Sagar Rajgopal is the co-founder and COO of Omnipresencea leading business process outsourcer (BPO) for highly complex industries.
The hospitality industry has suffered one of the greatest economic losses of any industry during the pandemic. With restrictions easing, the sector bounce back. However, consumer expectations and behavior have changed dramatically in the past two years and hospitality brands are still catching up.
Re-prioritising customer experience (CX) and maintaining customer loyalty is essential after the pandemic as people are now more probably trying new brands and experiences. This is especially true for younger customers who have markedly less brand loyalty, as competitors are just a click or swipe away.
I believe the key to maintaining brand loyalty is to create happy customers, not just happy ones. You want customers to be delighted, even jubilant, of a brand interaction. These are the clients who become brand advocates. Think dining in a chic, well-reviewed restaurant. A good meal and quality service are bare minimum expectations that will satisfy but not amaze you.
The challenge and opportunity for hospitality brands is to find ways to break expectations and improve those experiences. Being “Emotionally Engaged” Customers three times more likely to recommend or repurchase a product. A negative review can be worse than have a bad product. People want to make beautiful memories, and most are willing to do that pay a higher price before. You do that by committing to a core CX philosophy, backed by powerful employees.
Set a gold standard for your business.
You cannot talk about exceptional hospitality experiences without talking about the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Employees can spend at all locations up to $2,000 per guest per ‘incident’.
Examples of a 2009 businesskinda.com interview with then-CEO Simon Cooper including a laundry manager who flew from Puerto Rico to New York to personally return a guest’s previously stained dress and maintenance staff who built a surprise path to the beach to allow a wheelchair-using customer to have their dream dinner By the ocean. In both grand gestures and countless small ways every day, the Ritz-Carlton is an example of going further to create meaningful experiences that cultivate customer happiness.
Let’s see what works for the Ritz. Their CX philosophy begins with a basic motto: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” I believe that their employees have the power, both personal and institutional, to take action as they see fit.
To make your employees feel stronger, you need to have confidence in their ability to live up to your brand’s credo and provide them with the tools they need to execute. Perhaps that means less managerial supervision to allow employees to make discretionary decisions, such as a waiter offering a free dessert to a couple going on a date. In such cases, it’s important to establish some guidelines, but give employees the freedom to provide those special details that stand out to customers.
Create happiness through habit.
Realistically, some hospitality brands will not have the budget to allow discretionary spending by employees. However, brands can interpret the policy broadly: establish a core principle that reflects your CX results, empower your employees to act in the best interests of the principle, and trust that they will faithfully follow it.
If there’s one factory for creating satisfied customers, I think it’s Disneyland Parks and Resorts, whose visitors have a 70% return rate. This is partly because employees work with the mantra ‘We create happiness’ to drive solutions. Just one recent example Disney shared on their blog: When six-year-old Jacob Davis lost his stuffed pterodactyl Ted at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, the cast members sprang into action and bought not only a replacement Ted (the exact same pterodactyl from Animal Kingdom), but also his pterodactyl friend Teddy. The cast members made up a story in which Ted was not lost, but on his own adventures at Disney World with Teddy, documented in a bound book left for Jacob in his hotel room. The staff fulfilled the Disney mantra and gave the little boy an experience he would never forget.
Build empathy into your processes.
It’s much harder to keep customers happy when they’re crammed into cramped quarters with little to no sleep. However, commercial airlines do it all the time.
Even with a smaller budget and limited operating resources, Alaska Airlines routinely ranks high on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), with 77% customer satisfaction last year. Their success is due in large part to the airline’s creativity in dealing with challenges such as attaching iPads to seats on long flights, and adapting to circumstances such as flowing champagne on New Year’s Eve.
But CX isn’t all about grand, sweeping gestures. When employees lead with empathy, small acts of kindness can have a big impact on your customers or help you make the best of a bad situation. Take Delta Airlines, which got a concerned couple to make their next flight on time and pizza ordered for passengers as thunderstorms delayed and canceled flights in Atlanta.
Lead with empathy by keeping your eyes and ears open – customers may come to you with a problem, or not, but you can certainly observe and look for opportunities to come to your rescue. For example, a mother who is struggling to contain her young children can get a coloring book and some crayons. Small acts of empathy and kindness often have surprising and far-reaching effects.
Ultimately, the customer experience is not about your budget or your resources. It’s about establishing a core CX philosophy, empowering your employees to follow it, and encouraging them to be creative and always put the customer first.
Janice has been with businesskinda for 5 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider businesskinda team, Janice seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.