Key learning outcomes:


This case study outlines the customer’s experience of staying in two different boutique hotels in a large city. Travelling for business every two weeks over a number of months presented an opportunity to compare customer service levels at two directly competing hotels. Both hotels were located in one of the city’s more upmarket suburbs and the rooms booked were of a similar standard and price point. This case study is based purely on the customer service experience.

Hotel A

The first stay offered a high level of service from staff during check-in, at the restaurant and on check-out.

On the second visit, the receptionist noted during check-in that it was a return visit, and on arrival to the room there was a handwritten welcome note on the bed along with a small gift.

On the third visit, expectations were high. However, the receptionist did not mention that it was a return visit and alas there was no note or gift on the bed.

While the level of service from the staff had not generally dropped, from a customer’s point of view there was a feeling of being forgotten or let down.

Hotel B

The first stay offered a high level of service during check-in, at the restaurant and on check-out. There was the additional touch of asking if help was needed with getting bags up to the room. In the room there was a personalised welcome letter along with a discount card for shopping in the local area.

On the second visit, the return stay was acknowledged by check-in staff and the welcome letter was amended to say thank you for returning.

By the third visit staff beyond the check-in desk started to say thank you for returning. The welcome letter reflected that they understood there were many accommodation choices and they appreciated the loyalty.

The level of personalised service was maintained during subsequent visits making this the hotel of choice for future visits. A personalised letter always accompanied the shopping card, with the introduction changed slightly to reflect the ongoing loyalty. Staff went out of their way to show recognition as a repeat customer.

The lessons

Start as you mean to carry on. 

With hotel A, it was not that the overall level of service had dropped, but that the customer’s expectations had risen. The thought process after the second visit was “Wow, this is a real surprise and a delightful moment”. A handwritten note and gift showed genuine appreciation for the second visit. However, it was expected there would be recognition on subsequent visits.

It is the thought that counts.

You do not have to spend money to give recognition to your customers. Simply saying thank you for a return visit can be enough. Quite often when people recall outstanding customer service experiences, it is rarely about a gift or discount, but more about how they were treated and how they felt.

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