6 Words You Should Never Hear At Hotel Check-In

On a high level, I think the major hotel chains do an amazing job delivering a consistent experience and executing elite benefits.

There’s an important distinction to understand between airlines and hotels. Airlines operate their own planes, train their employees in a consistent manner, etc. In the case of hotels, the major hotel chains basically just have management contracts with the individual hotels, and don’t actually own them.

St-Regis-Beijing-07

This is why you’ll notice that some hotels are really stingy with elite benefits, while others aren’t. Some hotels only reluctantly “buy” into the loyalty program business model, while others are huge supporters of it, and see the value in treating guests who are loyal to the chain (as opposed to just the individual hotel) well.

The major hotel chains are all working on some form of “loyalty 2.0.” In other words, it’s not just about delivering on the basic elite benefits, but about truly customizing the experience for high value guests. Starwood has revealed in the past that 2% of their customers generate 30% of their profits. So there’s value to going above and beyond for those members.

While I commend hotel chains for taking this step, it never ceases to amaze me how often individual hotels miss the mark on the most basic things. Specifically, twice in the past two weeks I’ve checked into hotels I visit with some regularity (at least once a month), and was asked a six word phrase at check-in:

“Have you stayed with us before?”

Porsha

Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t at all a big deal, in the sense that my feelings aren’t hurt or anything.

But as someone who is heavily invested in loyalty programs, I can’t help but shake my head at what an obvious failure this represents when someone has their loyalty program information on file. It’s my understanding that when a front office associate accesses a reservation, the first screen they see should show the guest’s stay history (assuming they have their loyalty program number on the reservation). So not only should they know if I’ve stayed at the hotel, but they should also know when I last stayed at the hotel.

For me it’s just such a glaring failure. If you ask me, it creates a huge difference in perception when you’re greeted with:

“Have you stayed with us before?”

Instead of:

“Welcome back Mr. Schlappig, it’s nice to have you staying with us again.”

And it’s possibly the easiest thing to get right.

I don’t remember the last time I’ve complained at a hotel (it has probably been years), but after experiencing it twice in two weeks, I was really tempted to speak up. Not because I felt wronged, but because I felt like it was something so obvious which tangibly impacts my perception of the check-in experience, and I felt like I should let them know. But at the same time I couldn’t figure out a non-douchey way to go about it, so I just shut up.

I’d say probably 50% of my perception of a hotel is shaped by the check-in experience. It really sets the tone for everything that’s to come. If the front office associate “gets me,” it usually leads to a great stay. But if they can’t even get the most basic things right…

Anyway, pardon the rant, but this is something I feel passionately about. It’s called the “hospitality” industry for a reason, and personally I don’t feel very welcomed if the person checking me in can’t even bother to see if I’ve stayed there before. And it certainly doesn’t instill any confidence in a hotel’s ability to further customize my experience.

Is it just me?

Comments

  1. That wouldn’t irritate me but I can see your point about hotel loyalty in general. What is the point of loyalty when they don’t recognize it?

    I love to take these opportunities to say “I was just here last night. Don’t you remember? *long pause* I’m only kidding.”

  2. Totally agree – check-in experience matters a lot! last time I checked in to one of the Hiltons and inquired about late check-out possibility. The answer was a pale ‘no chance, it’s high season’. Well, it set the tone for sure

  3. OMG!! yass at the RHOA gif….hahhahaha!!! I love me some Porsha “bye ashy” Stewart….hahhaha

    Marriott hotels are very guilty…..SPG does a good job of recognizing me as an SPG 100+. when I get the “have you stayed with us before” mess, I just say “ofcourse boo, I remember u from my last visit Miss thang”. nice & sassy way to serve quick shade.

  4. Nice post. Lil but of education for me about hotel chains. No wonder my stay at the Le Meridien Angkor was amazing in comparison to a similar SPG hotel at another location, which should’ve been amazing too, but was the opposite.

    As far as not telling them…. I think you should. Talk to the manager next time – you have every right to voice your opinion plus its not like you’re complaining – you’d be helping them out – if they listened, trained and implemented that is.

  5. You could respond, in the least bitchy tone you can muster, “I was just here last month, I’m surprised that doesn’t show up on your computer” or something like that. Might prompt the agent to be more thoughtful — or they might tell you that in fact it doesn’t show up on their computer, in which case they’re justified in asking.

  6. If the checkin person misses the mark here it is a good indication how the rest of your stay will turn out. I like proactive personnel in the customer service field. Makes me want to come back.

  7. Agree it would be nice if they recognised you’ve stayed before, but don’t agree a receptionist should automatically see you entire previous stay history. There is such a thing as privacy and data protection. Someone whose job role requires that data should see it, but not every single receptionist. Just my view.

  8. If it’s not a big deal and your feelings aren’t hurt, why the blog post then and say you feel passionately about it?

    Confused..

  9. If my memory serves me correctly, I recall seeing an earlier post on the exact same problem. I guess it’s starting to happen again? I think you mentioned earlier that the Park Hyaty Seoul was able to greet you personally. At least someone can get it right!

  10. Wasn’t that problem with your mom at the hotel in Spain something you complained to the hotel about?

    In any case, you’re right that how you’re greeted does make a difference. I have stayed several times at a particular non-chain property in Bangkok and they always welcome me back when I check in. It really does make you feel like a valued guest when they “remember” you.

  11. Spot on. How difficult would this be? We tell them our birthdays, anniversaries, and since they are in the computer age (we hope?) they should be able to identify when, how often, and any special occasions they may be celebrating.

    Until they get their $hit together, I plan to make them pay in one way or another. 🙂

  12. Its even worse when you hear “welcome back to our hotel, sir” and you never stayed at the propery before… 😉

  13. Does it display your stay history at that property, or overall? If the latter, then it may be in the case of someone like you that your last stay at that property is too far down due to the sheer number of entries in history.

  14. No, it’s not just you Ben.This bothers me as well, yet this is the best way to notice loyalty. There was a hotel that I stayed at almost every Sunday evening for over 2 years. Unless I have the same person checking me in, I’ll get asked the ‘Have you stayed with us before?” question.

    And when I check out Monday morning at 5am, it was almost always the same person that worked the Sunday overnight shift. Yet he never once said anything along the lines of “Thanks for staying with us again, see you next Sunday!” even though I have reservations booked for the upcoming weeks and I always depart by saying “See you next Monday!”.

    Little touches make all the difference… I don’t necessarily care about a suite if all I’ll be doing is sleeping in the bed for 5 hours.

  15. Front Desk Agent: Welcome back Mr Smith! Back already?
    Mrs Smith: Back already? But, this is our first time here… LEONARD!!!
    Me: $*!@$&!@

  16. Going kinda along with this post. To me it’s all the little things at check-in and continuing through your stay. It doesn’t have to be, “Have you stayed with us before?” (Personally I don’t mind the question but if you took my information, and pulled up my reservation, you should be able to see) But in general the way things are worded to you and how proactive a person is, really sets things up. I have stayed at some swanky places and they were very nice and the customer service was good, but one of the best places I stayed at (as far as customer experience goes) was a Hyatt Place and booking a standard room. Little cheap place in Texas but every single member of their staff went out of their way to make my stay the best it possibly could be and were all very proactive in everything.

    So while I wouldn’t get upset, or angry with a comment like that, those things really do set up the tone and vibe of the experience of the hotel.

  17. Who the heck cares if they comment whether you’ve been there before or not? #firstworldproblems

    Obviously it did bother you or you wouldn’t have bothered posting about it.

  18. I stayed at the Hyatt at Century City every second week for 6 months. Often if the employee didn’t personally recognize me, they would start a 5 minute spiel about their amenities (restaurant, pool, etc), without even bothering to ask if I had stayed there before. I would have to cut them off mid sales pitch to get my key and check-in.

    Just seemed to be very poor training, and I wondered if their screen even showed whether you had stayed there before.

  19. I am a Hyatt Diamond and at a hotel I stay at 2-4x a month:
    *I have to ask the front desk associate to make sure my key is programmed for a 4:00 pm checkout. I don’t think their system prompts them to do this, and often in the web checkout automation I only get prompted for up to noon;
    *I would say 70% of the time my comp breakfast is billed as “lunch,” and has to be manually taken off the bill. Its never a problem to have it adjusted off, I have to stop at the desk anyway because I’m using discounted Hyatt gift cards, and I know to look for it on my Hyatt web checkout folio which I find helpful.

    But for someone, like a normal person, not like you or I, these things may be more of a problem. A “normal person” may not really know if they should get free breakfast, and they would not really know that they have this 4PM late checkout.

    and non Hyatt
    *I’ve read Gary and others article on how glitchy the Starwood keyless phone app is. I’ve thought of staying more at SPG, but if they can’t get that right then I’ll stick with Hyatt. I was also disappointed at an SPG stay several years ago in PHX where as a corp preferred guest or a Gold they would not give me comp lounge access, so I stopped staying with them for a while. I know lounge access may not have been an official benefit but it made me switch business and semi avoid Starwood. My head has been in a Hyatt bed over 30 nights so far this year partially due to that experience with SPG in PHX. 🙂

    I was also excited about SPG keyless, but I have not rushed to try it because of the bad reviews.

  20. Really? I wasted my time reading this? Come on. Maybe the front desk person is asking BECAUSE they want to know what part of the speech to give you or not. “The pool is open 24 hours, this way to the snack bar”, etc or they are just trying to make a connection with you. “How’s your day? Have you stayed with us before?” Give these people a freakin’ break. In order to get good customer service, you got to be a great customer. Let’s work on focusing our traveling lives to help the starving people around the world…

  21. @Jason,

    I agree on Hyatt Place – I stay at one specific Hyatt Place in Virginia very occasionally, but they always welcome me back asking if I’d still like the points as my amenity (but giving me a drink coupon anyway). Last check-in the agent asked how I liked the Park Hyatt Tokyo (my previous weeks hotel), he said “He’d heard that place was awesome”. It was. 🙂

  22. At the opposite end of the extreme, the first time I ever walked into the Ritz Carlton San Francisco, someone (the doorman?) greeted me with, “Welcome back to the Ritz Carlton!” I actually looked over my shoulder to see if he was talking to someone else.

  23. I could definitely see the benefit of discretion when there are two people checking in. The companion might be a different “friend” or could be a business associate that doesn’t need to know you were there 3 days ago negotiating or interviewing with the competition.

  24. The door man thing is a common thing they use at most hotels… welcome back, nice to see you again etc total bullshit.

    And being bothered/offended and being concerned from an improvement perspective is very different.

  25. How about being welcomed back to a property you’ve stayed at several times, and then being given all the info about the SPG Gold benefits – because you were Gold the last time you were there, but have been Platinum for a year since?

    So close, and yet so far.

  26. I work in the data world, there’s power in the data. And we know they have the data since I can view my stay history. Creating a desk application that will pull and display the data and then training personnel to use it would go a long way. We all remember the stays where we’re recognized and we’ll probably choose to stay there again because of the experience; it’s a shame more CTOs aren’t focused on a data driven strategy, or at least in improving it. Think of the proactive ways hotels can manage even routine maintenance tasks, if I have to replace something every 6 months then why wait for it to fail before doing the work or at least having a replacement on hand. Or noticing that I order room service on certain days of the week during my stay, why not offer me a coupon enticing me to order on a different night too? Or an alert for the desk clerk to prompt me to take a points bonus because they see I frequently redeem points and am x points shy of my next redemption opportunity. So many ways to use data to create a personalized experience. Amazon does this pretty well; based on your history you might like these items…it certainly points me to things I might actually buy but that I’m not on the site to specifically purchase.

  27. I don’t think it’s just you, Lucky. Last night (I think it was before midnight), I checked in to the 4pts at YYZ. It really made me feel special when the night manager said, “I see it’s the first time you’ve stayed with us. It’s always a pleasure to welcome a gold member to our hotel.” I mean, I’m /only/ spg gold and it wasn’t exactly a luxury property. That quick glance at my record made it a much more pleasant experience than the mechanical check-ins I’ve experienced elsewhere.

  28. I parrott all the comments, but expand it to airline loyalty programs also. 100% of my business travel is paid “full freight”, so with spending so much of my own money, appreciate it when recognized. Once in a blue moon an FA on AA will say, “Hello” and, “Thank you MR. XYZ for your loyalty to AA.” Makes for a nice flight. Same is true when a front desk clerk thanks me for my loyalty to their hotel chain. Here is the funny thing. Centurion Lounge visits are free, yet about 50% of the time when in MIA, DFW, or LAS the person at the front desk says, “Welcome back Mr. XYZ; we are pleased to have you visit again. Do you remember the password for the wifi?” Nice touch.

  29. Compare your experience to my recent one at the Orlando Airport Hyatt Place. When I checked in (at 2am after a horrific travel day), I was given a hand-written note from the manager congratulating me on my 8th stay with them. Sometimes it’s the little things at the “little” hotels that make the biggest difference!

  30. My son has the same complaint….He is a company tour manager of one of the biggest shows in North America…He has 151 performers and backstage people that book hotel rooms. This is a 2 year tour in the US,, a year in Asia, another year in Europe….He never sleeps in the same bed more than a week…..and won’t be home for 2 years…..Lots of $$$$$$ in major chains….next to convention centers and arenas…..and yet, they don;t seem particular grateful….The world has changed….

  31. There is great leverage for hotels in improving what I call the 1% touches – things that cost hotels nothing or very little, constituting only small moments, but have a huge disproportionate effect on customer satisfaction levels. If you feel a hotel (or any other business) cares about you, it dramatically enhances customer spend and loyalty.

    However, it is important that these moments feel genuine and unscripted (not delivered like the employee is woodenly reading off an autocue), otherwise it just has the opposite effect.

    For example, when cabin crew constantly have to refer to the pax list in their hand, when talking with you, it just comes across plastic and fake to repeatedly refer to you by name. In such cases, it’s best to simply stick with generic references (Sir/Ma’am) and concentrate on a warm style and tone instead.

    But getting those 1% moments right is one of the most effective things any business can do.

  32. I’ve been staying at the Residence Inn in Melbourne,FL almost every other week since May and get a nice “Welcome Back” at check-in.

  33. Marriott makes a point of requiring the acknowledgment of your status level upon check in (they do it 50% of the time, which is a high compliancy rate for a franchise employed clerk), but not of recognizing your frequency at a hotel. A Marriott in Atlanta in which I stayed 300+ nights has a “top 10 list”, it shows on the check in screen, so when a clerk started directing me to the elevator or mentioning the pool I could simply direct them to the right side of the screen and ask which position I was in on the top 10 that night. The normally silenced the speech but never corrected the behavior.

  34. Definitely not you! This irks me to no end and is probably the one time I sound like the “but I’m a Diamond member” guy. Happens to me constantly at the Westin Denver, and I’ll have to remind them that it’s my most popular SPG hotel. I’m not the only one, they asked the same to a friend of mine who basically said, “No, I stay here once a month for a week” to which the reply was, “Oh yes, I see that here.”

    #firstworldproblems but it still irks me! 🙂

  35. I recall reading that some hotel chain (Starwood?) was working on implementing this, i.e. making information more visible to the front-desk clerk. I also agree that it’s weird to have someone ask you whether it’s your first stay if you’ve been at the hotel before.

    Would be interesting if you could parlay this into an interview/conversation with a hotel manager to see what’s going on and what kind of data they see, etc.

  36. When a reservation shows that the guest is a member of the loyalty program, the hotel should check to see whether the guest has stayed at that property before. If records show that the guest has stayed at the property, then the question should not be asked. But if there are no records showing that the guest has stayed at the property, or if the reservation does not show that the guest is a loyalty program member, then the question should be asked because it might be the guest’s first stay at the property.

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