Lessons on Guest Loyalty from a Beloved Sitcom
The American sitcom “Cheers” is ranked as one of the most popular television shows in history. Over 11 seasons and 275 episodes from 1982 – 1993, millions tuned in each week to see the latest happenings at local Boston drinking establishment “Cheers” (although we Bostonians know the show actually showed the exterior of the Bull & Finch pub). And while the show was mainly centered around various romances, social issues, and the personal dilemmas of the cast, it was the friendship, camaraderie, and good-natured joviality of the staff and guests that created a welcoming atmosphere that kept audiences returning each week.
“Cheers” was good for a few laughs and the occasional contemplation of a serious issue during its run and later through syndication, but there were also subconscious lessons imparted on a weekly basis that hoteliers could take to heart. In breaking down the different elements that made the show successful and memorable, there are several customer engagement dynamics to which hoteliers can pay close attention and apply in their own properties.
One of the more memorable and recurring elements of “Cheers” was the loud greeting that met barfly Norm as he walked into the bar after leaving work each episode. “Norm!” everyone would yell – both staff and patrons alike. While it was supporting a series-long joke that the pub was Norm’s “home away from home” and he potentially spent more time there than anywhere else, that acknowledgement and recognition must have felt great nonetheless. Likewise, the staff of Cheers recognized the rest of their clientele as well through greetings such as “Good afternoon, Dr. Crane”, “Hey Cliff”, and so on. They also were familiar with their drinking preferences and would have their preferred libation awaiting them at their customary bar stool.
Guests too enjoy that feeling of recognition and acknowledgement. Unfortunately, that is seldom the case. How many times have you checked into a property you’ve frequented several times to be greeted with, “Have you stayed with us before?” Shouldn’t the hotelier already know that? You can’t spend 5 seconds shopping for dog food online without being targeted with display ads for every known dog food in existence. Yet a hotel, where you’ve dropped substantial money in the past on rooms, meals, and other items has no record of this? Talk about feeling unrecognized and underappreciated, sheesh!
Flip that script to recognize and acknowledge the guest and you start their experience off on a much more positive tone. “Welcome back Mr. Bedard, so happy you can stay with us again. I see you’ve also visited our property in Vail. How was the skiing this season?” What a different and powerful greeting that would be — one that says you are recognized, you are valued, and you’re always welcome at our brand. Additionally, that small amount of chit chat is sometimes all it takes to solidify a personal connection with the guest and establish a lasting relationship.
The staff of “Cheers” were masters of the time-tested customer service strategy known as “the freebie.” Have a couple celebrating their anniversary or engagement? “Congratulations folks! Two glasses of champagne for the happy couple, compliments of the house.” “Happy Birthday Cliff, I’m buying your first one.” etc. As a former bartender, I can personally attest to the power of the freebie. Some bars and restaurants even grant their servers or bartenders a certain degree of autonomy in applying this tactic. The benefit of the freebie is twofold. First, you’ve just amplified the value of the customer’s stop at your establishment in a meaningful way, which will pay dividends in long-term customer satisfaction. Second, most people have a desire to reciprocate such gestures and they may leave a handsome gratuity, buy a round for fellow patrons, or “pay it forward” in some other manner.
In the hospitality industry, rewards can be just as impactful and just as simple to apply as the bar freebie. And they need not be financially meaningful either — small tokens, gestures, and “surprise and delight” moments need not be expensive to be appreciated. Complimentary late check out for a guest arriving late at night for a one night stay. A room upgrade (occupancy permitting of course) for a couple out celebrating their anniversary or for a frequently returning guest. All of these tactics and more say “thank you” to the guest, enhance the value of their stay, and support customer satisfaction and long-term guest loyalty. While your property(s) may or may not have a similar methodology for applying the freebie (front desk autonomy to provide a $10 Starbucks gift card as an apology for room or service issues for instance), it’s always worthwhile to revisit your processes and make sure all applicable personnel know when they can and can’t apply them.
The staff at “Cheers” also modified their service delivery for individual patrons and each had their own approach in this area. Sam recognized when patrons were sports fans and would like hearing about some “war stories” from his days as a major league baseball pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. Carla knew which customers liked the “surly waitress” routine and would cater her service accordingly. In essence, the staff of “Cheers” was personalizing their service according to their understanding and knowledge of the customers.
And while the servers and bartenders at “Cheers” had to base their service personalization on instinct and gut reaction much of the time, hoteliers have it much easier. There is a wealth of information and data available that can be applied to personalize the guest experience. From membership status and booking behavior to dining and room amenity preferences, preferred communications channels, and more, the property or brand’s reservations, property management, customer relationship, housekeeping, and other solutions have a wealth of data that can help hoteliers deliver a highly customized experience.
It’s also important to note that personalization is not just an on-property dynamic. Personalization should be a critical component of guest engagement from looking and booking to checkout and beyond. Deliver the right offer, upsell, or enhancement to guests on your website and booking engine based on centralized profile data (“Make it a Romantic Getaway for $50 more”). Offer them additional enhancement and upsell opportunities in pre-stay communications (“Scenic Tours start at just $25”). And keep them engaged with your property or brand after their stay (“Take 25% off your next stay at any of our properties”). Think of personalization as the means by which you can provide the guest with their ideal experience(s) — not just the fact that they want early check-in or extra towels.
Community and Culture
Although a fictional setting, the bar “Cheers” depicted in the show hit upon several key customer relations concepts that are as applicable to the hospitality industry as they are to a downtown watering hole. Key to the success and longevity of both the fictional bar setting (competing against dozens of other Boston bars) and the sitcom itself was the community and culture they depicted. They hit upon fundamental customer interaction principles that are as relevant today as they were when the show first aired in 1982.
Recognize, Reward, and Personalize the guest experience at every potential step and you’ll be well on your way to showing guests that you always know their name, and you’re always glad they came.
Learn how to enhance your guest loyalty objectives with the latest tips, tricks, and strategies in Amadeus’ latest eBook, The Hotelier’s Guide to Loyalty.