Thursday, June 3, 2010
Welcome To The Hotel California
Whilst stretched out on a beachchair at the Intercontinental in Bali I started thinking what created such an amazing experience (cocktail buzz aside). Starting with a great location overlooking a beautiful beach might be a bit obvious but as a business, what does a hotel resort need to deliver in order to create advocates and repeat customers?
I thought I can’t do better than write this whilst still immersed in the experience (a proud red tan in development) and I ended up distilling the experience down into four key values a hotel/resort needs to deliver for brand growth and consumer advocacy :
It doesn’t matter whether you promise unlimited alcohol and luxury backrubs (although I’m interested and willing to review your offer in person) … customer service has been and remains the key to service orientated success. You could do everything else right but if your staff go the extra mile with a genuine smile and respect for the consumer, people will recommend you and your brand reputation will grow. It also reminds me this is also a two way street. My friend is a consultant for the hospitality industry and she has a simple motto ‘Happy staff mean happy customers’*. We all recognize a plastic fantastic fake smile, so a great manager will make sure their team are relaxed and enjoying their time as well.
The Les Suites Taipei Da-an in Taiwan is a boutique hotel I stayed at that sticks in my mind because the staff and concierge service was exceptionally good. I remember the hotel room less than I remember the front desk recommending great places to eat, organizing taxis, booking me a haircut and providing tips where to shop (‘don’t go there, that’s for ignorant tourists … locals go here’). The staff were the primary brand touchpoint and when they’re this good, customers will spread the word.
The Mandarin Oriental in the Philippines also has this category nailed. I don’t know how the staff all remember my name with my infrequent visits, but being greeted like a friend immediately takes the edge off a long business flight over. A little ego pampering goes an amazingly long way to making you feel special and welcome. It’s essentially the rockstar effect … walking into a room and having everyone cheer you have arrived.
Touching the senses can be both a value and an activation channel. Lying on the beach perpetrating a tan (I won’t sing the rest) with blue waves crashing in front of me, it’s hard to imagine how to add further value around the experience without over or under delivering. The key is complimentary and authentic touches.
The pineapple cocktail delivered in a real pineapple gets the thumbs up (I’ll take another, thanks), the beach chairs all with fresh towels, the beautiful crafted menus with real wood covers and the soft background music that I can’t work out where it is coming from all made what is essentially a simple ritual much more pleasurable.
Disruption needs to be avoided at all costs. Earlier on a worker started chainsawing a tree in the middle of the quiet Sunday afternoon. From the look on some of the hotel residences faces, I thought someone might go a little texas chainsaw on him themselves. Keeping peace and serenity is what people pay for … so scheduling non essential repairs and cleaning during off-peak hours would be a smart business decision.
Authenticity falls into this category as well … tapping into positive country or city associations can make your brand stronger and distinctive, whilst remaining true to core values in the case of chains and franchises across markets. The Intercontinental in Bali has distinctively Balinese furniture, food, interiors and design touches across most of its rooms and restaurants. It still retains the business orientated professionalism that is associated with it in all markets however.
In Japan, I spent a night in a capsule hotel for similar reasons … it was authentically Japanese. Sure, I wouldn’t recommend staying there a week but one night feeling like an astronaut in an escape capsule (with a tiny tv screen showing gameshows on repeat) was a culturally unique and sensorial experience. Remember to give consumers a good brand story they can share with their peers and associates.
In unfamiliar environments, consumers want to feel safe and secure. Many business travelers travel alone and know that staying locked up rapunzel style in your room does tend to grind after a while, even with great room service cheeseburgers and 24 hour sports channels. Getting out and seeing more than your fancy bathroom becomes a necessity.
Most unfamiliar destinations do pose the need to be a little bit careful though, especially if that includes a tour of a few bars and clubs where you plan to unleash some dance moves on unsuspecting locals. In these instances, it’s much more assuring when the hotel concierge can organize a car to and from your destination, or have the driver drop you there and give you a number to call once you’ve run out of witty conversation at the bar … ‘Is your dad a baker?’. Oops, time to go.
It’s also nice to know that when you’ve been forgetful of putting valuables in the room safe, your credit card is still in the same place once you get back. Common sense suggests you don’t want to test that theory too often of course, as you’ll eventually find someone who takes a trip to Paris at your expense without inviting you along.
Security can also be delivered at online touchpoints. Secure websites and competent online booking features are a must. I particularly dislike being re-directed to a booking site rather than remaining within a hotel website that can show real-time availability, flexible and credit card secure booking and social media links to demonstrate transparency and open up communication. Delivering safety at all times is a difficult proposition but one that is worth the effort. Communicating a brand promise of safety, security and assurance and then delivering it are the moments that build long term trust with the brand.
I stayed in the JIA Hotel in Hong Kong recently and casually twittered about it ‘Nice Philippe Stark interiors at JIA Hotel in HK #hotel’ once I got back to Singapore. Within five minutes of posting, I got a direct response from JIA asking how my stay was and if they could improve anything for a return visit. I was actually surprised by the immediacy of their monitoring and looked over my shoulder to check I hadn’t been followed. Then I thought how good this was. On a public forum they individually addressed me and were able to demonstrate high level customer service even after my stay was over.
It made a fan out of me to know I was being given the chance to say good or bad things about their brand in a completely open and contagious environment. This type of transparency is what social media is all about. It was a great brand building exercise not only to me but to other passive watchers. I had just become a brand advocate without any active intention. The opportunity I felt they missed though was to offer an exclusive deal for participating in the conversation (eg a price reduction or value added service like inclusive of breakfast for a repeat customer is an easy to deliver incentive).
Communicating and delivering these four values is integral to create a positive consumer experience that will promote great reviews and recommendations both online and off for a hotel or resort brand. From a brand strategy perspective, the main challenge is not promising these aspects … it’s ensuring they are delivered to consumers. This doesn’t have to be just at the front desk either, JIA’s use of social media (as mentioned above) demonstrates how the brand experience can continue even after check-out.
In this category, it’s not what you say, it’s what to do.
Christian Teniswood • Design Director • FutureBrand