Revenue lost – and did you actually notice?

By Tim Sander

13 April 2015

A few weeks ago my colleague Natalie blogged about why there is still very much a place for hotel mystery shoppers in the age of online reviews and user generated content. The blog looked at mystery shopping for the purpose of adhering to brand standards and retaining a level of subjectivity that the genuine guest often lacks.  However, there are several other benefits a mystery shopping programme can bring.

Every year BDRC conducts hundreds of mystery hotel visits across the globe covering every continent. (Well, technically we have yet to get into Antarctica but the last time I checked there were no hotels there.) The general notion is that an inspector follows the typical guest journey from reservation to check-out, assessing most areas including the bar, restaurant, room service and leisure facilities. Whilst ‘standard’ criteria are useful for benchmarking across competitor groups, we have created programmes that focus primarily on driving sales and loyalty, based on our extensive work in customer experience. It is again and again surprising the extent to which opportunities are missed and in fact sometimes business is simply lost. Very often hoteliers are not even aware of this (or they may be aware but are at a loss for what to do).

Here are a few examples from the mystery hotel visits we carried out in recent months:

  • Telephone reservations (yes, travellers still make them) – No review site will be able to tell you as a hotelier how much business you lose here. One would think making a booking via the phone is quite simple and straightforward, but far from it. Of the reservations we made via this channel as part of a mystery guest programme last year, a staggering 30% could not be completed with the first call. Inspectors were either cut off, or the person they spoke to could not execute the booking and no one who could was around.  Sometimes the phone was not answered (e.g. rang out and went to voicemail) or there were system problems, rates could not be matched to online, or similar. Would a genuine guest call the hotel back? Unlikely. You do the maths.
  • Upselling, cross-selling, whatever you want to call it (more-selling?) – Another key area. Do you remember when McDonald’s staff started to ask every customer whether they wanted fries with their order? It was ground-breaking at the time and surprisingly simple. It might not be quite that easy any more but the stats remain unchanged – up to 50% of customers are receptive to being offered something extra. I am usually a total sucker for upselling. But a direct question like ‘Would you like dessert?’ no longer does the trick for me. On those occasions I decline most of the time, though if the approach is made in a funny and natural way, I usually go for it. Nevertheless, even a simple question, if asked in a genuine manner, will drive revenue.
  • Loyalty programmes – It is no secret that loyalty programme members spend more on average during their hotel stays than those who have not signed up. A couple of years ago in our global Hotel Guest Survey we asked non-members why they had not joined a member scheme. A little over a fifth said they have never been asked. That is quite a proportion and something we see in our mystery guest visits every day. Some hotel staff just do not ask the question! How much revenue is lost as a result is anyone’s guess.

Mystery guest visits can be employed for a number of other issues (watch this space) but to use them as a force for good in quality control, training and sales is a key application. If a considerable amount is spent on training your staff to win extra revenue, it seems only sensible to see if staff make use of the training. If not, more training will be needed, both in order to improve processes and to get the extra sale. Any hotelier needs to understand what is going on in their property and since they cannot be everywhere all the time, mystery shopping is one way to help them. The outcome far outbalances the investment.

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