Yotel was a success in Europe before it arrived in New York City last year.In London and Amsterdam, its hotels are based in airports, and the rooms are small, like Japanese capsule hotels. Yotel was designed for travellers who just need a few hours of sleep between trips, and customers pay by the hour.
In New York City, the hotel is located in Times Square, so it’s more of a destination. And there’s even a robot in the hotel lobby to help customers with their luggage. It might sound cumbersome, but it’s actually really efficient, says Nigel Buchanan, Yotel’s operations director.
We briefly caught up with Buchanen to talk about the hotel’s unique concept and how it provides a different kind of customer service.
What exactly do you do as operations director of Yotel?
I run the day-to-day operations of the company, focusing on the team and leaders – and make sure we’re delivering on our mission to guests, that the hotels operate efficiently, and that we’re delivering welcoming, friendly service. There are two arms to our business: airport space in Europe, and the property we have in New York.
How do you attract first-time customers?
People come back to hotels for very few reasons. We spend a lot of our time to attract, train and develop really talented people to deliver on that service.
Businesses approach recruitment in different ways. We use a behavioural-based way to attract talent. We’re much less interested in previous experience, much more interested in character.
When we have a prospective new crew member, they’re on a trial-shift basis. At the end of the day, our team decides if crew member deserves to come back. We spend a lot of time asking a very simple question: do they get it? We just hired a new development director for business in North America. As part of his recruitment process, our director of marketing, myself and the CEO spent time with that candidate. We get to know how they act, how they approach life. We collectively sign off on whether they get it.
We deliver friendliness with efficiency. People want to rest and relax before a long flight. People get impatient and want to get to the hotel and enjoy it.
But how do you get these customers before they even walk in the door?
A number of channels – our website is the most important. We spend quite a lot of time doing press and PR pieces.
In New York City, we’ve got ground control: a group of team members who welcome you, take you in at a touch-screen kiosk. Our luggage robot is the first of its kind anywhere in the world. It’s a unique way of storing luggage. We like to say that we’re the iPod of the hotel industry.
Self check-in can sometimes prove to be the opposite — just a lot more work, and more impersonal.
A lot of technology can be clunky and impersonal. We don’t think of tech like that. We use it to drive efficiencies. We’d never dream of just putting a machine into hotel and then divorcing ourselves from it. Instead of those crew members being attached to a front desk – like at other hotels, where they ask you for your name, your credit card information; that’s just not efficient, it’s just administration — we free up our team to walk around and say, “Can I help you check in?”
Lots of our customers are repeat customers – they know how the system works. That sense of familiarity is really wonderful. I just got an email from our director of housekeeping that someone is in New York for their 65th stay since the Yotel opened in June. This guy likes checking in by himself and wants someone to smile and help with his luggage. Why wait in a line at the bank when you can go to the ATM?
Do you check online review sites? Do you implement any changes based on criticism or suggestions from customers?
We use a system called Revinate, which combines all of the online reviews. That’s a very critical part of our operation. We also use our own in-house customer satisfaction survey which we send out to every single guest. We ask very basic questions: were people friendly and helpful, etc. We’re not just reviewing all these things, but responding to — and acting upon — feedback.
How do you respond to unhappy customers?
We make it part of a manager’s responsibility to respond to all feedback. It’s so critical. When you take the time to say, “Sorry, please forgive us,” people love us. Another part that’s equally important: we trust our managers to act.
It’s important that they act when they have the opportunity in the moment. Our managers respond to guests with a 25% discount and take feedback constructively. It’s a really important part of our culture. When someone says you have to send an email to the customer service department, that’s just the worst thing. We’ll trust them to make the judgment call about whether to offer a 100% complimentary service.
How do you use social media to promote your brand and connect with customers?
We use Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr. In today’s world, if you don’t, there’s something awry. It’s a very integrated part of business now. We have two members from our marketing department that tweet. The immediacy, the response time with Twitter – there’s an expectation that you tweet back pretty darn quick. And we do.
Who’s your customer? Who are you trying to reach?
Whenever I give a talk, people say, “Who’s your customer?” We always say, raise your hand if you’ve ever been stuck at an international airport for more than 4 hours. What we’ve done in the airport is make it so they can stay for a minimum of 4 hours and then extend it by hour. This allows customers to book the time they need. Most hotels require you check in by 3 p.m. and out at 11 a.m. Business travellers are usually checking in much later, and leaving much earlier. So we’ve got a model that works.
We have very high occupancies where cabins are booked at a 200 – 300% rate per day.
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