The Art of Customer Recognition
Whatever hospitality business you take, customer recognition is what it is all about. You might create a restaurant with the best cuisine in the world but if you customer service sucks, you are done, even with your most fancy food. If you don’t recognize the value of your customers in terms of recognition – you actually know who your customers are and why they keep coming back – you don’t have a clue what you are doing.
As my dear friend, the General Manager of Marriott in Islamabad, Pakistan, a super professional German guy I’ve mentioned before as well, wisely put it; if you don’t recognize your customers the hotel business is like selling beds! So true. And you know, selling beds might be $20/night business but a good hotel can be anything from hundreds to thousands per night. That’s the small difference we are talking about.
And just use the same city – which most of you don’t have any idea about - as a field for a quick competitive analysis (Yes, there are hotels…frankly). City of Islamabad has two five star hotels; Serena with just a beautiful piece of property, gardens, huge halls and everything, and Marriott, with much more limited spaces, although quickly developing new areas and activities, and not so fancy building. Despite the glamorous infrastructure Serena certainly has, the customer recognition is like zero, nada, nothing. It’s pretty sad actually. Whereas Marriott is full of smiles, greetings, nice to see you again Sir –words, pretty good restaurants and most of all, never ending full-time customer recognition! Another example of similar 24/7 commitment on customer experience I’ve experience e.g. in St. Regis Shanghai. But that’s what hotel business is all about and I simply can’t understand how someone working in the business can be so stupid not to get it? I mean seriously?
Another my favorite hospitality world is obviously airline business, which I have been criticizing so many times before – but let’s be honest, I’ve also given good, positive response so many times, right? Anyway, in this world of loyalty cards and airlines alliances, the tools for advanced customer recognition are there and the rest of the story is just about using the tools. And yes, that’s probably the tricky part for the airline business. But to keep this story short, there is a certain difference if your in-flight staff says “Welcome again” when you are boarding the plane; something it’s easy to do when you see the passengers boarding pass with identification elements showing this woman or man is actually part of your own loyalty program or alliance. However, as the airlines are trying to make people to act more independently and digital through online check-ins and non-printed boarding passes, the risk of loosing such a touch & feel might disappear. Or you should develop new tools for that, I think.
I could tell hundreds of stories of good and bad restaurant cases around the world but again, keep this story short; the professional customer recognition is about playing the cards right. You need to have people with some face memory, learn tricks to ask about the family of the regulars, spy little bit over the years by asking questions, be friendly and finalize everything with one small and so easy element – smile!
Obviously, all new social media and digital communication tools creates possibilities as well. I need to admit that the small things e.g. Austrian Airlines have been doing towards me over the few months have been so great! And I believe there should be a new Airline Award called like Best Online Talks. I don’t really need their nice Twitter messages asking how my flight was but if you ask whether that makes me feel good after all the millions of miles traveled over the last 15+ years, my answer is definitely yes!! And furthermore, I am pleased to response back as they seems to be interested to hear about my experience. At least they are acting like that, and without knowing the resources e.g. Austrian Airline is having for this job, I’m sure with a team of few people they could easily handle communication equal to millions of Euros in old-fashion marketing communication. And everybody likes it, no questions - also a big difference to passive communication, since customer recognition is all about creating a pleasure – you do something that your customers love. Every customer wants to be the number one, the only one inside your plane, at your hotel or dining in your restaurant. And every time you do something with some special care and attention, you made them come back again. Again, so simple.
Customer recognition is not rocket-science; it’s just something that makes your customer to feel good and appreciated. Something that makes them to think themselves as the real VIP people, just now, just today, and just tonight. That’s what customer recognition is all about, not any fancy tools or processes, all certainly required to make it happen technically but about the last touch, the overall feeling you are able to create around them. And you know, in this world of super-quick global communication tools that feeling is so often broadcasted around the world in seconds! Maybe that might be valuable for you, too?
Since I started this with a link to Marriott, I’ll end with few words I remember reading on Marriott’s Way book once at some Marriott hotel somewhere (if this is not right, maybe someone at Marriott International could send me that book?) – It is all about making people away from home to feel they are among friends. So clever and simple. Hotel is not your home – actually I hate those service promises because that’s basically absurd - but it can be a place where you feel to be taken care of by the way that suites you, right now.
For you Sir, Arne M. Sorenson, the new CEO of Marriott International, I would say congratulations! I think people working for your core values are doing outstanding work, in Islamabad at least. When you will be sitting next to your new table in few weeks, I would call Mr. Noack, that GM in Islamabad and find out what that German guy is actually doing so well and try to copy it. You might find a secret, I believe. The secret that will make Marriott to enjoy the flow of Asian tourists also into the US. Because by end of the day that’s the core of hospitality business - you know who is coming and why. That’s my own humble traveler & observer opinion anyway.
Another cheers for professional customer recognition. I look forward to face great moments in the future too!