Customer Experience: Latest Trends in Customer Experience

The quality of the customer experience can make or break any business – and in the hospitality industry, it is even more important. How does you customer experience measure up with the competition? What do you have in place to track and quantify the quality of your customer experience?

In the first of a two-part series, we bring together a panel of experts to discuss and advise hoteliers on the latest trends in customer experience.

Note: You can read Part Two of this feature here.

Our customer experience panel: What elements make up the customer experience?

Hickie: I think that the customer experience can be divided neatly into the physical and metaphysical. The physical experience is how “fit for purpose” every aspect of a guest’s stay is from booking to goodbyes. The metaphysical, as I call it, describes the warm ambiance of the hotel, the customer’s “feel good factor”, the smiles and friendliness of staff, the exceeding of expectations and so on.

Years ago a wonderful hotelier taught me the simple rule: “a good customer experience is one where the customer thought it was so wonderful that they would be prepared to pay even more for their stay next time.”

Jones: I think it’s also important to remember that the customer experience starts way before the customer stays at the hotel … and ends long after they have left! Expectations are usually set when a customer visits the hotel’s website or online booking site, so hoteliers need to be aware of their online presence and make sure it matches up with the impression they want to give. A potential guest can quickly be put off by scant information, poor images and a hard-to-navigate site.

Furthermore, the most successful hotels recognise that the customer experience doesn’t end with their departure. Post-stay follow-up is one of the most effective ways to convert a good experience into repeat visits and recommendations. This can be in the form of a personal thank you, an update on the result of feedback, news of offers and new services.

Talbot: Customer experience can be defined as the sum of all experiences a customer encounters with a hotel, over the duration of their relationship with that hotel. Throughout the experience there may be many different experience touch points and successful hoteliers are the ones who provide a consistently great experience across these touch points. So, hoteliers wanting to improve their guest experience should be focusing on the touch points? Why are touch points important?

McHattie: The touch points are every occasion where a guest comes into contact with the hotel – whether on the telephone, the website or when they actually visit the establishment to eat, drink, sleep or all three.

I think there are two aspects: the physical appearance of the building and the moments of interaction with the hotel’s employees. Every interaction between the team and the guest is an opportunity to build a positive relationship, customer loyalty, differentiation and potential recommendation of your hotel.

Every potential interaction with a guest is a chance to check they are making the most of their visit, to enhance it and to build on your unique attributes. Guests are an opportunity, not an encumbrance. Whether saying “hello” in the lobby and checking they are enjoying their stay or asking if they have visited a local attraction, engagement with your customers is everything. At every point, show you care, demonstrate your knowledge and build a rapport. Which are the most important touch points?

Pike: Before arrival, the key touch points are the website and telephone booking process. Was there a “smile down the phone”? Was the website inviting and simple to use?

Upon arrival, it’s important to make them feel like a guest, not part of the process! This is achieved through the efficiency of the check-in process and the general interactions with reception. The same goes for payment and checkout.

Jones: I agree. Arrival and check-in are critical touch points. Greetings from doormen and reception staff, parking and valeting services, baggage handling and the look and feel of the lobby area all provide good opportunities to impress guests and set the tone for the rest of their stay.

Throughout the stay, several more touch points give the hotelier the chance to shape the customer experiences and drive loyalty. Everything from room maintenance – replenishing provisions, replacing laundry and turning down the bed – to dining experiences and other services such as spa, gym and concierge services can generate goodwill and encourage recommendation if delivered well. How can hoteliers test their customer experience and compare it to the competition?

Talbot: Hoteliers can test their customer experience using a variety of different methods. One method is to review guest comments on online feedback review sites such as TripAdvisor and Laterooms. However these review sites have limitations because they lack a common defined standard when providing hotel feedback.

Another approach is to engage trained mystery shoppers to provide objective customer experience feedback. Working in conjunction with the client, a bespoke mystery shopping programme is assembled. This has the advantage of ensuring feedback is consistent with the programme benchmarking standards.

McHattie: Aside from talking to guests at every opportunity during their stay, it is worthwhile to have a structured approach to benchmarking performance. Mystery sleepers are an excellent way to assess your performance but it is essential to understand how you compare to competitors, how guests feel and whether you are indeed delivering a level of experience that builds loyalty and recommendation.

Customers do not count the number of times the phone rings before it is answered – rather, they make a subjective appraisal of the experience based on factors such as welcome, warmth, interest, knowledge and pace of the experience. The National Skills Academy has developed the Hospitality Benchmark which, with a customer centric mystery shopper (provided by the Mystery Dining Company) as the foundation this business solution, allows even small hoteliers the opportunity to access internal benchmarking and analysis of existing performance to identify opportunities and competitive benchmarking analysis to compare performance to hospitality competitors.

Jones: There are some innovative solutions on the market to help hoteliers test customer experience, including technologies that gather and analyse customer feedback. We recently developed the iBuzbox – an interactive customer feedback tool based on Partner Tech’s tablet computer which allows guests to submit their views quickly in response to carefully designed micro-questionnaires. Using software to analyse and interpret the data allows us to mine for improvements that can be made immediately and those that require strategic planning. The hoteliers we work with can then invest time and resources in training and improvements that are most likely to reap rewards.

But when it comes to comparing the competition, there is no substitute for mystery shopping. Management teams really need to test-drive their competitors if they want to know how their hotel measures up. Mystery shopping in your own hotel is also a powerful way to see your offering through your customers’ eyes and establish a clear picture of what you’re doing well and where improvements could be made. What defines customer loyalty?

Pike: One way of defining loyalty is when customers talk positively without encouragement about a customer experience or a brand. This is important because it is an indicator of repeat business and positive recommendations.

This is only likely to happen if the customer’s experience stands out from other comparable experiences – and in order to stand out, the processes must operate like clockwork and provide a platform on which personality and creativity can shine. I think it’s important to always be on the lookout for an opportunity to surprise your customer with excellent service.

When measuring customer loyalty, it is important to dig deeper than a simple question and to find out what influences their likelihood to recommend. How can customer loyalty be improved?

Hickie: Hoteliers can improve their customer loyalty through loyalty schemes, offers and recommendation schemes – with a minimum of three-month contacts with all existing customers.

Marketing to get new customers is always hard work but existing customers provide a wonderful pool for direct marketing and developing a long term relationship. This means you need to develop an effective customer database and use it effectively. Collecting data just for the sake of it is a very unprofitable activity.

Note: You can read Part Two of this feature here.


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