Customer Trend Tensions
Today’s business issues focus on new tactics to strengthen brand loyalty and grow RevPAR at a time when market forces and current shopping trends seem to be pulling away from brand loyalty. Guests are increasingly using technology and online travel sites to plan travel and lodging. As they plan and shop, they are exposed to competing offers and new options for every dollar in their travel budget. As guests become more skilled in using technology to plan and shop for travel and accommodation, their expectations become more sophisticated as well. Millennials increasingly expect to use smartphones and tablets to book travel and transportation, check in and out, order services, and make payments for hospitality services. Some guests use technology to find the lowest price, while others are looking for enhanced sources of value and are willing to pay for it.
Hospitality executives must accommodate the expectations of all segments of their customer base.
Maintaining brand consistency across multiple properties and multiple levels of service is an industry-wide challenge. When hospitality guests arrive at a property, their expectations are framed by the brand name over the front door, not by the business model. A consistent customer experience is critical to growing brand loyalty and revenue.
Best-in-Class Customer Experience
Best-in-class hospitality organizations understand there is nothing more powerful when building financial performance and brand loyalty than insisting on excellence throughout the guest experience. The guest experience can include multiple interactions between hospitality staff and individual guests across every channel, planning and budgeting a trip, shopping for the best possible lodging, visiting the property to conduct business or enjoy a vacation, and, finally, departing with memories and expectations fulfilled or disappointed. The customer experience is the very live-or-die heart of the industry.
Too often, the hospitality industry defines guest experience based on tangibles and minimizes the impact of the human interaction. However, our research reminds us of the importance of intangible factors:
- Long-term loyalty to any brand is based on the perception of the guest experience.
- Guests have a broader definition of value that goes beyond product and price. It includes how hotel associates make them “feel” about their stay.
For example, the user interface software designer who writes the code for a branded smartphone app owns a portion of the customer experience, as does the bellhop who helps the departing guest find the best transportation at the end of the vacation. The dishwasher who helps a guest find the exercise room and the housekeeper who interrupts her busy morning to provide an extra towel each own a piece of the customer experience.
Executive Leadership of the Guest Experience
Guest experience will not provide competitive advantage without a bold and firm commitment from executive leadership. This includes:
- A clear vision and mission that connects with and addresses every customer interaction across every channel
- Commitment of resources, time, and support to align all activities with customer experience
- Communication that enrolls and aligns the head, heart, and hands of employees in all job functions
Management needs to help employees become enrolled in, take ownership of, and commit to delivering the total customer experience. At each point of interaction and for each job function in each, property managers need to make sure employees:
- Know what to do to ensure consistent customer experience
- Know why it is so important to provide a best-in-class customer experience
- Know how to take the actions that will deliver the desired customer experience
In other words, managers need to engage the head, heart, and hands of all employees in the creation and delivery of a best-in-class customer experience.