By Shane Chagpar, Kepner-Tregoe

What is it about ‘five star’ hotels that excites us? Why do we pay a premium in order to otherwise receive the same overall benefit – a good night’s sleep and a centrally located base? In today’s article I discuss the concept of proactive problem management – in what I would call ‘the road to the Bellagio’

They understand their customer’s taste

For a service organization, it’s all about adapting your specific offerings to the customer taste. This means your service catalogue, delivery, and execution of its items must be not only to a certain standard, but actually surprise the customer with an experience. Harvard Business Review  calls this delighting the customer, and it's been a back and forth battle to determine if delighting your customer is worth it in a world where quick, generic service is often becoming the norm, and disappointing your customers through poor service or amenities is unavoidable regardless of which competitor you chose. I think the world has changed, my clients ask me to design more in their process, and taking a tip from the hotel industry, it’s not about the mint on the pillow, the perfume in the air, or the late checkout that keeps me coming back – it’s knowing that these items will be provided consistently, and when I need them most. After the most grueling of days, somehow, some staff member was able to witness me walk in, pull up my room number, and be empowered to make a call to deliver a small cheesecake with raspberry coulis to my room. These are not bells and whistles folks, this is understanding what I need, what I like, and predicting when I need it. The consequence is that while yes I am delighted, my trust is solidified that I chose the right brand, and put my money towards a supplier that gave me more than just a bed.

They scale depending on the season

When a major event is happening in a hotel environment, staff, services, food, catering, and resources are all scaled to meet potential demand. Prices vary economically to ensure that the hotel has a solid booking utilization, and that the staff that are on hand are not wasted. Consider your service organization – when a major change is about to be released, surely you get your staff ready, but that’s because it’s an IT initiated change to the environment. Are you being insensitive to your (internal/external) customer base by not scaling up your resources when their projects have hit a snag, during their predicted busy time? Are you tracking how much work throughput as measured by simple items such as telephone calls answered, or emails sent might be causing stress on your customer? If you recognize when your customer is in trouble – you can step in to provide solutions they themselves did not think of. We can refer to this as customer driven innovation – where simply modelling the methods, madness, and output of your customer can drive you as a supplier to invent new ways of servicing your customers and this in turn can create a new internal product, and lead to success.

They pivot based on pre-determined plans

Take for instance one famous world leader in entertainment and amusement resorts. They take the first two principles in this article to the very next level. When guests wake up in hotel rooms any given morning, they immediately begin receiving data and compare it to historical baselines:

  • Did guests wake up later or earlier than average? Is this telling of an event other than weather we did not anticipate? How can we modify the number of greeters and ticket collectors at the gate?
  • How much breakfast was eaten? Is this out of standard? Should we plan for more popcorn or turkey leg stands at common areas of the park? If so – should we adjust the time earlier since less breakfast was consumed than normal or should we adjust the time back, because it seems that lots of people have already eaten?
  • Are there gatherings at one area of the park that surpass ‘normal’ population density – if so, let’s launch the mini-parade in a nearby underpopulated area to balance out load.

Many of these examples are things your event management teams may already handle – that is checking loads, areas of concentration, and--with the help of problem management--tracking and trending data to understand underlying concerns.

They practice being seamless – “The Swan Principle”

When a team of individuals at an upper class hotel or resort interact, they don’t put you on hold and tell you they can’t help you before transferring you to different agents. Instead they provide a seamless transition of help that eventually gets your concern resolved. Often times the request was handled by one person, the delivery by the next, and the follow up by a third, but it always seems like a magical and seamless interaction between you and the staff.

How can your environment improve its handoffs, escalations, call backs, and assistance so that the right level of expertise is involved with the customer for only as long as they need to provide their expertise? It seems like a single person handling an entire case is a good idea, but in reality that model is inefficient and customers don’t demand it as much as we think they do. Instead, focus your teams on providing consistent updates to each other. A principle of the KT approach is to use common language, formats, and templates to be able to do this – but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to start your own schema and asking people to adhere to it.

“…taking a tip from the hotel industry, it’s not about the mint on the
 pillow, the perfume in the air, or the late checkout that keeps me
coming back – it’s knowing that these items will be provided
consistently, and when I need them most.

They say sorry

In the effort to continuously improve, hotel and resort staff seem like they can take quite the verbal beating sometimes. In that industry, staff are trained to diffuse a customer by effectively listening to, writing down, and reading back concerns before clarifying them with the customer. They basically help a customer understand that they appreciate the time taken to make the complaint, and how frustrating it must have been for their anger or emotional levels to reach such a fevered pitch. Once they are done, they offer an apology, and make a commitment to get something done. The commitment often includes some type of basic compensation, and often times a follow up from the general manager, or at minimum an email to let you know that the concern was handled.

How often do you manage your continuous improvement cycle in a way that is impactful and visible to your customers? How can they be ensured that their hard-earned dollar, or unit of time is spent wisely trusting you and your staff with handling their day-to-day, minor, or major incidents? Make your thinking visible by reporting on projects and their expected outcomes, help people understand transparently what you are doing to help them achieve a better experience.

In summary

In this article I discussed the 5 keys on the road to the Bellagio. They are

  1. Segmenting your customers based on preferences and needs
  2. Innovating based on observable customer behavior
  3. Statistical monitoring and contingent planning
  4. Seamless service and team-based problem swarming
  5. Visible continuous improvement efforts

By adhering to these principles, and starting change efforts around improving internal behavior to match these keys, you will be well on your way to earning your next star. The goal from HBR remains the same which is, don’t focus on bells and whistles. But the messaging has never been clearer, which is that your customers expect more. And, what happens in Vegas might be more appropriate for your customer service environment than you.

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