In hospitality we use clues to surprise people...we read them to help us deliver a memorable experience. But, it works the other way around as well. Customers use clues to make buying decisions. And not always the ones a business owner wants them to use. Case in point. The other day I decided to change my insurance company...not because of price or bad coverage...because they insisted on using a fax machine (or worse, the U.S. Postal Service). My decision was based solely on a seemingly trivial point of technology. But my problem wasn’t the fax machine. The fax machine was just a clue. A clue into how the organization thinks...how they approach business. Do they choose easy over right? Do they do the hard work that gives me what I want? Or, do they stay in safe harbor, expect me to jump through hoops and hope I won’t go away.
Starbucks on the other hand continues to earn my respect, not because they make the best coffee (they don’t), but because they learn, evolve and give me what I want. The other day I forgot my wallet in the car (probably because I was so frustrated about using a fax machine). No worries...Starbucks lets me pay via my smart phone. Pretty slick...saved me a journey back to the car. I also like that innovative idea of the little stoppers that go into the lids so you don’t spill the coffee all over your suit. It’s clear they do the hard work to figure out what their customers want. And I bet they don’t use fax machines.
The more choices, the more clues matter.
One of the takeaways from my trip to Zappos headquarters last month...they give every customer the benefit of the doubt. Not some people or when the burden of proof has been met. But, every customer, unconditionally. They do the opposite of what most companies do...if there's a hint of a problem, they assume it's their fault, not the other way around.
Since most of their sales have shifted on-line (like so many other businesses), many of the people that call-in to Zappos have a concern or an order question (at least that was my impression from my time in the call center). And, if Zappos handled these people like most companies, there would be a vetting process to get to the bottom of every situation to guard against unnecessary discounts and refunds. In turn, the call experience would be just as expected...a royal pain in the butt, too long, unsatisfying and more likely down right aggravating. Perfect if you're in the business of average. Thankfully, Zappos is in the business of happiness. So, they simply act that way. They trust you.
Of course, many companies use clever disguises to give you the impression someone cares...a 24 hour support line, a handy "e-mail us" option or even "live chat". I recently had trouble with my Garmin 405CX running watch. So, I called Garmin support, twice, because the first time when I heard my wait time was 35 minutes I thought there was a glitch...there wasn't. I decided on the email option, made my way through the myriad of toggle options and drop down boxes, described my issue and off it went. Moments later I was greeted with an email (see below)...we aim to respond to you within 3 days. So, 35 minutes on the phone or 3 days for an email which will likely just lead to more email. Hmmm, do you think Garmin really has my best interest in mind? Do you think they trust me?
Trusting your customer is required if you want them to trust you. You don't get to do it part time and expect a dividend. Sure, by going into it with blind faith you're going to get burned sometimes. But, not nearly as bad as if you're worried about always being right.
The power of a hug is remarkable. It goes further than a nice smile, pleasant hello and a handshake. It goes further than using someone's name or recognizing a repeat guest...it goes a lot further. It crosses a line. It gets personal...it means you really do care. There's no disguising your feelings once you give someone a hug.
P.S. Do you think Louree needs a resume? Most remarkable people don't.
Selling "at" people is at an all time high...and is likely to get worse. That's what happens when things get desperate. More cold calls, new mailers to chamber lists, a resurgence in billboards...get ready, it's all on its way. What's increasingly rare, yet more important then ever, is the art of getting personal...the art of showing someone you care.
Too often direct sales is about doing something, making a call, clicking on send and checking the name off the list. Too bad all that activity is the easy part. Actually connecting and engaging with someone is so much harder...and of course what really matters. Your chances of making the sale are much, much better if someone feels like you actually care about them...because not many people do.
It's important to be a business person first, and a hotelier second. This SWA story at Church of the Customer reminds me why I thought he was such an idiot. Of course, we all know the truth...service comes first, no matter what business you're in...something he obviously cold never comprehend.
is easier now than ever before. Technology has made it not only possible, but relatively easy to know a great deal about your guests. I've pointed out before that Google alerts and simple internet searches give you an excellent advantage to surprise people. But, imagine my state of shock when I experienced just that while buying a car at Shortline Automotive last week. I flew to Denver and walked in to the dealership for the first time to pick-up the vehicle after making the deal over the phone and internet. I had never met Rob (I think he's the GM). But he seemed to know a great deal about me. And, instead of the usual "how's the weather" conversation, he asked me things about my profession, why I chose a hospitality career, etc. We talked about service and how it set businesses apart from one another. He really seemed interested...and he really seemed to care. He did all this without making me feel like he'd hired a PI to make sure my credit was okay.
I don't remember much about the transaction or the long drive to Pagosa Springs. But, I do remember how engaging Rob and Kent were, and thinking...at a car dealership?
If you're looking for some examples of how to get personal and engage with your guests, take a page from Captain Flanagan of United Airlines...
- He mingles with passengers in the gate area
- He makes gate announcements himself, updating passengers about weather conditions and sets realistic expectations for delays
- He uses his cellphone to call United operations to ask about connections for passengers
- He passes out information cards to passengers with fun facts about the plane; he signs two of them, whose owners will win a bottle of wine
- He snaps pictures of animals in the cargo hold to show owners their pets are safely on board
- He writes notes to first-class passengers and elite frequent fliers on the back of his business cards, addressing them by name and thanking them for their business
- He personally calls parents of unaccompanied children to give them updates
- He instructs flight attendants to pass out napkins asking passengers to write notes about experiences on United, good or bad
- He orders 200 McDonald's hamburgers for passengers if his flight is delayed or diverted
"I just treat everyone like it's the first flight they've ever flown."
Not exactly what you expect from an airline...that's the beauty of it, the power of surprise.
Thanks to Church of the Customer for the pointer.
Jackie and Ben hit the nail on the head...again! Using two highly regarded wine country restaurants as examples (French Laundry and Cyrus), they give us some excellent insight into what makes these establishments so extraordinary.
I'll follow with my own little formula:
1. You've got to get the basics right. An overabundance of cleanliness, smiles and quality is a must.
2. You've got to be interesting...better have a story, one that strikes an emotional connection with your prospective guest.
3. Customize. Like Jackie and Ben, I believe this is a key if not THE key to getting people to talk about their visit. People want an experience that's tailored to them. That's what makes it special, interesting and fun to talk about. Why would you tell your neighbor or co-worker about an average stay at an average business hotel?...you wouldn't. But, you might feel compelled to talk about a restaurant that called the kitchen upon your arrival and tailored the offerings around your tastebuds.
Make your guest experience interesting by telling stories and treating people differently, just like you would your friends if you were inviting them to your own home.
There was once a small restaurant in Pagosa Springs, Colorado named European Café. The food was average, the atmosphere was average, the service was okay and there was little evidence of anything European…so no real niche. It was just an average place trying to feed off the traffic down the main road. It’s gone now.
Same location, same building, same kitchen, same traffic down the main drag…and every time I go there, it’s packed. Because it’s new? I don’t think so.
Kips does a few things very well.
The Best- They know what they can be the best at. And, they focus on just that. It’s a hole in the wall kind of place serving Baja style Mexican tacos. It comes complete with the relevant surf decorations and appointments, a small bar with one TV, and a couple of regionally brewed beers on tap…my kind of place.
Care- The service is super friendly. Joe & Becky really enjoy what they do. It’s casual, but professional enough not to leave you wondering about what’s coming out of the kitchen.
This is really key…
Audience- They don’t try to be all things to everyone passing by. They choose an audience which is underserved (21-40 year-olds, snowboarders, hikers, river rafters and the like) and they make them happy. I don’t think they care if it’s not your style or if you’re looking for fancy restrooms. They focus on one group…and that’s it.
Try following their lead. And, come by for the tacos and a smile if you make it out this way.
One of the few "chains" (very few) that I would buy stock in is Four Seasons. They are by far the most consistent in delivering a remarkable service experience. Here's an account of a recent visit by Tom Peters...
Anyway, Susan was desperate to see last night's West Wing, which of course was pre-empted by the dinner. On a lark, about 15 minutes before we went out, she called the Concierge and asked if by any odd chance they could tape the show for her/us.
"Naturally," they said, "No problem."
Upshot. Great dinner. Returned to the hotel at 10pm. Our VCR was set up with the show tape in it, and a little Post-it note saying, "Happy Birthday, push Start." (There was also a plate of treats next to the note.)
Ye gads ...
A nice example of improvisation and adaptability...something FS does well, day in and day out. If there were a BCS in the hotel rankings game, they would be in the hunt for the national title every year.
I received the coffee in timely fashion.
The packaging supported the image…simple and stylish.
And, the coffee is pretty good too.
However, what continues to impress me the most about this group is their efforts to make my experience personal.
Soon after my initial order, I received an e-mail from Gerard, the CEO, thanking for my business. He also asked for my feedback and a referral, assuming, of course, that I liked the coffee. My note was probably more personalized than most since he was also thanking me for my recent post. But, the point is that Black Glove continued to build a relationship with me once I made the order. That process actually started when I first heard the company name and perused their site. But, the real opportunity to gain my trust came with the delivery of the product (as promised) and the follow-up communication. Once the experience became more personal, it became meaningful to me. And, I was hooked.
After trying the coffee, I sent Gerard an e-mail with general praise for the product with one minor exception. I had some difficulty opening the bag. No big deal, I assure you. But, since Gerard “opened the door” for my feedback, I obliged.
Here’s Gerard’s response…
“Thanks so much Michael, we truly appreciate it.
the bag is a 4ml bag that is the top of the line in food. You can't
believe how long it took me to get it and to get it printed correctly. What
a trial of patience!
It may be hard to cut, but it is way beyond FDA regs and surpasses all the
food "standards" - we wanted something solid and protective for the
Next time around, perhaps we can get a "cut here" line, so thanks for the
And thanks for passing the link around.
This is a perfect example of how to build a relationship with your customer. Gerard’s response was timely, relevant (no pitches to buy something else) and honest. By telling the truth, he earned my trust. By telling the short story about the bag, he gave me an inside look into the company which made me feel special. And, once again, his personalized communication goes a long way to make the experience meaningful…and memorable.
So, the next time you order that batch of comment cards or go to sign the stack of form letter responses…don’t! Call Gerard, instead.
Recently, I spent a few days on board the Crystal Symphony with a group of about 400 travel professionals, Virtuoso's best of the best. I’m not much of a cruise person. People that know me, know that. So, I didn’t have great expectations about my four-day float in the Caribbean.
I’m still not a big fan of “cruising”. It’s just too confining and structured for me. But, I’m very enthusiastic about the staff aboard the Symphony. From my initial welcome by my housekeeper, Aniko, to the group send-off at disembarkation, it was truly a wonderful service experience. And, of course, being in the “business”, I became curious about what made this fine tuned clock tick so well. So, I started holding conversations with the staff, determined to find the root cause of the “problem”.
It came down to this…caring. The staff cared about me because the management of Crystal cared about them. I heard over and over again how they were well taken care of in every aspect of their life as a cruise ship employee. And, in comparison to other cruise lines (most of them had worked for another at some point), they had superior accommodations, more recreational opportunities, better food, a staff bar, higher compensation and most of all, bosses that cared more about them, and treated them as equals.
What a concept. Care for your people to get the best attitude and service for your guests.
Don’t screw around when it comes to taking care of your employees. If you do, your guests will know.
Bravo to Crystal Cruises!
This is branding and positioning at the most fundamental level, a very clear connection between your customers' feelings and what you do best.
Read more here...
I like this trend...shows we are adaptive. It's about time we stopped forcing our old rules and practices on our guests. Bottom line, make people feel happy!
From Hospitality Net...
The hotel stay is getting a makeover. The growing wave of style-conscious Generation Xers — 60 million Americans ages 24 to 40 - is forcing hotels across the USA to revamp lobby layouts, menu offerings and front-desk clerks' attire. Some chains are launching new hotel brands designed for the under-40 set. And even stuffy hotel speak — "It's my pleasure, sir" — is going the way of the polyester floral bedspread as the industry adjusts to the habits and values of younger, hipper travelers.
To make-up for my last post, here’s a story about a real class act.
Dr. Gordon Couch recently performed surgery on my mother at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Florida. He did a good job. But, more importantly is how he did his job. The first thing he did was form a relationship with my mother and her husband. He sat with them, discussed the condition, and began to learn a myriad of personal details which he later recalled with great clarity. Meeting me for the first time a week later, he knew I had traveled from Colorado to visit. He later remembered my name, and offered sincere and genuine attention in response to what must have been a redundant line of questioning.
He took our phone call at his home late one evening and answered more questions. And, he even offered to make house calls!
This guy might be a little old fashioned. But, in these days of running scared from malpractice lawsuits, it’s nice to see that some doctors still care…and get personal.
The lesson is: Care and you will have loyal customers who will rave about you. Fake it, and they will run from you…and probably sue you too if you screw up (read more about that in Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Blink).
This is some really great butter. How do I know?
1. I've tasted it.
2. Other people much more knowledgeable about food tell me so.
3. They make it because their passionate about it.
4. It's sold in very limited quantities (not for the masses)
5. It costs a lot
6. Only three restaurants in the world (that I'm aware of) can get it: two are Thomas Keller's joints, including French Laundry. The other is the dining room at Keyah Grande.
The point is that they have figured out that you start with a really great product, deliver it with outstanding and personal service, make it exclusive and very limited. That gets people's attention.
You try it....if you can get it.