Most of us now know about brands. We are what we say we are. Our brand then is verified by our consumer, based upon how we delivered on the expectation(s). Their experience is impacted by what they feel, how all their senses interacted, and how their perceptions turned into reality – the validation process.
Sometimes the changes are so subtle. You remember the celebrated Hotel Lounge when it opened. The bottle of Makers Mark is still the same, as is the bartender, Andy. However, the pour is no longer at his will; the rocks glass looks familiar, but is a tad heavier. The cocktail napkins do not acclaim Lola’s Lounge, rather a generic martini glass. What is afoot? Something is different. Even those tasty bar nuts are replaced with airy fish munchies, now touched by the great unwashed.
Your favorite lodging has undergone similar changes. Where it used to be the epitome of class, taste and elegance, the atmosphere is different. It may be the landscaping, where a round of daisies replaced the climbing rose. There is no doorman to greet you, much less the Bell Staff to “room you”. The nice touch of “turn down service” has disappeared, and your fashionable mints are replaced with a common chocolate. In the bath, your towels are pedestrian, no fluff, weight, or caress. You soaps may now be dispensed, and your water glasses encased in plastic. Worn, tired, done in!
You notice that the crowd has changed, too, as you wander to the acclaimed restaurant. Where once frequented by folks just like you, you witness the glassy-eyed conventioneer, bedecked in “Business Casual” and certified by name tag. Now, seated at the table, you wonder where is the relish tray? The rolls are merely tepid, and your butter is now wrapped and apportioned. Even water service has gone the route of distilled or sparkling (at cost). There is the similar bustle of staff, but no rapport or eye contact. We may even be welcomed with, “Hello, guys.”
The landscape has changed, and we have tried to adapt. Doing more with less. Our guest/visitor/customer sees all this, yet even with higher prices, the value, perceived and real, has declined. Intense competition has moved our product forward, most notably thread count, flat screens, curved shower curtains, massages, technology galore and celebrity chefs. If we do not remain competitive within our community, we languish. We try to fill those shoulder seasons and off days and hours. Heads in beds, seasonal specials, Early Birds, get two for one. It is hard to make a living, much less retain a committed staff. Our corporate offices continually hammer us to cut costs – a corner here, a lop there – yet remain true to our mission. Bad news travels quickly, as we confront complexities daily.
You wonder when the backlash will occur and from what front. It could be the government, manipulating Immigration, Wage and Hour, even Standards. They love rooting through our underwear drawer. Perhaps organized labor will change the working relationship you currently enjoy. Our associates have yet to be sold that hospitality is a good career – don’t let that swinging door hit you on the way out. Personally, I think the consumer will ultimately say they have had enough, which may be either good or bad for your business.
What halcyon days we have enjoyed – new building abounds, conversions galore, grand multi-use plans, ATR way up, occupancy soaring. Very good times, but at what expense? We are cyclical as an industry, and planning is not a strong suit. We are all consumers, too, and what makes us think our guests are different than we. We absolutely know a good experience, when we travel, visit a restaurant, seek lodging or recreation. Our guests are no different. Perhaps, it is time to echo Bob Dylan and become relevant for the future through the eyes of our guest/customer.
We need to validate the experience. Talk to your guests, bring them into the family, make them feel special. Invest in your people; they are your ambassadors and carry your message. Keep an eye on the competition. Task your associations to better represent your interests. Manage costs, but do not strangle what makes you special. What you do, do well. No scrimping. Above all, emphasize service. That is the true differentiator in our business! It is very difficult to resurrect a reputation, once diminished! Corporations do not have a face, but you do – the Face of Hospitality. You lose your touch, you lose your name.
John Hendrie is the author of the LRA blog 'A Guy Walks In'. LRA is a leading research and consulting company in the emerging discipline of Customer Experience Management (CEM). We work with our clients to help them design and deliver consistently exceptional customer experiences in order to drive customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy, and company growth and profitability. We have built a range of quality assurance, mystery shopping, research, training and consulting solutions to help them do so.
Today, we are a growing company operating in more than 120 countries throughout the world, servicing our clients from offices and resources in the Americas, EMEA and Asia Pacific regions and helping clients such as Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, the National Football League, Avis Budget Group, Madison Square Garden, the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group deliver exceptional customer experiences. Every touch. Every time. For more information, visit www.LRAworldwide.com.
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