11 Oct 2015

Softer pillows or Connectivity? The key to better CX in the Hospitality Industry

(If you’ve not read the precursor to this dialogue you might want to at this link, at the end of this post)

One always thought customer experience reached its pinnacle at the way larger 5-star (even 7 star) hotels treated (read that as pampered) their customers. It was always about lavishness and luxury, about large intimidating lobbies, plush sofas and hushed tones. It was about how your car drove up to the imposing podium and how you were greeted there as you stepped out of your car. It was about choosing the softness or hardness of the pillows you were used to back home.
But today customer experience in hospitality has moved up (that too in transparent high speed elevators!). 
What will you remember?
Years ago I was on a business trip to Singapore. As an agency we were pitching for what was to be a large and significant project. I was the Creative Director leading the team and I was then taking a presentation to be made to a global team of the multinational organization in Singapore.
Like in any other situation the work to be presented was finally finished minutes before I was to leave for the airport. A red-eye flight landed me in Singapore the next morning. With the late night flight, the time difference (I lost time) and the stress of the day before I arrived frazzled at the airport. It was 8 am. My presentation was slotted at 9 am.
I rushed out, caught a cab, discovered through a conversation with the taxi driver that the hotel is not too far away and settled in for the ride. It was only when I got off, that I realised that I had no local currency. Those were the days when the taxis accepted only Singapore dollars. I gasped. But only for a moment. The bellhop that opened the door asked me what the problem was. When I told him, he dug into his pocket; paid the cabbie the full fare in Singapore currency, took charge of the receipt and my luggage, and marched me inside the hotel to the check-in desk. I quickly changed currency as I checked in and handed him the amount due. I was beyond relieved. Not only would that have delayed me for my presentation but it would have really taken the edge of my confidence.
 Yes the hotel was comfortable. The room was lovely and yes, the presentation went on well and yes, yes, we did win the business but what do I remember most to this day? I remember the enthusiastic bellhop with ready cash in his pocket. I remember an organization that had thought ahead, a leadership that had acted on an insight and a ground level employee who was empowered to take quick decisions on his own. What an unforgettable customer experience! And no, I don’t remember how soft or hard the pillows were!

 Connectedness. Connectivity.
If you look at customer segmentation in the hospitality industry the obvious one is the business traveller and the holiday maker. But think of yourself now – you are both. And sometimes you are both at the same time.
Here’s a case in point.
A resort I stayed in recently for a family holiday very graciously offered us ‘free wifi’ as part of the “summer package. Great, I thought. But here’s the catch: the ‘free wifi’ was meant for only 1 device per room. Can you think back to an age when you went carried only one device that needed connectivity either on business or a holiday?! Even a couple on their honeymoon will have two phones that need to be ‘connected’!
Isn’t the hospitality industry losing connectedness because of lack of connectivity?  Today if Customer Experience is a recognized battleground, hotels will offer free wifi (of course with seamless connectivity). And it doesn’t matter now how good the view or the food is – the Lord and Mark Zuckerberg know that if you have not put up your holiday on Facebook or Twitter, it really wasn’t a holiday! Which means a holiday without connectivity is no holiday at all!

The blurred lines
And then there are the blurred lines in customer segmentation – which means the business traveller is also the holiday maker is also the decision maker in terms of choice of holiday destinations. What is the hospitality industry doing for this new product of the sharing economy?
With the advent of the Airbnb challengers the hotel industry has to be even more on their toes to make every experience not just memorable for that time but enough to get more loyalty. And by that I don’t mean the meaningless point programmes that some chains run.

Three keys to better CX
For a start there are three things that the hospitality industry has to do.
  1. View the customer differentlyThe customer today is a bundle of personalities that can no longer be slotted in one clear box. Instead of fighting that, why not create a ‘bundle’ of offers for the new customer? 
2. View the positioning differently
There are business hotels and there are holiday resorts. But today business hotels because of their competitive costs are used by holiday makers on a budget and the resorts are used as conference destinations. And yet we have resorts without wifi connectivity and business hotels with no amenities for couples with children. While positioning is important, isn’t it time repositioning happened?
3. View your employee differently
Customer Experience starts with the customer but it is up to the last employee to deliver that experience and that will only come from the empowerment of that employee. In the new world, every employee in his space is the CEO – able to take decisions in favor of the customer at that moment. Like the bell hop in the hotel in Singapore, who with my luggage took charge of my woes. Something I’ll always remember. And isn’t that what great Customer Experience is all about?

Related Links
So who needs Customer Experience?
6 reasons why you don’t need Customer Experience