How Hotel Audits Can Help Increase Guest Loyalty
Coyle Hospitality Group—a market leader providing mystery shopping, quality assurance, and market research services exclusively to hospitality companies worldwide—explains how hotel audits can increase guest loyalty when they focus on guest experience.
From a business perspective, one of the most unique aspects of a hotel stay is that the product being sold is completely hinged upon the experience. That is, if the guest encounters a service failure in the hotel restaurant or a less than friendly guest services staff member at the front desk, he might forget that the rest of the stay flowed seamlessly. With a product so complex and so dependent upon staff member actions, the only way to obtain a high level of consumer satisfaction is by periodically measuring the aspects of the hotel product that affect the guest’s perception. Periodic hotel audits provide this analysis and offer a professional, outside perspective on the quality of an operation.
The Importance of Hotel Audits
In the 2010 Handbook of Applied Hospitality Strategy, Cornell University’s Cathy Enz describes hotel audits as a means of improvement, where third-party auditors review a property to ensure the hotel is focusing on the issues that guests truly care about. These auditors explore how a hotel’s improvement process has added value since a prior review, and they make relevant and meaningful suggestions based on their experience with other hospitality companies.
The hotel audit is the perfect tool for determining whether or not your service is not only meeting but exceeding expectations. This is important for several reasons. First, guests who experience strong emotions with regards to their hotel stay are willing to pay more than customers who feel ‘nothing special’ (Barsky and Nash 2002). Second, and this will be discussed in more detail below, guest satisfaction is directly correlated with guest loyalty and–consequently–your bottom line. For example, audits are helpful when identifying problem areas in terms of service recoveries, and guests’ negative affective responses to service failures significantly influence guests’ overall satisfaction with hotels. (Smith and Bolton 2002).
The Connection Between Hotel Audits, Guest Satisfaction, and Loyalty
Guest satisfaction is widely known to be the most critical piece of the loyalty pie, and hotel audits offer a way to analyze and uphold that satisfaction. But what exactly is guest satisfaction? Most industry professionals assume that it is made up of value and service quality, that service quality leads to brand trust and brand attitude, and that guest satisfaction leads to behavioral guest loyalty. To test this belief, the Journal of Hospitality Marketing & Management conducted a 2010 study on the determinants of loyalty in hotels, and they made several discoveries:
- The dominant direct determinant of loyalty is customer satisfaction
- Value is not a statistically significant determinant of loyalty
- Brand attitudes contribute to the explanation of loyalty
- When indirect effects are considered, the fundamental determinant of loyalty is service quality
These findings shift our focus to the less-often discussed but incredibly important indirect piece associated with guest loyalty: service quality. In a study published in the 4th edition of Cornell’s 2011 Hospitality Quarterly journal, industry experts Esther Gracia, Arnold B. Bakker, and Rosa M. Grau studied service quality and the customers’ positive affective response–i.e., the perceptions and emotional responses guests have to service encounters. Their study confirmed several hypotheses:
- Guest perceptions of service quality are positively related to guest loyalty towards hotels and restaurants.
- Guest perceptions of service quality are positively related to the positive affective response that guests feel as a consequence of the service they receive at hotels and restaurants.
- Guests’ positive affective response is positively related to guest loyalty toward hotels and restaurants.
- Guests’ positive affective response mediates the relationship between guest perception of service quality and guest loyalty.
The essential finding of this study is that a positive opinion of a hotel or restaurant’s service induces positive affective responses which increase loyalty intentions. Further, the two main predictors of customer loyalty were identified as the level of service quality provided and the guest’s intentions to be loyal. Thus, customer cognitions are a primary factor in creating loyal hotel and restaurant guests (Gracia, Bakker, and Grau, 2011). This study also reiterates the importance of the role played by front-line, customer-oriented restaurant and hotel staff members. The staff members who interact with guests elicit the emotions of those guests, and those emotions influence guests’ evaluations of hotel and restaurant service quality. This includes tangible items such as the reliability, assurance, responsiveness, and empathy of the service provided, and all of these pieces can be measured and fortified by periodic hotel audits.
Coyle’s mystery shopping and quality assurance audits highlight the elements that allow hotels to exceed expectations in regards to their services. If you would like to learn more about Coyle’s services, please visit our website, contact us online, or call us at 212-629-2083 ext. 106.