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How to optimize check-in and check-out in hotels

Everything you need to know to welcome and greet your guests in the best possible way.

How to optimize check-in and check-out in hotels - Smartpricing

The check-in and check-out processes are critical to the guest experience.

Check-in is the first point of contact a guest has at the establishment, and as they say, first impressions count.

How the guest feels during check-in will set the tone for their entire stay.

Check-out is the customer's last experience of the hotel.

Therefore, it is important to make sure that they have a positive memory, which generates a desire to talk about it with friends and family and a desire to return in the future.

In this article, we will explore the main stages of both processes and discuss opportunities for improvement and innovation.

Definition of check-in and check-out

Check-in is the process by which customers register their presence at a hotel.

It usually occurs upon arrival and requires confirmation of the reservation, room assignment, collection of documents and completion of any necessary paperwork. 

Check-out, on the other hand, is when customers leave the hotel at the end of their stay. 

During check-out, extra charges are checked, final payment is made, and keys or access cards are returned.

The stages of check-in

Welcoming the guest

As already anticipated, first impressions are very important, which is why welcoming is crucial to kick off a great stay for guests.

So try to welcome guests warmly, with courtesy and professionalism.

This first contact can make all the difference in the overall perception of the hotel.

Here are 3 tips for welcoming your guests properly.

  1. Pay attention to the person in front of you: often, caught up in the tasks at hand, people handle check-in as a mere administrative chore.
  2. The guest will perceive inattention to them and a rush to move on to the next task.
  3. Stop for a moment, breathe, smile and invest the attention needed to perform a great check-in.
  4. If you are busy with something else (another guest at the counter, a phone call), don't ignore the customer who has just arrived.
  5. Nod your head or give a look so that they understand you've noticed them and you'll be with them very shortly.
  6. This way they will know that the wait will be short, they will calm down, and their mind will switch to "relaxation" mode.
  7. Do more than the bare minimum: when you greet the guest, try to get out from behind the reception counter (which, besides being a physical barrier, is often a psychological one as well) and walk up to them to shake their hand.
  8. Help with luggage if necessary.

Booking confirmation and room assignment

After welcoming the clients, it is time to check the reservation and verify with them that everything is correct: departure date, room type, requested board basis, and any extra services already purchased.

This avoids misunderstandings and mishaps related to expected services.

Now is a great time to make an upsell. 

"I see that you have booked a standard room. If you want, the junior suite that is [insert attractive and differentiating features of the new room] has become available at the last second: would you like to try it for only €20 more per day?"

Regarding room assignment, we suggest doing it before the guest's arrival, but not at the time of booking.

Why not assign the room when the customer arrives?

Because it is not ideal, especially if your hotel facility is not a palace with 200 identical rooms all perfectly replaceable with each other, but is made up of many different rooms with unique characteristics. 

Assigning the room when the guest arrives runs the risk of giving away a room more suited to the needs of another guest. 

That is why it is better to assign them first, being clear about everyone's needs and thus also maximizing guest satisfaction.

Why not assign the room at the time of booking?

For basically the same reason. 

When a reservation arrives, you do not yet have all other reservations for that period with their demands and needs at hand. 

So it is better to wait until you have them and only then assign the rooms.

So when is it best to make the assignment? 

Ideally, the morning of arrivals itself or the day before. 

That way you have all the reservations for the day and plenty of time to assign them correctly.

Presentation of hotel services and useful information

Another important element of the check-in phase is the presentation of the hotel, its rules and location.

Staff are often limited to displaying a list of schedules and activities, when it could be a great way to start a cross-selling process.

In addition, the risk is to inundate the guest with information that they will not remember and will have to come back for later.

Therefore, we recommend giving the guest the minimum necessary information, such as the room location and how to use the key card.

Later, at a more calm moment, they can go back to the front desk, and they will be given all the information.

This moment will be most important to initiate a personal relationship with your customers, introduce extra services, and possibly cross-sell.

Document collection and payment formalities

At this point, you will need to request guest documents for registration purposes.

Each hotel has its own internal rules on how to handle these documents: register them and return them to guests right away, or keep them at the front desk and return them later, or make photocopies and return the documents. 

If the latter practice is followed in your facility, remember that it is essential to destroy photocopies immediately as soon as registration is done.

Guests may happen to be particularly reticent to hand over documents. 

In this case, do not force them; there is no need to give them a bad start to their vacation. 

Try to calmly explain how you will use the documents and that they will be returned immediately. 

If they still remain doubtful, they have the option of not handing them in, but they must fill out the form with all the registration data.

After collecting the documents, some facilities also collect payments.

For example, by having the balance of the stay advanced or by having a credit card handed over to guarantee payment of additional expenses.

Again, the recommendation is always the same: kindness and tact. 

Payment, especially when it is made before receiving the service, could irritate customers.

Handing over the keys or access cards

At this point, keys or, most often these days, key cards are handed over.

It is important to explain the location of the room and reiterate what type of room it is.

In the event that a guest has been assigned a room of a higher category than the one booked, remember to let them know.

So many times guests book a standard room, get assigned a superior room, and on their next stay complain that the room is worse than the previous one.

Also show how the key card, turning on the lights and air conditioning in the room works.

How to innovate check-in

In recent years, aided by the Covid-19 crisis, the hotel industry has embraced innovation in the check-in process. 

The main innovations include online check-in and self check-in

In the former case, this means allowing guests to check in via the hotel's website or through an app.

The guest handles all the formalities remotely and on arrival only has to receive the key (sometimes not even that because they can open the room door with their smartphone).

With self check-in, on the other hand, the guest finds electronic stations upon arrival at the hotel through which they can check in themselves. 

They just need to call up their reservation, fill in the details, and the system will hand them back their room key (or a virtual key on their smartphone).

The stages of check-out

Reviewing extra charges and finalizing payment

At the end of the guests' stay comes the time for check-out.

The first step in this process, which in many facilities is also carried out the day before departure, is to check the extra expenses incurred during the stay.

Clients should therefore check every consumption of products and services they have made: minibar, room service, restaurant, spa treatments, etc.

Normally, a pro forma account is provided to the guest with the individual items of expenditure so that they can calmly check their consumption.

At this point, 3 things are important.

  1. The clarity and accuracy of the bill: it should not contain vague items such as "bar" but specific items such as "bar - cocktail" or "bar - spritz."
  2. The presence of all receipts of expenses signed by the guest: whether they are digitized on a smartphone or tablet or still on paper.
  3. Lots of patience: some guests scroll through the list quickly and approve the bill, while others spend several minutes sifting through each item. 

Arm yourself with patience and answer their questions professionally and politely.

Once the charges have been checked, the final payment takes place, which should normally proceed smoothly.

In case there should be any hiccups (credit card not working, lack of cash, etc.), do not panic. 

Discuss what to do with the guest and find the best way to resolve the problem with them.

Restitution of keys or access cards.

Following payment, the guest returns the access keys or key card to the front desk.

The hotel is then able to know which rooms have already been permanently vacated and arrange for cleaning services.

This is the only downside of digital access with smartphones: the inability to tell when a guest has effectively left the room to organize the hotel's operations.

Closing the reservation in the hotel system

After the keys are handed over, the front desk staff proceeds to close the file on the PMS, thus archiving the relevant reservation in the system.

This reservation will be taken up only at the end of the shift, or at the end of the day's check-outs, to balance the till.

At this time, all tax documents issued are analyzed for any discrepancies between what the system is reporting and what the POS and cash register are showing.

Farewell greetings and invitation to return

Before the guest departs, there is a moment that is most important but too often ignored by many hoteliers and front office team members: the farewell greeting.

Many often limit themselves to a brief nod toward guests.

But, as is the case with check-in, it is critical to do your best work at this moment as well.

Why? For two reasons.

First, because it is the last memory guests will have of our facility and, as a result, will profoundly affect their overall recollection of the stay.

It is also an excellent opportunity for good marketing

You can ask guests to sign up for the newsletter, leave a review, already book their stay for the following year, or even simply buy a keepsake.

So try to pay close attention to this moment and prepare it properly.

How to innovate check-out

The check-out process has also benefited from the same technologies that have benefited the check-in process.

Hotels that offer online check-in can offer check-out with the same platform and terminals as well. 

Self check-out and online check-out, however, are less common for the simple reason that payment and expense control processes are also involved.

These processes often require interaction with staff, which would not be possible with online or self check-out.

How to improve check-in and check-out procedures

Train staff at the front desk

It is essential to work on training front desk staff so that check-in and check-out processes gradually improve.

There is still a lot to be done on this: staff training is still very much tied to traditional practices and does not focus on activities that would truly deliver value to the customer and the hotel.

Activities such as problem solving, upselling and cross-selling, or negotiation are not even considered in the process of choosing training courses when they would be extremely important.

Synchronizing the different hotel departments

Another element to work on is communication and information sharing between departments.

This has always been a crucial node in hospitality facilities that tend very much to work in silos, with each department detached from the others and communication reduced to the bare essentials.

You need to optimize communications so that everyone has the information they need to improve processes, including check-in and check-out.

Learn how to handle peak check-in and check-out times

We know that your job is entirely constrained by the timing with which our customers book.

This is unavoidable.

As a result, you need to know how to flexibly handle peaks in demand, which correspond to surges in the number of check-ins and check-outs (followed, of course, by moments of total work fatigue).

Knowing how to best predict these peaks and being flexible make all the difference.

In these cases, self check-in/out and online check-in/out technology can give you a major lift.

Use a checklist

Having all the procedures to be performed during check-in and check-out in one document is a great help to your front desk staff.

A detailed checklist, listing the steps in the order in which they are performed, can help staff speed up processes and reduce errors.

How can you create such a checklist?

You don't need to, we did it for you!