Among the many inspiring folklores of cross-industry inspiration for customer delight lies the story of Ritz Carlton and Apple. When Steve Jobs was searching for ideas to deliver on exceptional guest experience, he didn’t hesitate to borrow from the anticipatory customer service model of Ritz Carlton and train his staff as per the hotel’s service standards. Even the prominent Apple Genius bar is inspired by the concierge station at the hotel that is the first point of communicating brand stability and building consumer trust in your services. Herein lies the most important lesson – trends will come and go but exceptional service standards will never go out of style. Though it sounds simple, maintaining a consistency in product, message, and service yet being relevant in the current environment is definitely an uphill task for hospitality.
The role of millennials
“We millennials have been advertised to our entire lives, and we can tell when somebody is just trying to sell us something”. The future of hospitality is in the hands of this new age traveler. Being born in a digitally connected world, he no longer considers free wireless connectivity in a hotel as a luxury. He is a value seeker and searches for unique experiences instead of a to and fro trip to a destination. However, once you have him hooked, he is more likely to remain loyal to you than any other generation. Being born to helicopter parents, he isn’t really sharing responsibilities at home and will want to club business travel with personal leisure. So the lines between business and leisure travel will blur with time. With millennials contributing 22% of all travelers and 200 billion USD annual revenue, the hospitality industry has to be quick to respond to the opportunities and risks posed by this new consumer segment
The balance between standardization and localization
Such content is a rich repository of information for a brand to evaluate its consistency at all its touchpoints and across geographical locations. A Starwood hotel in Chennai cannot afford to have its brand loyalist guest comment on the staff not greeting him while he walked down the hotel corridors. This standardization, whether in people, products or processes, is no more just desired from luxury hotel chains like Marriott and InterContinental Hotel Group but also in the budget segment like AirBnB and OYO rooms. This is where marketing and operations team have to align so that each employee understands his part in the brand delivery chain. The Hilton’s campaign depicting an iron-clad satisfaction guarantee inspiring staff to solve problems “on the spot” is a good illustration for the same.
However, isolation from the environment you operate in is never ideal. Today’s traveler expects a hospitality brand to be a part of the experience he expects from the destination. With expansion in the managed and franchise properties across locations, it is vital to maintaining this balance between standardization and local flavor. If you are traveling from India to China, you would probably want to see hotel listings in English or Hindi. If booking details are available to you in the translated version, you may expect that the host knows your language as well but that might not be true. To prevent such expectation performance mismatch, AirBnB shows listings in the local language with an optional translate button. Minute details like these go a long way in delivering a truly global experience.
A framework to leverage user based content
This is the generation of user based content and it is more of an opportunity than a threat for building your brand. 88% of people worldwide trust an online review as much as a personal recommendation. Fear of fake/dishonest reviews submitted by customers diluting your brand is valid. But the way to deal with it is to enable listening ports across the customer life cycle. Exceptional service standards have a contagious effect. If there’s enough zeal in employees to make a guest’s stay the best he ever had, the energy will pass on to him to share a positive review about you in his network.
Assessment of guest needs through data intelligence, benchmarking processes against the best in the industry and reflecting on guest feedback to improve products/services, has to be a standard imbibed in the culture of the organization. A platform to derive actionable inputs from the plethora of content available about customers will aid the organization in this process. The next desired improvement in your service, a new product idea or brand pitch will not come from the million dollar consultant but the guest who knows the market better than anyone else. Serendipity is what the millennial seeks. The hospitality industry can turn this opportunity into revenue only when they know more about such travelers and can drive this traffic to directly interact with the hotel than shop around in the marketplace.
Hospitality brands must not hesitate to learn continuously how they made their customers feel. Using this understanding to build a scalable yet reliable model is what will earn customer trust and brand stability. Making people happy is not an art but a part of your soul. Imbibe this across the service delivery chain – be it technology or management – and you will lead till the end of time.