Does your team seek ways to create customer highlights?
I recently came across some old holiday photographs and found some of a family reunion at a game lodge in the Nambiti Private Game Reserve. I hasten to add this is not one of the top price game lodges aimed at people with lots of US dollars, but more a place for locals to feel pampered. A question on the guest satisfaction form upon our departure was: “what were the highlights?”
My initial thoughts went to the amazing game viewing we had been privileged to see – a lioness and her cubs so close we could have reached out to touch them; a porcupine scurrying from the Land Rover lights; a mating pair of the endangered blue crane; two bull elephants that seemed intent on making us reverse just for fun! I could carry on describing the wonders of the South African Bush, but as the family convened before setting off we got onto the subject of highlights.
I soon realised that while the animals were the reason we had chosen this venue, (much like the beach is the attraction for a coastal hotel) what stood out for us was the attentive hospitality we had experienced. Without intending to sound glib or ungrateful, the animals were the event (an amazing one), but the overall experience was bound up in the way we had been treated. All game reserve lodges offer their guests the opportunity to see wild animals up close and in their natural habitat. So how does one lodge differentiate itself from another? It is truly “wow!” to see and hear a lion roar, but the lodge itself has no control over that. The focus then has to be on what is controllable, the ability to delight the customer.
The hospitality industry is a good example of where the “wow!” factor is becoming increasingly difficult to deliver. Despite the pandemic and a weakened world economy, people are still in love with the idea of travel. Resorts often compete based on natural advantages (stunning views, beach access, proximity to attractions) or on what they can offer the guest in terms of facilities (golf course, spa, 24-hour service). While the look and feel of the hotel and its facilities are important, there is a point when the cost-benefit ratio makes it unaffordable to continue to try to impress purely based on the product. A stunning bathroom with an outdoor shower with a view is very cool - but when the next hotel offers something similar, it slips slightly in its ability to impress. The expectation bar has now been raised.
How then is it possible to surprise customers, keep them coming back for more, and have them do word-of-mouth advertising, without pricing oneself out of business? The answer lies in the people, not the things. Customers have basic expectations of any business and these expectations are influenced by how much they are paying for the product or service. For instance, it is acceptable that a toasted sandwich from a fast food chain is served on thick industrial-use crockery with a sprig of parsley paying lip service to garnish. Yet, the same presentation in a five-star hotel would be simply unacceptable. Those five stars raise the "acceptable" bar significantly.
It's important to note, however, that acceptable is not "wow!"
The secret to making the sandwich or the five-star hotel memorable lies in how the staff goes out of their way to ensure that the customer feels special or that their preferences have been remembered and repeated. One of the little things I remember from our game drives was that the ranger noted our preferences for drinks and snacks on day one, thereafter, they were ready and waiting for us. I loved that I always received a little chocolate because I mentioned I'm a chocoholic. Friendliness, attentiveness and creativity are the building blocks of exceptional service. As leaders, are we encouraging and enabling our teams to do what they can to make the customer feel special?
The devil (or in this case, the angel) is in the detail. It requires a culture where your employees are encouraged to move off the “how may I help you?” script, toward listening to and engaging with their customers. It requires obsessive attention to detail and the little cues that customers give about their preferences or how they are feeling. It requires a dedicated system of noting and personalising the service to that customer. It requires a natural friendliness and attitude of wanting to delight and using imagination to eliminate any possible frustrations. It means that good enough is never good enough.
If you want to wow your customers: Think of the little things you can do to surprise and please - then do them! Learn from the best and try to bring that flare into your service. Keep it personal and pay attention to detail.
Author: Janet Askew
Janet is a trainer, coach, speaker and writer who is passionate about promoting women in business and SMME development. In addition to her consulting work, she is a director of Essentially Natural and serves on the board of the Wot-If? Trust.