It is Personal – Achieving Best Practice in Customer Service

It doesn’t matter what your product or service is.  Your ability to stay, and succeed, in business relies solely on your ability to make each and every customer not only satisfied but also delighted with the service you offer.

For many years I worked in travel and tourism and I truly believe that other sectors and industries would benefit from understanding and ‘stealing with pride’ some of the best practices from this sector.  I have just been fortunate enough to stay at a wonderful hotel in Riccione, Italy – The Belvedere –rated as Europe’s Top Hotel in 2018, so would like to share some of the best transferable ideas – that can be applied in both manufacturing and service sectors alike.

Jim Womack once said “that every customer interaction is a Kaizen opportunity”.  If you consider the customer journey and interactions with your own organisation, you can not only improve on them, but you can create a personal experience that will be valued, trusted and will ultimately ensure you retain your customers and gain referrals and recommendations.

Customers should be advocates of you and your products. This not only means you need to provide the product that the customer pays for, but it also means you need to consider all of the interactions with the organisation – and ideally make them personal.

At the Belvedere, they have without doubt perfected this – not only do people travel incredible distances just to stay there, they can set their own market rate, they are oversubscribed and do not have to compete with other local operators.  What also impressed me, was there was literally not one bad review on the internet (and yes I checked). In tourism and travel this is important, but I believe that with the continuing growth of social media it is vital for any business.  There is a good reason for this, the service is exceptional.  From the moment you contact this hotel you are treated like one of the family. They make the experience personal, you never, ever feel that you are ‘just another customer’.  You leave, wanting to book your next stay just so you can experience it all over again.

So some of the best ideas you may like to consider adopting are:

  • Understand the entire customer journey, and then consider how you can personalise touch points.
  • Add value – identify what your customers want and go the extra mile. Whilst I know the lean approach is to deliver exactly what the customer pays for, there are enormous benefits to identifying low cost activities that will delight and surprise your customers.
  • Go see & connect with your customers where they are. I was intrigued as to why there was so many Canadian visitors at The Belvedere, and one of them explained – the hotel sponsors a number of local bike races in Canada, and have a presence at their race days, whilst simply good marketing how many of us consider where our customers ‘hang-out’ and actually go there.
  • Value your employees – happy employees are advocates of your products and your business. The world is connected, and satisfaction (and conversely dissatisfaction has an enormous ripple effect.) Remember employees talk!
  • Use social media & connect with your customers on a more personal level, it’s not business anymore it really is personal. After all people buy from people.
  • Respect the differing needs of consumers and build an offering that supports this.
  • Really listen to what your customer has to say. This is something I have been considering lately. We are all becoming inundated with rating requests following any purchase, we are increasingly resistance to providing feedback. We live in a constantly changing environment so how do we continue to get the feedback we need to continuously improve. My thoughts are ditch the follow-up email and pick up the phone.

Some manufacturers and service industries are delighting customers.  Happy, a training company in London, have an established approach to delighting and surprising their customers.  Altro Floors have implemented a Voice of the Customer programme which ensures a regular litmus test of customer satisfaction. Their system is simple but it works and is embedded across the operation and it basically involves asking the customer exactly what it is they want from them, but also continually improving activities as a result.

We can learn a lot from others, which leads me to my most important learning from the visit. The need to evolve and continually challenge the norm in relation to customer satisfaction.  One of the team at the Belvedere, told me that he was constantly surprised at the new ideas the hotel came up with to surprise their guests.

So it’s back to the drawing board for me – I thought my customer experience was pretty good, but I have been given definite pause for thought.