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What is the difference between guest service and guest experience?

05 April 2022
Many hoteliers think that guest experience is the same as guest service. Maybe this misunderstanding explains why the hotel industry is far behind many other industries in digitalization, productivity improvements, and product development.
The commercial manager is responsible for attracting guests and customers and should therefore be involved in developing and improving the guest experience. Hotels with a well-defined and executed guest experience will be winners in the market. Let's first clear the misconceptions around guest service and guest experience.

Guest/customer service

The definition of guest service is "The assistance and advice provided by a hotel to those people who make reservations, stay and buy products and services at the hotel." Guest service is how a hotel responds when things go wrong, or a guest expresses a need. Guest service is reactive. If the guest does not ask for service or help, the hotel will not provide service. The guest makes a reservation, checks in, stays, maybe eats a meal, pays, and checks out. The stay is a highly standardized process and was probably in place before Conrad Hilton opened his first hotel in 1919. The hotel stay process uses the same principles as the assembly line used in factories in the early 1900s, and it is the same in all categories of hotels. Hotels follow the process like factory workers, and any deviation from the process, such as early check-in or late check-out, causes disrupts the flow and makes the guest look like a fool. The only time a hotel might provide service is when something goes wrong or if the guest requests something outside the standard concept or needs some help. This classic hotel stay process has served the hotel industry well for over one hundred years, so why change a winning idea?
The rest of the world has started to move away from rigid standardized processes to something that is more emotionally satisfying and more personalized.

Guest/customer experience

The definition of the guest experience is "How guests perceive their interactions with the hotel." Guest experience is all about the emotions a guest feels when interacting with the hotel and all the different departments, products, and services. When the guest experience goes beyond what the hotel stay is supposed to deliver, the guest feels like they have a great experience and becomes emotionally attached to the hotel brand.
A well-designed guest experience anticipates what might go wrong and structures the interactions with the guest to avoid any problems happening during the experience. Customer experience is proactive. The environment, the feeling, and the concept the hotel create for the guest to trigger a series of desired emotions. An emotional guest experience is not something new, but hotels still have difficulties creating remarkable guest experiences. There are a few explanations why hotels struggle to get the guest experience right.

Guest focus

Very few hotels focus on the guest other than a reservation number, a name, an email address, or other data about the guest. Hotels do not care about who is staying in the hotel room. The guest is only a data record, not a human being. Hotels need to know why the guest booked the hotel, the reason for the visit, what the guest needs during the stay, or find other essential knowledge to create a genuine guest experience and authentic hospitality. Hotels process guests, while Airbnb delivers something closer to a real hospitality experience.

Emotional focus

Hotels focus on physical products and services. All hotels think that more amenities, more pillows, more on the breakfast buffet, more greetings, and more of everything will somehow make the guests happy. The guests will at least find something that they like. The world moved on from brands only being materialistic to emotional brands. The most successful brands create a dynamic brand experience. They leave nothing to coincidence and load their brands with emotions that perfectly fit the brand. Hotels should define how guests feel when they meet the hotel on the website, enter the lobby, meet the employees, and are alone in the hotel room. The potential to create an extraordinary experience is huge.

Change management

Nokia, Kodak, and Blockbuster were too fixed in their products and business models. They were stuck and could not change quickly enough. That might be an unfair comparison since hotels will always be in demand as we have known them for hundreds of years. Consumers will always demand our products is what Nokia said about phones, Kodak about photos, and Blockbuster about the video. They all missed that new products and services solved the customer needs in a better and more convenient way. Zoom, Teams, and Google Meet help people meet fast, efficiently, and at a low cost instead of traveling and staying at a hotel. The hotel industry reasons exactly like Nokia when they said that people want buttons on their phones. Hoteliers say people want to meet physically. Hotels need to change if they're going to be in business in the future. Here is an analogy. Compare the first version of the iPhone that started to disrupt Nokia with the present version of the iPhone. What a fantastic innovation and development over time. Now, think about the current version of Zoom, Teams, and Google Meet, and imagine what these services will look like in ten years. If these companies develop a positive emotional virtual meeting experience while hotels continue to provide guests with a standardized non-emotional process, who do you think will become winners.

Strategic thinking

The commercial leader must keep an eye on the future to understand how consumer needs and behavior will change. Developing the guest experience should always be part of the hotel's strategy in finding a solid market position. A well-defined and executed emotional guest experience is impossible to copy, unlike the present transactional processing of hotel guests.