I was staying at a hotel recently with my family, and the experience left an impression on me. It was not a fancy hotel – it was three stars and a more of an extended stay brand (full kitchen, two rooms, etc.), which I prefer when we are traveling with the kids. The hotel was in a non-descript office park outside the city of Atlanta. Out of 37 hotels in the town, it was ranked number one on TripAdvisor, a favorite travel review site of mine and the largest of its kind.
The rooms were nice, but not spectacular. The hotel had been refurbished in 2013, so the rooms were recently updated and modern. It was clean, but not exceptionally so. The workout room was good and everything worked, which is always a plus. It had three pieces of aerobic equipment, but no weights.
I was trying to figure why this hotel was getting such good ratings.
It was through the check-in process and breakfast that I think I discovered the reason … it was the people.
The check-in process was excellent. Friendly, helpful and when I had questions later, there was no feeling that I was bothering the staff. In hospitality, this sounds like it should be expected, but sadly, it’s often not the case, as I’m sure many readers can relate to.
The next formative experience was at breakfast. The breakfast was free and part of the rate. It was solid – both hot and cold items, but nothing extraordinary. What was unusual was that the General Manager (GM) was helping and asking almost everyone what they were up to over the weekend – it was a Saturday morning. It wasn’t forced – he seemed genuine and authentic. He helped guests with directions, and he actively listened to their plans. I had read about this a bit in the TripAdvisor reviews – the GM’s welcoming behavior.
Hotel rooms are a bit of a commodity, especially those that are mid- to upper-scale and in non-descript office parks all over the country. Although all of the major brands have loyalty programs, you can move between the brands without much friction.
There is a lot of writing today about trust and authenticity in sales. The GM and front-office staff were not overtly selling to me, but I’d come back to this property and I’m very picky about the hotels I stay in. The overall experience was positive, and it’s usually the “taste of service” that lingers – not whether the common areas were spotless or the A/C worked perfectly. The people were extraordinary, and that’s what mattered.
The lesson or takeaway here is pretty clear – it’s how you sell and the experience you engender in your customers that often matter more than the product, assuming the product is ‘close enough’ to other offerings in the market. The competitive advantage period of product differentiation is less and less today.