Tag Archives: customer experience

Identifying and Catering to the Discerning Consumer: Quality and Service Above All

by James D. Roumeliotis

Customer service - white gloves and tray

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During my days in the mega yacht charter industry, I recall dealing frequently with assertive clients who were judicious with their expectations and utterly demanding with their occasional extraordinary requests. As a case in point, a VIP couple was cruising on a chartered mega yacht in the Aegean Sea and during one morning, unexpectedly, insisted that an additional stewardess be brought on board to increase the service level. He also requested five cases of Louis Roederer Cristal champagne. Despite the minor challenges, both requests were fulfilled within a few hours. My staff and I arranged for a stewardess to be flown in from Athens to the island where the yacht was docked that particular day. As for the champagne with its limited supply, I couldn’t locate all the quantities from any major purveyor in Athens. Consequently, I secured the remaining cases from Salonika – a city 188 miles (304 km) north of Athens. All five cases were eventually delivered to the yacht on the same day. It goes without saying that the client was elated.

The “discerning”, also referred to as the “discriminating” consumer, is characterized as showing careful judgment and savvy especially in matters of taste and judgment. This person is finicky and possesses an acquired taste habitually for premium products and services. Essentially, he/she falls short of a compromise. Going above and beyond the call of duty to meet and, at times exceed, expectations is an important principal to apply.

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An Inside Look at the Discerning Consumer

More often than not, the discerning client typically possesses a high net worth. This translates to owning financial assets not including primary residence) in excess of US$1 million (source: CapGemini, “2017 World Wealth Report”). High net worth individuals (HNWI) cherish their time and know what they want, to such a degree that they would rather spend their funds for efficient results than waste the limited resource of time. They value time as a luxury, thus saving time greatly trumps saving money. This is part of the reason service is crucial for them.

In a nutshell, the discerning client can be generally described as:
– To a greater extent, belongs in the “affluent” (an investor with less than $1 million but more than $100 000) and “HNWI” (in excess of $1 Million) category;
– Seeks a higher and exacting standard with a minimum set of expectations;
– Fussy in nature;
– Values his/her time;
– Often requires customized solutions to mirror his/her lifestyle – whether a product or service;
– Takes pleasure on getting extra attention;
– Expects to be offered unique choices and experiences;
– Desires value for money under all circumstances;
– Synonymous with a taste for luxury with pedigree and craftsmanship which he/she is willing to pay for;
– Aspires an aura of exclusivity;
– Craves an experience heightened by exceptional service along with a personal relationship;
– Seeks products which are different and more sophisticated – whether it’s apparel, electronics, food or insurance.
– Wants to feel in command of his/her purchase decision without any buyer’s remorse.

Moreover, what he/she purchases is a visual extension of his/her personality, individuality and lifestyle. A well crafted product, for example, reflects his/her individual call to beauty.

Discerning vs. Demanding

There is a clear distinction between a “discerning” client and the “demanding” type.
A discerning client is one capable of good judgment. This client will typically:
– Appreciates the difference between quality and quantity;
– Carefully considers what his/her requirements and needs are and be able to prioritize them;
– Value good service and products, and acknowledge them;
– Be able to judge which consultant can be trusted and be relied upon to do great work;
– Understands that there are other clients and other priorities beyond himself/herself and his/her own.

Thus, the discerning client appreciates what is really required and feasible to obtain, understands the concepts of quality and function, and appreciates the value of good products and services.

On the other hand, a demanding client is one that could, in the worst sort of instance, be summed up by the word “demand.” This type of client could typically display one or more “imperfections”, for example:

– Simply wants everything he/she feels he/she wants or needs to be done;
– Wants everything done promptly;
– Persists in making additional requests for further work (products, changes, etc.) while reluctant to consider the issues of impacts on other factors of function, schedule, cost or quality;
– Expects a lot of attention on demand;

Hence, the demanding client expects plenty, regardless of the true value of it, whilst failing to properly appreciate core concepts such as quality and value. Additionally, his/her behavior is typical of someone who is self-centered and selfish.

Catering to the Discerning Client

It takes skill, patience, resolute and a good understanding of needs to cater to discerning customers – most notably in the luxury sector. It takes an even greater effort to keep them coming back repeatedly.

To succeed in gratifying the seemingly sophisticated client, the organization should develop a comprehensive strategy along with efficient implementation tactics. These include:
– Having a clear and unique value proposition that hooks them;
– In retail and hospitality sectors, exploiting the five senses to attract and retain them – categorized as “ambiance”/”sensorial” marketing and branding;
– Staff must be customer centric, patient, empathetic, and good listeners – remaining calm under duress during client interactions;
– Employee retention – hiring for attitude and training for skills;
– Utilizing a hands-on approach;
– Probing clients’ specific needs/requirements – know their motivations;
– Earning their trust and confidence;
– Offering a personal touch – individualized attention with customized solutions;
– Being frank and transparent with pricing, offers, proposals and promotions;
– Proposing an expansive product selection and service options;
– Outstanding and consistent levels of customer service throughout the organization;
– Reducing or eliminating waiting times – whether on the phone (reservations, customer service etc.), as well as for service or an appointment at the physical location;
– Offering customer loyalty programs – a great way to make them feel special and that they’re getting something extra;
– Asking for feedback with regards to service and product experiences and ways to improve those experiences – they’re typically strongly opinionated and relish giving it;
– Implementing the latest technology with all touch points (where applicable).

In addition, keep your brand offerings constantly refreshed. Give discerning customers a reason to repeatedly do business with you. Macy’s in New York, considered the world’s largest department store, underwent through a four year $400 Million makeover. Product is organized by lifestyle to help customers create looks and build wardrobes across categories.

Sell a distinct lifestyle which is what discriminating clients crave and gladly relate to. Be in the forefront of creativity and have all your staff, regardless of department/responsibility, on the same marketing page.

Occasionally, organize exclusive by invitation only events as a patron appreciation gesture. Being invited to an exclusive event makes one feel notable. For example, Italian sports automaker Maserati invited a select number of brand loyalists to a new experience in Europe that gave them the opportunity to sail on-board the 70 ft./21,3 m Maserati sailboat. In addition, they drove models in its current range including the new Maserati Gran Turismo Sport model.

Create/publish an upscale lifestyle magazine, every other month or quarter, which should include noteworthy information on the brand – in an environmentally friendly print format, as well as in digital format. The Bentley motors magazine is a good case in point.

Putting it All into Perspective

Discriminating customers’ purchasing attitudes are based on personal beliefs and taste for finer things in life. They are quite selective, know what they want and aspire to be catered to effortlessly. They seek the total customer experience along with pampering, personalized service and value for money. Some will argue that discriminating customers also consider transacting with companies that demonstrate corporate social responsibility.

A key difference between “discerning” and “demanding” is that the former requires what is important and expects it when it can be reasonably obtained, whilst the latter requires everything regardless of other considerations.

A brand which is involved in the business of offering a luxury and/or premium product or service should be well prepared to cater to a discerning clientele and avoid complacency. As a result, the entity will benefit through repeat business, as well as a word-of-mouth angle, since such customers are likely to tell friends and relatives about their experiences – especially in the world of social media.

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What Constitutes an Authentic Customer Experience and Which Brands Are Role Models?

By James D. Roumeliotis (with content/survey by Ian Golding)

Customer Loyalty Service Support Care Trust Business Concept

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As a big proponent and practitioner of the total customer experience, I often cringe when I and many others endure displeasure when transacting with established brands. The companies in question happen to possess deep pockets which constantly communicate about how wonderful they are doing business with. In actuality, they fail miserably in delivering on those messages. The blame goes to their frugality and/or complacency along with their dysfunctional business practices.

Building emotions into the brand’s DNA

According to Derrick Daye, partner at The Blake Project, in his intriguing article,Igniting Brand Growth Via Emotional Connectionshe states that research shows that, on average, 50% of purchase decisions are based on emotion and that a ‘Right Space’ – the core emotions a brand seeks, is what its customers should feel across every single interaction/touch point with which they encounter.  He further states that “Marketers that understand this and that harness the power of emotions are today’s true brand builders and are uncovering new opportunities for growth faster than their competitors.” A case in point used is with Apple. The brand utilizes four emotions that drive customers to loyalty. They are delight, surprise, connection and love. This video displays how Apple succeeds at accomplishing this.

Survey says

In January 2015, Ian Golding, a Certified Customer Experience Professional and Customer Experience Specialist based in the U.K., conducted an independent survey of people across the world to find out who their number one Customer Experience brands are and most importantly what makes them top of mind for this purpose. Below he reveals the findings of the research. It is fair to note that much of this material was derived from Ian Golding with his permission.

top-10-brands-customer-experience

The right customer experience is commercially rewarding

The sheer mention of ‘Customer Experience’ and ‘Customer Centricity’, is still often greeted with a rolling of the eyes by those who are more focused on sales targets, operational efficiency and tasks. The irony though is that the former makes the latter much more successful. Also, it’s no coincidence that each of the top 10 brands has recent performance milestones to be proud of:

  • Amazon Q4 14, net sales increased by 15% over Q4 13
  • Apple 39.9% profit per product (3 months to end Dec 14)
  • First Direct Moneywise “Most Trusted” and Which? Best Banking Brand
  • John Lewis profit before tax up 12% in 2014 vs 2013
  • Disney Earnings per share up 27% in year to Dec 2014
  • Air New Zealand Earnings before taxation up 20% in H1 15 vs H1 14
  • Mercedes Revenue increased 12% from 2013 to 2014
  • Starbucks Revenue rise 13% in Q1 FY15
  • BMW 7% increase in vehicle sales in Jan 15 vs Jan 14
  • Boden Shipping 12,500 parcels each day

Is it just a coincidence that the brands you are saying are the best at Customer Experience all seem to be faring well on the commercial front? It appears as though all of the brands that are ‘great’ at Customer Experience share common characteristics

These organizations have common characteristics

I wanted to know what it is that your favorite brands do to make them your #1 at delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. I asked for up to three reasons from each respondent and received 575 comments. Following verbatim analysis, 13 categories were identified, each distinct but interlinked. They were, as follows (with the percentage frequency they appeared):

  • Corporate attitude 15.9
  • They’re easy to do business with 14.9
  • They’re helpful when I have a problem 11.4
  • The attitude of their people 9.4
  • Personalization 8.0
  • The product or service 8.0
  • They’re consistent 7.5
  • The way it makes me feel 6.3
  • The way they treat me 5.1
  • They’re reliable 4.4
  • They do what they promise 4.2
  • They’re quick 2.6
  • The technical knowledge of their people 2.3

We will look in more detail at what we mean by each of these in a moment but to view at any one in isolation would risk limiting what is being achieved by these organisations. This diagram shows how interdependent each area is in aligning with the corporate attitude and ultimately organizational goals and the very purpose for why the business exists:

characteristics-of-customer-experience-brands-by-j-golding

Focusing on these attributes is what moves companies from fighting a rear-guard action to fix issues of their own making to creating a compelling a sustainable brand for the future. It also means that customers are increasingly exposed to better experiences as they go about their daily lives and that’s important because it keeps nudging the bar of expectations higher. This is why the brands that do these things are ones that people consider to be the very best at delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. Digging deeper into each of the 13 areas we can build a picture of how the companies who get it right control the way they do business.

  1. Corporate attitude

It’s another way to describe organizational culture and it underpins everything that happens to or with a customer. More specifically, in the words of those who responded to the research, companies who have the right attitude:

  • Put people before profits and non-human automation;
  • Know they’ll make more money in the long-run with this approach;
  • Test all experiences thoroughly (to eliminate unintended consequences);
  • Listen and demonstrate they understand their customer;
  • Pay serious attention to detail;
  • Empower their staff to makes decisions and act straightaway;
  • Stay true to their values, admit when things go wrong and fix them;
  • Ensure their staff are fully trained and informed;
  • Recruit for attitude and alignment to brand values.

They also said: “…they treat each customer as we would a guest in our home” and “…they balance customer obsession, operational excellence and financial rigor.”  Almost every other category is a sub-category of this one. It shows how important the right culture is.

  1. They’re easy to do business with

It’s obvious to say a company should be easy to do business with and yet that’s not always the case. What respondents meant by “easy” included:

  • There are no barriers in the way for doing what a customer needs to;
  • It’s simple to get information, purchase and use the product;
  • Needs are anticipated and catered for;
  • Customers don’t need to repeat information;
  • They can switch from one channel to another with no impact on progress;
  • Products can be returned or fixed with minimum effort on the part of the customer;
  • They are available when and where customers want; they can be reached without waiting and won’t limit the hours of their support functions to office hours if customers are still using their products and services all day every day;
  • They are proactive in taking responsibility, for example: Finding products at other stores and having them delivered;
  • Customers have no objection to self-service because it has been well thought through;
  • Information is presented in a timely, clear and relevant way.
  1.  Helpful and understanding when I’ve got a question

Being easy to deal with is critical when a customer needs help or simply has a question. On the assumption that good companies do respond (a recent Eptica survey found more than 50% of online inquiries go unanswered), helpful companies are ones who:

  • Listen to understand before acting;
  • Give a customer the feeling that they are trusted and respected;
  • Will provide an answer and additional, relevant help;
  • Provide certainty and manage expectations about what will happen next and at each stage;
  • Empower employees to make decisions;
  • Resolve issues first time and quickly;
  • Have employees who are happy to give their names and direct contact numbers;
  • Pre-empt problems and solve them before customers are aware;
  • Fix customers’ mistakes without blame or making them feel awkward;
  • Follow-up afterwards to check everything was sorted and is still as it should be;
  • are not afraid to apologize when they get it wrong.
  1.  Attitude of the people

Individual employees who are interacting with customers become a proxy for the brand. If they demonstrate the wrong behaviors the damage can be hugely expensive but getting them right does not cost a huge amount of money. Most often a function of the corporate attitude, the most appreciated characteristics are:

  • Being courteous and friendly;
  • A positive, “I’ll sort it” attitude;
  • They are good at listening;
  • It’s obvious they care about, and are proud of, the product/service;
  • They are professional and not pushy;
  • They are helpful and proactive;
  • They are genuine and humble;
  • They smile;
  • Hey are engaging and interested in the customer;
  • They have personality, not a corporate script;
  • They are patient;
  • They show respect for their fellow colleagues.
  1. Personalization

We are all individuals and like to be treated as such. Having “big data” was seen as the answer but as these companies demonstrate, it’s not only more important to have the right data and do the right things with it, but it’s also linked again to corporate attitude. Those who get the personalization right:

  • Understand, anticipate and are proactive;
  • Keep customers informed with relevant information;
  • Shows they listen and act, not just collect feedback;
  • Create a relaxed environment because a customer’s needs fits neatly into what they are offering;
  • Create a feeling of respect, that they care and have “taken the time to know me, to make things easier for me”;
  • Make it feel like dealing with a person where there’s a connection, not just a transaction;
  • Allow their customers to control the degree of personalization in terms of frequency and content;
  • Remain flexible and adaptive to the circumstances, not scripted.
  1. The product or service itself

Making it easy, personal and rewarding will be wasted effort if the core product or service doesn’t live up to expectation. At the end of the day, your business must have something of value to the customer to sell! When it comes to products and services, the #1 Customer Experience brands are those who:

  • The right mix of choice, relevance, quality and innovation;
  • Well designed, so it is easy to get it to do what it’s supposed to;
  • Quality is complemented by relevant innovation, not technical innovation for the sake of it;
  • Obsessive about the detail;
  • Paying as much attention to secondary products, such as food on airlines;
  • Good at turning necessary evils into compelling attributes – Air New Zealand’s legendary on-board safety briefings, for example;
  • Adept at keeping up with, ahead of and shaping basic expectations.
  1. Consistency

As customers we like certainty and predictability. It means that the decisions we make carry less risk because we can confidently trust the outcomes. It also demonstrates stability of, and a shared understanding of, strategy. For our respondents, consistency is about experiences that:

  • Look and feel the same;
  • Can continue easily wherever, whenever and however;
  • Match or build on the positive expectations created last time;
  • Have continuity in not only what happens but how it happens; tone of voice, quality, different locations, store or franchise, people and processes, performance;
  • Provide the same reliable answers to the same questions;
  • Integrate with other services.
  1. The way it makes me feel

Emotions are a function of how good the other two cornerstones of Customer Experience – function and accessibility – are. How they were made to feel, whether intentional or not, is what people remember. Being the personal consequence of most if not all the issues covered here, it is what drives our behavior about whether or not we will do the same next time and tell others to do the same. If people think they are part of something special, connected to a company that lives by like-minded values, they will FEEL special. And as human beings, we appreciate that. Survey respondents cited a number of great examples:

  • “Get on an Air New Zealand flight anywhere in the world it already feels like you’re home”;
  • “The packaging increases the anticipation when opening a new product” (Apple);
  • “Interactions with employees don’t feel like processes out of an operating manual”;
  • “There is (the perception of) a genuine relationship; it’s not just about them selling every time they are in touch”;
  • “They make me feel as if I’m their only customer” (Land Rover).
  1. The way they treat me

At the root of how we feel and therefore behave is often down to how we are treated. Good and great companies have experiences that:

  • Demonstrate respect;
  • Show an empathy with customer needs;
  • Don’t do things like asking a customer to repeat information if handed from one colleague to another;
  • Keep customers posted on feedback they’ve given;
  • Recognize their customers both by staff individually in-store and organizationally;
  • Have a consistency of treatment even when not spending money in-store;
  • Create relevant retail environments so that customers feel they are treated as if they are somewhere special;
  • Develop meaningful loyalty programs that acknowledge past purchases and reward future ones;
  • Are not patronizing in tone.
  1. They’re reliable

Not surprisingly, reliability is cited as a key attribute. Although we simply expect things to work as they did last time or as it was promised, we probably won’t get too excited if that is the case. However, the consequences of it not happening will result in additional time, effort, inconvenience and sometimes cost to the customer; not what a brand would want to be blamed for. There are some markets where the mere hint of a lack of reliability in its truest sense has serious consequences for a brand. More generally, reliable customer experiences are ones that:

  • Give confidence and a level of trust that what we ask for when we buy is what we get – there are no nasty surprises;
  • Understand that they are key to repeat purchases and advocacy. No-one will put his or her own reputation on the line to recommended any brand product or service that is unreliable.
  1. They do what they promise

Again, this is a character trait we appreciate in friends, family and colleagues and it’s no different when dealing with a business. It can be seen as a subset of “the way they treat me” but it is also critical at a strategic level too; the brand is what people say it does and so that has to be consistent with what it’s promising, just as its employees need to keep their own promises to customers too. There’s a real financial benefit here too where unnecessary and costly rework can be avoided. How many enquiries coming into the business are because “You said you’d get someone to call back”, “You said you’d send me a copy of that statement” or “Where’s my fridge, I’ve had to take the whole day off work and there’s still no sign of it.” Customer experiences that do what they promise:

  • Live up to the expectations they set;
  • Have employees that do what they say they will do;
  • Do it all consistently;
  • Fix it quick if they fail;
  • Are good at managing expectations.
  1. Timely

As customers, time (alongside money) is a commodity we trade with. A company who appreciates the finite and precious nature of it will create a distinct advantage. In today’s everything-everywhere-now life it’s not surprising that speed is an issue. Expectations are rising all the time where customers interacting with other brands see what can be done. Timely customer experiences are ones that:

  • Move at the right speed for customers;
  • Show respect by having have good reaction times once a customer has initiated part one of a two-way activity;
  • Manage expectations, so if it’s not “quick” as defined by customers there are also, no disappointing surprises;
  • Are not just focused on speed of delivery but are quick to answer the phone, flexibility to find ways around rules and respond to questions.
  1. People knowledge

Having people who are technically competent with their product knowledge is another character of top brands. Companies that possess employees like this have an invaluable asset who are:

  • Able to translate the concerns and questions;
  • Able to articulate complex issues in simple language;
  • Are not patronizing;
  • are proud that their knowledge can help someone else.

In Closing: Be your Chief Customer Officer

Through my personal research and experience ─ and those of the authors credited above, one arrives at the conclusion that Building and nurturing a brand is what makes an enterprise gather wind under its wings. Common intelligence dictates that the way a customer is dealt with reflects on the integrity of the brand, and the image of the company in the mind of the consumer.

When customers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

Stellar customer experience is not only reserved for the big brands. It can exist with businesses of all sizes and stages. It is about a mindset ─ the right attitude and culture within the organization where everyone is customer centric which matters more than solely the bottom line.

As a final point, the leadership of the brand, whether with a title of president, managing director or CEO (C-suite), he or she should be the “chief customer officer.” According to a survey that The Economist Intelligence Unit recently conducted of how global companies manage their customer experience programs, 58% of companies that are much more profitable than their competitors report that the CEO is in charge of customer experience management. Indeed, the commander-in-chief of the company is the one who sets the tone and culture for the organization. If the CEO of a publicly traded company focuses on quarterly profits to satisfy its shareholders’ demands at the expense of being customer centric, everyone else below him or her will do what it takes to fulfill their boss’s expectations and requirements. It is quite a regrettable situation which occurs often with many public corporations.

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Exceeding the Hotel Guest Experience: Anticipating and Executing Desires Flawlessly

By James D. Roumeliotis with special contribution by Virginia Karaouza, MBA (tourism & hospitality professional)

a0130-000024

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A place which wants to attract the most discerning souls, should be unique and embody a complete lifestyle concept which combines a relaxed, holistic approach amongst an elegant setting and decor with attention to detail. This includes, clean, updated and attractive guest rooms with no amenities spared. Pleasing food & beverage prepared and presented with pizzazz are complemented by soothing music which is also an integral part of the ambiance. The attractive, smiling and well-mannered staff is dressed stylishly. All of these elements combined will, undoubtedly, seduce the senses and generate good vibes along with positive memories created.

However, is all that adequate? Today, more than any other time in history, customers are the most sophisticated and increasingly demanding – whether they’re Boomers, GenXer’s or Millennials. The total customer experience in the high-end hospitality domain requires superlative attention to customer care from the moment a booking is made, during the guest’s stay and beyond. The use of an integrated approach is essential across various touch points with the purpose of engaging and retaining customers.

The sanctuary away from home

Astute guests consider hotels they choose to be an upgrade away from home in terms of comfort and services offered. One area of particular attention in the last few years has been the bed. It has been the focus of tremendous improvement. According to J. D. Power & Associates, a comfortable bed and pillow choices are must-haves ‒ especially for business travelers. In fact, 93% of luxury hotels offer a selection of pillows.

A high-end resort developer and operator, Kerzner International, renowned for its opulent One & Only luxury resorts brand has “Blow away the customer” as it core mantra. The company walks the talk by impressing its guests through grandiose entrances, facilities, overall ambiance and luxury amenities – then making absolutely certain that they are pampered throughout their stay. It’s all an integrated, well-orchestrated and flattering process. Nothing is left to chance although it does take a coordinated team effort to make it all happen flawlessly.

The wealthy cherish their time and know what they want. Even time is a luxury and limited resource for them, thus saving time greatly trumps saving money. This is part of the reason service is crucial for them. They can be generally described as:

– Seek a higher and exacting standard with a minimum set of expectations;
– Fussy in nature;
– Often require customized solutions to mirror their lifestyle – whether a product or service;
– Take pleasure on getting extra attention from the brands they pursue;
– Prefer the uncommon to the mundane;
– Expect to be offered unique choices and experiences;
– Synonymous with a taste for luxury with pedigree and craftsmanship which they’re able and willing to pay;
– Aspire an aura of exclusivity;
– Crave an experience heightened by exceptional service along with a personal relationship;
– Seek products which are different and more sophisticated – whether it’s apparel, electronics, food or insurance;
– Want to feel in command of their purchase decision without any pressure.

Boutique hotels vs. corporate chains

“Boutique hotel” is a term to describe hotels which often contain luxury facilities of varying size in unique or intimate settings with full service accommodations. Sometimes known as “design hotels” or “lifestyle hotels”, boutique hotels began appearing in the 1980s in major cities across North America and Europe – mainly in the U.K. These hospitality properties are characteristically furnished in a themed, stylish and unique manner. Boutique hotels generally are known to have less than 100 rooms. Their limited capacity enables them to enhance the customer experience through personalized service, as well as to customize their property and operations. An intimate atmosphere is usually regarded as a vital part of a “boutique” hotel. This includes cozier premises, quality amenities; conceptual dining outlets that become destinations in their own right, and an environment whereby the hotel staff recognize what your needs and desires are, rather than just responding to what you ask.

Customer-service is 2 of 2

Taking the personal touch to a higher level

Superb customer experience isn’t merely offering the customer what he/she asks for but rather what the discriminating customer truly desires to receive. This is accomplished by constantly exceeding of expectations through the delivery of remarkable tailored customer service with a series of personal touches.  Premium and luxury hotel guests expect surprise and delight along with unusual positive experiences.

Forrester, an independent technology and market research company, defines customer experience as: How customers perceive their interactions with your company. As with brands, customer experience is not what management thinks it should be – it’s what the customer perceives it to be. Thus, it should be understood that, because experience is a customer’s perception, management doesn’t control the customer experience, but it can certainly influence it.

The challenge for hospitality organizations is to ensure that their personnel always provide at least the level of service that their guests want and expect every time, perfectly. The purpose of quality management in the hospitality industry is to ensure that customer service is consistent and flawless. Providing it is intertwined with the overspill of the needs and expectations of guests and therefore their enthusiasm (delighted guests). The element of quality of service offered by the hotel industry should be apparent, be recognized and understood by the guest, as absolutely essential element in all the stages and processes during the service delivery.

The organization’s strategy, personnel and systems are aligned to meet or exceed the guest’s expectations regarding the following aspects of the guest experience: service product, service setting and service delivery. These aspects are carefully woven together to give guests what they desire and expect, plus the wow element. It all starts with the guest. Evidently, you can’t have a guest experience without a guest to experience it. That’s the main point, without the guest to initiate it, the components such as the carefully designed service product, the detailed and inviting setting, the highly trained and motivated servers and the finest back of the house people and facilities are just an experience waiting to happen.

The evaluation of service quality is a complex process, and the guest side is primarily subjective criteria, because each person can have their own opinion. But what is it really imparts excellence in quality of service to guests and causes only positive emotions and reactions of customers when they experience an unforgettable experience?

There are four key elements that make up the quality of the generated service and identify the outstanding quality of service (Service Excellence) which are as follows:

  • The Guest
  • The service setting – environment
  • The service delivery system
  • The processes

When these four elements, coexist and perform maximally, then the chances, the qualitative result to delight the guests, are significantly increased.

The service, as a product of person to person or a series of interactions between the guest and the person delivering the service is transformed into experience for the guest. The positive or negative aspect of the experience depends on the strategy applied by each company and sets the service delivery system. The guests, the service procedures and physical data sited so as to form a quality experience for the customer service they receive. Employees, who are also the brand ambassadors, play a crucial role in the process of service delivery. They are trained specifically for this purpose and supported by the organization itself along with the organizational culture. Technology and information flows like internal and external communication.Artificial and natural elements of the service along with the human factor, in this case, define the guest experience.

The service dimensions consist of reliability, responsiveness, assurance, empathy which characterize an emotionally intelligent and spirited staff with tangible elements in the ensuing way:

  • Reliability reflects the service provider’s ability to perform service dependably and accurately.
  • Responsiveness is a strong indicator in assisting guests and providing prompt service.
  • Reassurance reflects the courtesy and knowledge of employees and their ability to inspire trust and confidence.
  • Empathy involves the caring individualized attention the brand provides its guests.
  • Tangible elements include the facilities, amenities and ambiance felt by the guest directly or indirectly.

A company’s reputation for excellence in the services sector can be developed and supported, as long as the firm has a strong organizational culture oriented in high quality service, customer focus throughout the organization, as well as a dynamic set of employees. They are conscientious and committed to act within the quality standards which the company has established.

For a hospitality organization to achieve high levels of customer service and maintain constant satisfaction, it should develop and implement a structured service strategy, which covers all necessary actions on what measures and actions will be taken to:

  • Create a customer-centric culture.
  • Develop and install appropriate infrastructure service delivery system.
  • Identify the necessary procedures to recognize and meet the needs and expectations of guests.
  • Refine and encourage staff to speak with the right attitudes, skills and behaviors to internal and external environment of the company and towards the guests.
  • Measure – evaluate the degree of guest satisfaction.
  • Continuously implement practices to improve internal operations and procedures relating to excellent guest service.

An experience is created when a company uses the services and goods, in such a way as to create a memorable event and to stimulate the emotional world of the guests.The more intense is the intensity of emotion, the more strongly imprinted in memory and then only is it created as a memorable experience.

Guest experience is an integral part of service excellence and absolute customer satisfaction, all of which are subject to evaluation and performance measurement of an organization. With modern techniques and methods identified and assessed the degree of customer satisfaction and the recorded positive or negative experience. The collection of information, both during the service and the configuration of the customer experience provides useful information and enables the company to rectify and remedy any failure or deviation from the quality standards prescribed.

Customer service centric hospitality businesses train staff to utilize the so calledsixth sense:” It’s the innate ability to perceive what is not seen or immediately apparent. That perception will undoubtedly offer hotels, as well as other customer driven businesses, to delight their customers. According to an article authored by Mike Metcalfe, founder of Hoteliyo, a resource and blog for hotel professionals, he suggests to define your hotel service culture. Start by creating the ‘Guest Journey’. Map out every interaction or ‘touch point’ guests will experience as the following image depicts.

Hotel guest touch points according to Mike Metcalfe of Hoteliyo

Hotel guest touch points according to Mike Metcalfe of Hoteliyo

At Ritz-Carlton hotels, employees with direct contact with guests, such as the bellmen, are authorized to spend as much as $3000 to help solve a customer’s problem. At some other luxury hotels a wake-up call from the employee is not a typical, “This is your wake-up call ‒ wish you a great day”, but it also includes an offer to send up a complementary cup of coffee to get the guest’s day started.

At a Four Seasons Boston hotel video, an employee describes with pride and exhilaration how she went out of her way to personally get a guest’s luggage to the airport at the nick of time. The luggage was locked in the trunk of the customer’s rental car parked at the hotel and had lost his keys. Meantime, he had to rush to the airport without them so as not to miss his international flight.

Utilizing IT and social media to enhance the personal touch

Nowadays, luxury hotels should not neglect utilizing the benefits of IT and the internet to keep a two-way flow of continuous communication with its prospective, as well as existing clientele. This includes a fully integrated CRM system which connects sales, marketing and the administration including reservations, monitoring and respond­ing to review sites and reaching out to social networking sites. Customer preferences are also kept on record to keep in consideration and deliver upon during the guest’s future stays.

Hotel IT Image

Digital think tank L2 reported 78% of the affluent participate in social networking sites, with more than half using social media to connect with a brand, while 65% of wealthy consumers believe that brands that have no such presence are considered out of touch.

Luxury hotel chain Four Seasons, only a couple of years ago, unveiled a new website that reportedly cost a whopping $18 million to develop. It uses a holistic digital media strategy to enhance the total online experience and give a visual taste of what can be anticipated at their properties. Extensive research around digital consumption of luxury consumers, both in the travel sector and across other categories, was conducted for the development of the new website. The result of the investment is a fancy, colorful website, with a new booking process, social media integration and personal profile technology that allows users to set preferences and create a more targeted online experience. It is also optimized for mobile, which provides access to a reduced size version of the site, and includes videos, room rates and booking capabilities. In addition, locations and experiences are showcased through photo-rich, informative property and destination pages.

Upscale hotels, particularly, must offer WiFi access throughout the property at no charge. This is becoming part of the standard package that guests expect and demand. The cost, reliability and performance of WiFi in hotels worldwide has been a subject of frequent contention amongst hotel patrons.

The most notable high-tech innovation since a few years ago has been the mobile revolution. From the tablet with the iPad to the smartphone before it, they have become ubiquitous to everyday life. According to the Luxury Institute, one-third of wealthy consumers own a tablet or e-Reader such as the Kindle or Sony.

OneandOnly Resort Life 3 of 3

The takeaway

Any organization obsessed with customer service and the total customer experience, let alone the hospitality domain, should forgo routine and avoid unpleasant surprises. Complacency is a comfort zone which yields marginal performance. It can cause deficiencies, stifle growth and progress. This syndrome should be replaced with drive and consistent improvement. The culture of the organization, along with its structure, play a major role with the challenges it faces and how it deals with them.

As in every service sector, with an upscale hotel, every guest contact point should offer a unique and pleasant experience. Hotel brands need to use an integrated approach across their various touch points to engage their customers – commencing from the ease of their online (website) procedure or phone reservations center, during the guest’s stay, at check-out and beyond.

Placing emphasis on employee attitude/personality, empowerment, constant training, offering effortless accessibility for clients, flexibility when solving issues and presentations with style, as well as finesse. Each and every customer should be treated with personal care – a sign of individuality;

Sufficient resources and proper procedures should be implemented in hiring and training individuals with the right attitude over skills. The organization’s culture ought to support and inspire its staff to impressive achievement. An environment of mutual trust between leaders, employees, and customers should be created, along with proper rewards and incentives. This is what it takes for a human and personalized touch that retains its brand promise.

The best managed organizations have one factor in common: They are constant achievers, exude managerial excellence and possess a well-targeted CRM. The payoff will be a higher level of repeat business, referrals and profitability. Their financial performance is reflected in those results.

Ultimately, everyone in a service organization should live and breathe the brand.

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Empirical fact references:

–       Robert C. Ford, Michael C. Sturman, Cherrill P. Heaton (2011) Managing Quality Service in Hospitality.

–       Parasuraman, A., Zeithaml, V., and Berry, L. (1994a). Alternative scales for measuring service quality: A comparative assessment based on psychometric and diagnostic criteria. Journal of Retailing, 70 (3), 201-230.

–       Armstrong (2009). Armstrong’s Handbook of Management and Leadership. A guide to managing for results.

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Customer Devotion: Sweep them off their feet – indefinitely

by James D. Roumeliotis

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We constantly hear remarks and stories of deplorable customer service. I would think that brands would be more attentive and proactive. Unfortunately, this is not the case. You would have thought that they would make “devotion” a coherent strategy.

It should begin with the “trust” factor. Seth Godin, the much regarded marketer, asserts, “Institutions and relationships don’t work without trust. It’s not an accident that a gold standard in business is being able to do business on a handshake. Today, though, it’s easier than ever to build a facade of trust but not actually deliver. “Read the fine print,” the financial institutions, cruise ship operators and business partners tell us after they’ve failed to honor what we thought they promised.”

“Devotion” on the other hand, is instinctive – an emotional connection to you, your brand, your company, and your products. It’s what your customers (new, existing or former) are saying about you on Twitter, Facebook and other online social networks.

Customer experience as the key competitive differentiator

Your best defense and your competitive differentiator is your ability to create great experiences for your customers. It goes without much thought that loyal customers come back and purchase more because they get their needs served and/or problems solved.

Marty Neumeier puts it clearly in his book, “The Brand Gap: The brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” Talking to prospects and customers is paramount to get a sense of what they’re thinking. What values are your customers receiving from your business along with its products or services? How does that experience compare with what other similar providers you may know deliver? Then how does what the consumers have said about the brand experience line up with what the company believes it delivers?

If we compare the customer experiences of say, Best Buy vs. Amazon, the differences are quite evident as to who is doing a proper job making their customers content and devoted. When a client mistakenly purchases the wrong DVD at Best Buy – one he already had and returns the next day to exchange it for the correct one and all he hears from the customer service staff member is, “Sorry, DVDs are “software” and can’t be returned or exchanged once sold – no exceptions!”, it makes you think how aggravating it is to do business with that big box retailer. Amazon, on the other hand, not only allows easy return or exchange for DVDs without restrictions; the company will even buy back ones you’re finished with. Moreover, even if the customer is outside the return window or is otherwise technically not entitled to do what he’s/she’s asking to do, the company will go out of its way to bend its policies in the interest of happy customers and the enduring customer relationship. The difference? Amazon does what customers want – it completely crafts its business practices, its systems, and its people to support it, whereas, Best Buy does what would be most convenient for the company for consumers to want but don’t, then hope for the best. That’s not a consumer driven strategy by any stretch of the imagination.

Customer loyalty in the luxury domain

Over in the luxury sector, sought after by discerning clientele, the product itself does not suffice. Hermès has impeccable products, the top-tier of luxury goods,” said Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, New York. “In terms of what customers want, they have the top design, quality and craftsmanship. What Hermès may need, however, is a refresher course in customer experience.”

“Consumers tell us in research and anecdotally Hermès is the pinnacle of product delivery, but they could become far better in customer experience,” Mr. Pedraza said.

Automobile manufacturer Audi focuses relentlessly on being the number one premium car brand, and number one for customer satisfaction among competing brands. This approach is firmly rooted in building satisfaction and loyalty among existing customers so when it’s time to replace their car they buy another Audi. In developing a clear differentiation from its competitors, they don’t solely emphasize the quality of their cars – they add the pizzazz of customer experience and service. Achieving this relies in part on two key factors defined by the executives at Audi: delivering excellent customer satisfaction, and making Audi the best place to work in order to attract the best quality people, who will deliver that customer experience.

What can those on the front lines do to enhance the customer experience?

There are companies which spend a significant amount of money in marketing to entice prospects into a paying customer. However, once the prospect is at the stage of dealing with a company’s staff, the outcome lies in the hands of those employees who many are not adequately trained, if at all, to offer a positive experience. This type of “human marketing” undoubtedly moves beyond the marketing department. It’s about every employee and manager in the company delivering on the promise made to the new customer and giving them additional reasons to purchase repeatedly from the same outfit and receive recommendations too. In essence, this requires all employees and managers to be on the same page and understand that their job is to retain happy customers. The name of the game is to build a lasting, profitable relationship with them, and turn them loyal and devoted, thus, repeat customers who become passionate and recommend/refer your company to their friends, family and business associates.

Whether it’s B2C or B2B, sales and marketing people should co-exist, as well as the people in finance who are normally not considered marketing oriented but rather analytical. Equally trained to be customer centric is the receptionist, delivery people, and in the manufacturing industry, the product development division should be well versed with their target consumers’ requirements.

Founded in 1997 in the UK, YO! Sushi brought the concept of a Japanese “kaiten” sushi bar that delivers food to customers via a conveyor belt traveling 8cm (about 3 inches) per second. It has become the original and most famous sushi brand in the UK. The experience is fun and exciting, whilst the food is considered, by many of its patrons, revolutionary and made lovingly. Simon Woodroffe, its visionary entrepreneur and founder, built his business beyond the “buy”. For him the profit is in the “buy again.” He doesn’t want you to just come and eat at his restaurant once, he wants you to become a customer for life and repeat buy from his establishment, so that his marketing spend on initially attracting you to his restaurant in the first place can be recovered. By the time you are on your second and third visit, he has recovered his marketing investment in getting you as a customer, and you are now becoming a profitable, loyal and devoted repeat customer.

All employees should be considered as an entire marketing team. As such, they must be placed at the center of the business and continually developed, inspired, trained and given the tools to perform at the highest level. There is no such thing as an ideal time to do so – regardless of the economic downturn as all companies must work harder to attract and retain customers.

Take into account that:
– In a progressive customer driven entity, training and developing the human assets should be an ongoing process;
– Companies should be an enemy of the “status quo”;
– Mystery shopping (in person and/or by phone, as well as online) should be frequently conducted to get a sense of what an actual customer experiences – then taking action to rectify and improve the experience.

Case Study: Zappos

The following is the Zappos business mantra which should serve as inspiration for customer driven enterprises.

What customers get to see displayed prominently on the web site:
o 24/7 1-800 number on every page
o Free shipping
o Free return shipping
o 365-day return policy
What customers will experience:
o Fast, accurate fulfillment
o Most customers are “surprise”-upgraded to overnight shipping
o Creating a “WOW” factor
o Friendly, helpful “above and beyond” customer service
o Occasionally direct customers to competitors’ web sites
What’s done behind the scenes?
o No call times, no sales-based performance goals for representatives
o The telephone is considered for them one of the best branding devices available.
o Run warehouse 24/7. Inventory all products (no drop-shipping).
o 5 weeks of culture, core values, customer service, and warehouse training for everyone in Las Vegas office.
o A Culture Book
o Interviews & performance reviews are 50% based on core values and culture fit.

All employees should be marketers

• What are you and your team presently doing to make certain that your active customers don’t belong to your competitors tomorrow?

• How is the present customer experience perceived with your organization, product and/or service? How would you describe your internal culture, core values, and customer service policies/procedures?

• Finally: Are your customers devoted, loyal, or simply bored doing business with your organization?

Devotion should be considered a walking and talking advertisement – a potent word-of-mouth. Consequently, customer devotion should be the ultimate goal of every business leader and sales professional.

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The Customer Experience: Building a Customer-Centric Organization

by James D. Roumeliotis

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It doesn’t take a genius to realize how few companies these days actually “Walk the talk”. What does this mean, you ask? I refer to “the total customer experience”.

Richard Owen, vice president of Dell online worldwide, says: “It’s the sum total of the interactions that a customer has with a company’s products, people, and processes. It goes from the moment when customers see an advert to the moment when they accept delivery of a product and beyond.

Sure, we want people to think that our computers are great. However, what matters is the totality of customers’ experiences with us: talking with our call-center representatives, visiting our Web site, buying a PC, and owning a PC. The customer experience reflects all of those interactions.”

You can claim that Richard Owen would say this considering the customer centric position of Dell and the nature of their business. However, his poignant statement is applicable to any business of any size. Having a vitally active and dynamic Customer Relations Policy is should be crucial to your business.

If your staff is inadequately trained, this lack of insight into CRM only aggravates the problem. When we act as clients ourselves, we can clearly see this process in action. Just pick up the telephone and call a company, which does not value CRM. It can be an exasperating experience.

People love to hate the phone tree where you have to go through a maze of menus until you eventually get to speak to a human. To make matters worse, there are companies that outsource their call center offshore to a country where employees have a peculiar accent and pronunciation not well understood by the average North American or European – and who simply follow a script they can’t deviate from.

Common intelligence tells us that it shouldn’t be this way. How a customer is dealt with reflects on the integrity of the brand, and the image of the company in the mind of the consumer.

Out of 362 leading companies surveyed, 80% believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 8% of their customers agree, states Bain & Company, a leading management consultancy firm. Moreover, the larger the market share of the firm in question, the greater the risk that this firm will take its customer base for granted.

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