications gap – the hotel doesn’t live up to the image portrayed by marketing and other external communications, or communications fails to explain all the positive aspects of the hotel that guests might not be aware of (e.g. their environmental conservation efforts).
Gap 5: expected service vs perceived service gap – the last gap is a combination of all the others put together.
How to bridge the gaps
The key to bridging these gaps in order to maintain excellent service quality, and therefore guest satisfaction and a positive reputation, is to understand your establishment through the eyes of your guests. As Tarek Aboudib, General Manager at Sandy Beach Hotel and Resort in Fujairah, UAE says, “Guests experience your hotel in ways that you, as a manager, may not be able to experience it, and therefore [managers are] blindsided on certain things.”
Maintaining an open flow of communication with guests is the hotelier’s best hope of understanding their expectations, experiences and perceptions. Like a growing number of hoteliers, Aboudib uses guest feedback technology to aid communication and help bridge the gap between management and guests. His system automatically sends a questionnaire to guests when they check out, and collects the data in such a way that it can be analysed on a large scale to expose trends, or in detail so that individual guest experiences can be analysed.
“Guests experience your hotel in ways that you, as a manager, may not be able to experience it, and therefore [managers are] blindsided on certain things.” – Tarek Aboudib, General Manager, Sandy Beach Hotel and Resort
For Aboudib, simply implementing a strategy to monitor his guest feedback has helped him “build that open bridge between management and customers, and get on a more personal level with the guests and see things through their eyes rather than [from] a management standpoint.”
Hoteliers using feedback to bridge the gaps
Gap 1 and prioritising budget
Hoteliers usually strive to prioritise spending in areas that will make the biggest difference to guests’ experiences, but the gap between what hoteliers believe matters and what guests believe matters (gap 1) can sometimes lead to large sums of money being spent in areas that make little or no difference to a guest’s experience of a hotel, while those areas that guests do notice are overlooked.
“We are in a situation now where, budget-wise, we only attend to the most important things affecting our guests,” – Bianca Grobbelaar, General Manager, The Royal Guest House
Bianca Grobbelaar, General Manager at The Royal Guest House, nearly fell victim to just such a gap in perception. “We are in a situation now where, budget-wise, we only attend to the most important things affecting our guests,” says Grobbelaar. “I thought, for example, that the staff uniforms were not as presentable as they should be. When I got my ORM [online reputation management] report, however, I noticed that I was being rated consistently highly on staff! Knowing that my staff were currently my strongest asset meant that I could redirect the funds to a lower rated aspect to try improve that area instead”.
Gap 3 and Staff management and training
It is impossible for management to be everywhere at all times. Maintaining an open dialogue with guests can help management stay aware of the quality of service they are actually receiving, so that any shortcomings in meeting the standards set for the hotel can be addressed immediately.
Nick Fox, owner of Sibuya Game Reserve also uses guest feedback technology to monitor guest perceptions and sentiment. “[The system] is very helpful for internal control,” says Fox, “as we use the private and detailed feedback that we get from our guests to highlight to staff the areas where they’re doing well, and areas that they need to improve on.”
On the other hand, because of their daily interactions with guests, front-line staff are often even more acutely aware of the disconnects that can exist between the perceptions of guests and hoteliers than upper management. Using guest sentiment to inform training policies can help to motivate staff who might otherwise see management as “out-of-touch”.
We use the private and detailed feedback that we get from our guests to highlight to staff the areas where they’re doing well, and areas that they need to improve on.” – Nick Fox, Owner, Sibuya Game Reserve
In an industry often fraught with gaps in perception and experience between hotel management and guests, it can be difficult for managers to earn the necessary authority in the eyes of front-line staff. Appealing to the additional “authority of the guest,” and demonstrating to staff that you are aware of and in touch with genuine guest concerns can be an invaluable management tool.
Sarah Swanepoel, owner of Dune Ridge Country House, is another hotelier who uses her guest feedback as a management tool. “When talking to staff, [the feedback] is not coming from Management – the suggestions and feedback come from guests, which hits home,” says Swanepoel.
Gap 5 and the goodwill of the guest
When guests are aware that you are making a concerted effort to communicate with them, listen to their point of view, and improve your service accordingly, they are usually very willing to provide the feedback you ask for.
Simply asking guests for feedback can help hoteliers to understand why their hotel is falling short of guest expectations, where their perceptions of their hotel and those of the guest don’t match, and where the hotel fell short of guests’ expectations and where they were exceeded.
Since they began sending out electronic questionnaires, Sandy Beach Hotel & Resort has “received a wide range of valuable comments, and sincere inputs on how we can improve our property,” says Aboudib. “These insights allow us to understand more of what the customer truly wants and appreciates in the resort. Even the smallest feedback can sometimes make a huge difference in our customers’ overall experience.”
However, the same kindness and willingness to help (which is common in many guests) can actually be a hindrance if hoteliers rely solely on feedback provided face-to-face, or even while a guest is still at the property, as 2Perfect Penthouse Apartment owner John Cooper can attest to. “People will rarely write something negative in your guest book when a staff member or owner is close by,” says Cooper. “You don’t ever know all you need to know from your guests because your guests don’t always tell the truth or are reluctant to tell you what they are really thinking.”
“You don’t ever know all you need to know from your guests because your guests don’t always tell the truth or are reluctant to tell you what they are really thinking.” – John Cooper, Owner, 2Perfect Penthouse Apartment
In order to bridge the gap in perception that exists between management and guests, feedback cannot be sugar-coated. Perceptions are hard to change, and for a hotelier who has dedicated himself to his hotel, it can be difficult to see when something he thought was working isn’t. In order to provide guests with the opportunity to be brutally honest, it is best to ask them for feedback once they have left the property.