In a world where communication is instant and customer reviews drive bookings, hotels must compete on service quality. Rooms, facilities and locations all count, of course, but service quality is often the decisive factor which will determine whether your guests enjoy the experience, give positive feedback, and promote your hotel to others. Fortunately, service quality is also something you can improve without breaking the bank – and when you do, you’ll start to see immediate results through better ratings, and longer term results through increased bookings.

Service quality starts from the top. It is about a culture, rather than a set of rules, and the General Manager must set the tone. At one hotel I recently visited, visitors can be identified at the gate before reaching the lobby. This allowed the GM to be there on the steps waiting to greet me on arrival, rather than having reception staff ask me to sit and wait. He explained that this was just one small part of an overall culture of putting the guest first and providing VIP treatment whenever possible.

To develop this type of culture throughout a large hotel does take time. This particular GM estimated that around 18 months would be necessary to make significant changes and then have everything running smoothly with all staff aware of their roles and fully committed. A training phase is necessary, but in this case the hotel used a “buddy system” where each new staff member would be paired with a more experienced colleague who would not only show the newcomer the ropes, but would also begin to instill the concepts of the desired service culture within a practical environment. This system also allows managers to guide their new staff via the buddy, easing any direct pressure on nervous new workers.

There are two further concepts here: the first is that if you look after your staff, they in turn will look after your guests; the second is that it is important for service staff to be aware of their own importance insofar as their role is a vital part of the bigger picture. Motivated staff who believe in their organization will deliver better service than disillusioned employees who consider their position to be temporary, insignificant, or unappreciated.

One way to both motivate staff and improve service quality at the same time is to empower employees to use their initiative to solve problems and look after guests as they see fit. This means that issues can be resolved quickly on the spot, instead of requiring consultation with senior managers before staff can take decisions.

You can also use your guests as a source of inspiration in raising service standards. Asking guests for suggestions and feedback is another measure which can serve two purposes. First of all, it can make the guests feel that their ideas are appreciated and their concerns are heard, which will in itself create a more positive impression of the hotel. Secondly, some of the suggestions may actually offer valuable insights into the guest experience, leading to changes which might not otherwise have been imagined necessary by managers.

Of course, good ideas can also come from frontline staff as well as guests. After all, if anyone should know what is really happening in terms of service standards it would be the people whose job it is to actually serve customers. For this reason, two-way communication across all staff levels is essential if managers are to be kept fully informed and thus better able to take good decisions. When staff opinions are valued, it gives workers a greater sense of ownership and can further boost their motivation and thus the level of service they provide.

The final step to take in improving service is to move towards greater personalization and automation. It is important that staff know who their guests are, can greet them by name, and use their knowledge of guest habits and preferences to make their stays more enjoyable. Achieving this may rely on the use of increased quantities of data, which should be made available to the relevant staff members. In terms of automation, the use of property management systems can allow many of the repetitive and time-consuming processes in hotel administration to be handled automatically, thus leaving staff free to focus on guests. Giving staff more time in this way can be a very effective way of making the service on offer much better, especially when staff have time to get to know guests as people rather than simply as items to be processed through a system.