Putting the SERVICE in Serviced Apartments

Serviced apartments have been growing in popularity with travelers for a long time now, especially in recent years as people who were traveling more and staying longer started to want more space and self-service. The convenience of a self-contained unit combined with aspects of hotel service is a desirable alternative for guests who require more independence but still need the support of helpful staff.

With the arrival of services like Airbnb, however, the bar has risen significantly. If serviced apartments in particular hope to compete with the explosion of more cost-effective options in their neighbourhoods, they must enhance the service factor and cultivate glowing reviews online. In the long term, service and only service will prove to be the differentiator between "formal" serviced apartments and other independent offerings. Let’s discuss four important considerations to that end.

1. Truth in Advertising

Some of the most frequent complaints against serviced apartments on TripAdvisor and other OTAs involve discrepancy between online and real-life experiences. Since bookings come through so many channels, it can be difficult to manage expectations during the booking process.

Difficult, but necessary. 

When a guest arrives at a serviced apartment with unrealistic expectations—whatever the reason may be—the potential for negative publicity is that much higher. Staff are forced to play defence and scramble for a compromise—but unless significant concessions are made, guests will begin their stay on a sour note. If "close to major attractions" is in fact a 20 minute walk, clearly the scene is set for unhappiness. 

Good service begins with delivering accurate expectations across all booking channels so that guests know exactly what they’re getting. This means good photography, clearly worded site descriptions and email confirmations, and careful response to (and documentation of) any unique aspects of the booking, such as additional costs for an extra guest, late check-out times or credit card fees. 

2. Greeting and Personality

A serviced apartment exists in the grey area between hotel and long term residential, but that word—serviced—has definite connotations in the mind of a guest. It’s understandable that guests might sometimes be confused about what services they are going to receive—but these expectations can easily be clarified by browsing 1 or 2 star reviews on popular OTAs.

Guests at serviced apartments frequently complain about a lack of warmth and personality (or even eye contact) upon checking in. Is this acceptable? It shouldn’t be. Staff should be trained to err on the side of ‘serviced’ rather than ‘apartment’ when it comes to guest interactions. Serviced apartments are just like hotels in that every flat interaction carries the risk of negative publicity. These interactions are not called Moments of Truth for nothing. 

3. Impeccable Housekeeping

Many travelers are frequent users of serviced apartments, even with the plenitude of hospitality options available today. But if there’s one thing that could make them change their minds and join the migration to other hospitality options, it’s sub-standard housekeeping.

To put it simply, any trace of a flippant or casual mindset amongst housekeeping staff should be done away with in serviced apartments, just as it should be in luxury hotels. In some cases, it might be necessary to invest in further training or even take the appropriate disciplinary measures. But one thing’s for certain: Frequent reports of scum in the shower or hairs on the bed are no help when it comes to developing an impeccable brand!

4. A Direct Approach to Inclusions and Amenities

There’s an old marketing trick that goes like this: Inflate the price of a product, draw a bold red line through it, and write a new price beneath. People think they’re getting a great deal, when in truth they’re getting the normal rate. 

Serviced apartment managers should understand that from a guest’s perspective, all services and amenities included in the rate are just that—included in the rate. Many guests complain about sub-par breakfasts and patchy wifi service, only to be told (in public forums, no less) that these amenities are not calculated in the nightly rate, and are therefore somehow exempt from high standards of quality. This is not a productive game to play. If guests are consistently complaining about those ‘free’ gifts, it’s time to address quality issues and do away with abstract distinctions. It’s better to remove certain amenities rather than label them ‘free" or "complimentary" and allow them to generate complaints.

Staying Ahead of the Service Curve

Not much has been formally written about what makes an excellent serviced apartment, but the bevy of guest reviews make the quality markers plain to see. Managers who make themselves familiar with the flow of complaints and compliments—not only for their own property, but for competitors also—have a distinct advantage in staying ahead of the service curve. Even taking the time to acknowledge each piece of feedback individually (and not use a rote response) will show today’s traveler exactly why serviced apartments are desirable in a world of increasing options.

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