It’s What You Do, Not What You Promise Which Matters Today in Hospitality

Customer experiences and engagement are today at the very heart of marketing management and, for hospitality businesses, establishing a customer first approach is critically important in differentiating brands. Getting close to the customer is crucial for profitable growth, to build brand strength and brand advocacy.

This means that priority setting is determined by the consumer, not by what business thinks is best and “consumer centricity is a journey”.

Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, in Return on Customer, state that customer experience is the single most important factor for business success and “the only value ever created is value that comes from customers – those you have now and will have in the future.”

With Digital and Social media, brands are owned by customers and insight into customer behaviour allows propositions to be built that really work for consumers.

“Marketers must harness technology but the fundamental skills are the same in hospitality – understanding customer needs, to innovate in response and deliver in engaging ways.”

To the customer, value is not the same as price, fluctuating and often a matter of perception, but important when there is little differentiation. Points of difference are required to create a competitive edge. Hospitality needs to add value to the proposition so that price is not the key differentiator and hoteliers must create value perceived or real in the mind of the consumer.

Meeting expectations is no longer acceptable such is competition today, as customer value expectations have grown due to rapidly changing technology. Brands need to become “experience providers”.

How does one add value? By providing an unforgettable experience through personalisation, a concept at the very heart of the hospitality industry: the art of making people feel at home. Personalisation and data driven marketing are today two of the top three trends and, personalizing the guest journey, can create a better experience but starts with truly knowing your guests; each will be different.

Research shows that hospitality and a personalized guest experience are the prime reasons why guests return.

Most hospitality businesses use guest data mainly for simple marketing, largely being driven at the property level and not as much at the brand level. And they’re using it to communicate with guests before their stay from a marketing perspective.

Successful hotels are those that have a policy on managing customer data. There are guests that are looking to be loyal, but won’t be driven by some promise of points and free stays. Loyalty will be driven by exceptional ‘wow’ moments, experiences and hospitality organizations that understand what they’re looking for but only if you have a really solid guest profiles. It takes more than typical hotel brand values like convenience and comfort to elicit loyalty.

With a modular, component-based platform, hoteliers can collect important profile and other data about customers, marry the multiple sources to deliver valuable guest information to them, focus on creating an unforgettable brand and added-value personalized guest experiences, exceeding guest expectations. For hotels, the way the guest feels is always at the centre of the brand experience.

Guests consider their stay experience as excellent when they are convinced that they received more value than they expected. Going the extra mile should be the norm.

Hotels can define a core set of elements that are always in play, but no two guest experiences will be exactly alike, even if they always feel like they’re coming from the same brand.

You can now get to know your key customers, their personal favourites in terms of food, facilities, activity preferences, any special plans for the night/weekend. What did the guest order for meals etc. Details about their birthdays, anniversaries, job title, current employer, etc which are all easily available. Spending time with customers is the most important activity of any manager and, If the guest says something worth remembering for a next visit, then it should be recorded so the next visit can be made better.

Technology and data can help employees who often must use their own initiative to identify what needs to be done when necessary and appropriate. If they wait until they are told, or follow only prescribed actions, they will be both inefficient and ineffective. One can always affect the outcome positively by being pro-active, anticipating the next best step and acting with a sense of urgency.

The Journey Experience

Perfecting customer experiences should be a businesses’ top priority as it provides measurable returns on such investments.

Hospitality businesses have long emphasized individual touch points: moments when customers interact with staff. Most measure customers’ satisfaction with each interaction, involving different parts of the organisation, and it is normal for business to maximise customer satisfaction by perfecting such touch points.

In the Harvard Business Review, Mckinsey identified this as insufficient; maximizing satisfaction at those moments diverts attention from the bigger and more important picture: the customer’s end-to-end (purchasing) experience, the sum of all hospitality interactions a customer has. Their research showed that customers didn’t much care about these singular touch points.

Hospitality businesses operate with a narrower view. Some define it as customer service or service excellence, representing only a fraction of the interactions with customers and that service is only one element of the total experience, resulting in it being unmemorable and undifferentiated. For hospitality brands, the way the guest feels is central to the brand experience provided. You can define a core set of elements that are always in play, but no two guest experiences will be exactly alike, even if they always feel like they’re coming from the same brand.

Mckinsey shows that even with the correct, complete view of customer experience, businesses may lack the proper tools to help them design and manage their total approach. Exceptional hospitality requires that customer journeys are embed into operating models by mapping guest experiences to earn extraordinary brand devotion.

Mapping The Journeys

To transform the overall customer experience, the hospitality trade needs to create a detailed road map for each service from start to finish, considering the business impact of optimizing the journey a plan of action and resources required.

Management can then identify the customer’s experience with various journeys and decide which ones to prioritize. Mapping will identify current performance and expose departures from the ideal customer experience and their causes; root causes of poor customer experience are internal, often from cross-functional disconnects.

Redesigning The Experience

Analysing journeys and redesigning service processes get a business only so far. Viewing a journey from start to finish is a powerful learning experience; normally no single group has visibility or accountability for the entire experience, thus unable to recognize shortcomings.

A customer end to end process includes many customer interactions involving complex handoffs between internal groups, creating multiple places where things can go wrong.

Mapping can bring about an operational and cultural shift that engages the organization across functions and from top to bottom which can generate innovation and a focus on continuous improvement. It creates a culture that’s hard to build otherwise and a true competitive advantage goes to those that get it right: modifying the organization and its processes to deliver excellent journeys, changing mind sets at all levels and to sustain initiatives.

To map a brand’s blueprint, one looks at what makes it truly unique at its core-the key brand expressions, guest interactions, perks, and amenities that make a service brand what it is-and cross-reference that with guest expectations, feedback, operational feasibility, and strategic plans of competing in an increasingly crowded and competitive hospitality marketplace.

The resulting “Experience Map,” and its touchpoints, are structured around anticipating needs rather than prescribing formulaic solutions. The map backed by supporting detail, provides vision and guidance of a guest’s chronology of experience, from booking and arrival, to the stay itself, through check-out and departure.

It’s pivotal as a guide for employees in their work, ranging from developing on-property experiences, to interacting with guests. It provides them both clarity of purpose and the space and freedom to execute in their own personal touch.

The Experience Map is a paradigm, not a formula to replicate the same experience with factory-like consistency, but to provide a framework to showcase a unique brand personality.

The Journey Never Ends

It’s a pursuit that isn’t simply solved once and then forgotten; even the clearest, most thoughtful documentation and training needs continual maintenance. The Map doesn’t tell employees everything to do in every situation; it gives them basic tools and a clear understanding of how they want the customer to feel in each situation.

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