Be thankful for great hospitality and customer service

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I generally don’t use this blog to air my personal experiences, but recent events have reminded me of a few things that I think would benefit our Analytic Hospitality Executives and their organizations to also be reminded of.

This past week, I took my fifth trip to Asia this year. With such a lengthy flight and so many nights in a row in so many different hotels (including a weekend this time), I was immersed in the hospitality and travel consumer experience for a while.   I will keep names out to protect the innocent and the very, very guilty, but being on the receiving end of so much “service” , and a really interesting conversation with a New Zealand technology consultant living in Macau, reminded me of a few things.

In this exciting, fast moving world of technology and analytics, it’s easy to get caught up in the next shiny object, the next innovation, the next “killer app”. However, it is crucial in the midst of what’s new, not to forget about the core service proposition.   My New Zealand colleague and I were trading personal pet peeves about hospitality and travel between meetings in Macau. She used to work in call centers, and pointed out to me that nearly every “hold” message starts with “Your call is very important to us”. Well, if it were that important, wouldn’t you answer it instead of putting me on hold?

This conversation got me thinking about how important it is to keep the guest at the center of the hospitality experience, with everything that happens designed around the experience that the brand promise sets for that guest.   I don’t see this attitude as consistently in the hospitality and travel industries today as I would hope.

For me, the hands down most frustrating experience of my long haul trips this year has been the baggage claim experience inside customs and immigration in the US. The last trip back to the states in early September, I waited 50 minutes at LAX at the carousel (not including the 20 minutes it took them to bus us to the immigration area) just to pick up my bag, only to drop it off again two minutes later after going through customs – and it had a priority tag on it (that is, it took them nearly 70 minutes to get my bag onto the carousel)!! I nearly missed my connection with an hour and fifteen minute layover – and I had global entry, top status with my airline and TSA pre-check!   In Detroit a couple of months ago, one of my bags arrived on the priority carousel and the other on the regular carousel across the baggage claim area (both were priority tagged). On a previous trip to Detroit, the bags came out on a completely different carousel than the one the flight was listed on (again, causing me to nearly miss my connection).

When I arrived in Hong Kong this trip, it was 40 minutes from when I left my seat on the plane to when I got into the cab. This included a long walk to immigration, a lengthy line at immigration and a lengthy cab line. My bag was waiting for me on the carousel when I left the immigration line (I’m guessing 25 minutes after landing). In Singapore this year, my record was 17 minutes – including picking up a checked bag, which again was waiting on the carousel when I got out of immigration!

Hotels, in general, do much better, but not perfect by any means. I have had great service at some hotels, and touchy service at others. I have endured overly chatty front desk agents, long check-in lines and not-ready rooms, when I just want to get to my room after a long trip. I’ve also had very thoughtful housekeepers that noticed that I drank every bottle of water in the room, leave me extra the next night (also housekeepers who failed to replace the water). I’ve been turned away with no alternative at hotel restaurants when my delayed flight meant arriving after the kitchen closed, and been “protected” from overly-friendly bar patrons by thoughtful bartenders.   I’m getting a little tired of crawling under desks to find an outlet to charge my phone, or waking up every five minutes because heavy doors are banging shut up and down my hall. I’ve had to open my bag on the floor because there was no surface large enough to support it in the room, and no luggage rack – and had to endure long waits for staff to bring an iron when there was none provided and no time to send out for service before my meeting.

This is not a therapy session (although I do feel better now that I’ve gotten it out), but rather a reminder that data and analytics are not just for the next big innovation.   It’s great that we can monitor twitter to intervene when a customer identifies a service problem – but what about preventing that problem in the first place? Data and analytics should be used first and foremost to monitor and improve core service delivery processes to ensure excellent customer experiences.

Forecasting arrivals and departures can ensure lines are kept to a minimum at check-in, and housekeeping staff is adequate to turn over rooms in time for early arrivals. Simulation and optimization algorithms can model baggage handling processes to streamline delivery. Thoughtfully crafted and carefully analyzed surveys paired with content analysis of online reviews will identify key traveler needs to inspire product and service design, as well as opportunity areas for staff training and development. Statistical analysis of demand patterns will help to ensure that operating hours for ancillary outlets align with guests travel patterns. Forecasting and optimization algorithms ensure that call hold times are kept to a minimum. Within all of this, your basic instincts, experience and training about what service means and how to deliver it in the context of your brand promise and your organizational capabilities will put the right wrapper around the analytic results.

This kind of discipline helps with innovation as well. I attended a really interesting talk from Clayton Christenson at a SAS event this fall. Professor Christensen teaches at Harvard Business School and is famous for his work on disruptive technologies. He suggested that companies are spending too much time trying to “know” their customer – understanding everything about them. Rather, they should be understanding the basic need that is driving that consumer to buy your product or service – or as he put it, “the job that your customer is hiring your product or service to do”. I would “hire” a very different room for a romantic getaway than I would for an overnight for a business trip. Think why your guests would “hire” your room – is it because you have good lighting and plenty of outlets in the work area? Is it because you are close to a fun restaurant and bar area? What would you really be able to do with a set of demographic information about a segment (35-40, 45% female, traveling from east coast of US), without understanding what that traveler NEEDS from your service offering – why they would hire you to provide it?

So, consider this a call to action for all of our Analytic Hospitality Executives. Are you confident that the service delivery of your core product is measuring up? Can you identify areas of improvement? Can you coherently describe why your guests would hire your hotel for their next stay, and how you will deliver against that need?

 

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Kelly McGuire

4 Comments

  1. Diana Dimaiuta

    Kelly this is so true. Thank you for telling your story and sharing some of your frustrations with the travel and hospitality industries and their customer service. I don't travel nearly as much as you do but I have had the same frustrations over the years with travel both for business and personal. You would think that some of these companies and brands would do a better job or "get it" but they don't.

  2. Kelly, your comments on need-based analytics are so true. I worked with a travel agency several years ago that was looking at a segmentation study. They planned to use the traditional demos you referenced above versus understanding the need of the customer at the time of purchase. My recommendation was a needs-based segmentation that could be applied to the online channel and quickly direct the customer to suitable recommendations based on their needs. Unfortunately, the changes required in their CRM system added a layer of complication they weren't ready to deal with. Have you seen organizations finally moving to multiple needs-based segmentations for the same customer? I am looking to hear their stories on how they are actively managing the database with multiple personas.

    • Kelly McGuire

      Hi Janet,
      Thanks for the comment! I have not really seen organizations moving in this direction aggressively, mostly because, as you say, their current systems are not set up to properly handle this level of complexity. I do see organizations thinking about this more and more - and becoming increasingly willing to make investments in the source systems to achieve this. I think we'll see more activity around functionality like this very soon.
      Happy Holidays!
      Kelly

  3. Pingback: The Analytic Hospitality Executive in 2014: A Review - The Analytic Hospitality Executive

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