Technology is a wonderful thing I’m sure you would all agree. Thanks to technology the interface between the consumer and the service provider has become almost completely dehumanised
with more conversations taking place between humans and machines than ever before. I see no end in sight.
My teenage daughter uses Facebook to “talk” to friends which seems to me to be 21st century equivalent of leaving love notes in school bags. We pay all our bills via BPay, sit on voice activated phone lines to communicate with a variety of companies and spend more time on email and Internet-based communication than actual face-to-face exchanges. On line shopping has finally gained traction in the market and home delivery has done away with the need to actually leave the house. I can study on line, participate in lectures via interactive web based applications and submit papers and tests the same way. Hell, I can even trawl the net for a new lover, best friend or pet. Preferably not all on the same web site.
So here’s the thing. If everyone’s going into a virtual world of limited human interaction and staff downsizing how do we differentiate ourselves from the mainstream?
For me it’s pretty simple but also a bit challenging. Real human contact based service delivery has got to be the key. I think this is particularly true of highly personal purchase decisions involving some emotional attachment to the product or service being acquired. I’m also absolutely convinced that as service standards rise price becomes less a consideration in the final buying decision. Let’s face it, general service standards across a range of industries are pretty ordinary so how hard can it be to stand out from the crowd?
There’s a bank out there that advertises that when you call them you’ll talk to a real human. The proposition would have been laughable 10 years ago but today it really resonates with people more used to hanging on the line while a recorded message tells them how great the products and services of the company are and how valuable you are as a customer. Sadly not valuable enough to have a staff member to talk to!
Over the Christmas break the managing director and I made a couple of highly personalised purchase decisions that appeared a bit pricey. The service experiences we had in both cases left us feeling like we’d received exceptional value delivered by people for whom service is more than a word on a company logo.
Neither of us has ever had to arrange a funeral before so the loss of a family member on Christmas Eve was both an emotional body blow and a time of concern over what to do next. We were referred to a funeral director in Toowoomba and so the process began. Obviously empathetic service delivery at a time like this should be a given and so it was. I have never witnessed a more professional combination of adherence to a strict process management system combined with real human care and a clear sense of honour to serve. Any business that needs to operate via a strict set of systems and protocols while delivering highly personalised service could do worse than take a leaf out of this funeral director’s book. If there’s a more emotion charged decision in life than who’s going to bury a loved one I’d like to hear about it!
We made it through the Christmas and New Year break, the managing director held it all together like only she can and I decided she needed some rest and relaxation. Where to go? The Marriott at Surfers has just had $20 million spent on it, let’s give the place a try. I seek a room rate and realise the tariff is per night, not per week! Throwing fiscal good sense to the wind I book anyway and immediately have that buyer’s regret when you realise you’ve paid too much. Too late now, they have the credit card details and we’re off. We left three days later feeling like the room rate was a bit of bargain, so good was the service and presentation of the place. When a restaurant manager personally searches for you just to let you know that your table has become available a little earlier and appears delighted to have had the opportunity to deliver a positive message that’s great service. When concièrge staff really convince you that carrying your bags to the room is the highlight of their day and when pool side staff offer complimentary fresh fruit and cold drinks with a pleasant smile and warm greeting that’s service. And every step of the way the tariff becomes less important than the experience.
I know a bloke who has a pretty big resort in Noosa. He puts on a BBQ and few beers once in while for guests. Probably costs him next to nothing but what a great way to thank people for their business. I think the challenge for all accommodation operators is to find ways to humanise your guests’ stay and value add the experience. Imagine the reaction if a resident manager cut up a watermelon and offered it to guests around the swimming pool on a hot summer afternoon. It would take 10 minutes, cost next to nothing and build good will like few other activities. I’d also bet that when those guests rebook and the tariff has gone up they’ll still come back. It’s an evil trick that the Marriott appear to have perfected and they’ve got us for life!
Vale – Ian Nicol. Father, father-in-law and all round good bloke.