Ms. Knutson

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

So, Just Who Leads Your Guest's Experience?

By Bonnie Knutson, Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU

Today's guests are more sophisticated, more experienced, and certainly more demanding than ever before. They expect the best overall experience, which is why the American Marketing Association revised its definition to: "Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large." While your promotional strategies make the brand promise, it is how you keep the promise - i.e. how you deliver - that matters most. With the proliferation of all things social media, how you deliver the experience is more important than ever before. No longer is it word-of-mouth, but it is now world-of-mouth. In this article, you will find out who should be the guest experience's chief cheerleader in your hotel, and four critical metrics that you need to measure, monitor, and manage your hotel's guest experience.

There is an old saying that everything happens in threes. Well, this past weekend, my three came in the form of unacceptable guest experiences.

The first was at one of the iconic luxury hotels located in mid-town Manhattan. We arrived about 4 in the afternoon after a smooth Uber ride with a great driver. While we did expect it would be a busy check in time, none of us expected only a third of the 12 reception posts would be open. And not one of us expected to see supervisors just standing in the background not helping. And not one of us expected it to take over 30 minutes before we even reached the desk to check in. To compound matters, later that evening I had to stop at the reception desk again and waited, waited, waited for service because only two posts were being manned.

The second happened the next day at a fast casual restaurant - a national chain. You know the kind where you give one person your order, then move down the counter to wait until it is ready and put on a tray for you to take to a table. Well, I dutifully ordered my bowl of soup and stepped to down the line to wait, and wait, and wait some more until the young man, who was supposed to ladle the soup into the bowl finished showing his colleague a bunch of pictures on his smart phone. Did I mention this was mid-afternoon and I was the only one in the store at the time?

Then to top off the weekend, I get through airport security heading home, when I asked one of the security officers if she could please point me in the direction of a particular airline club. Without looking up from her "important" texting, she shrugged her shoulders and told me to go find it myself.

I have no doubt that the managers of the hotel, restaurant, and airport would cringe if they knew how one of their guests were treated. So this begs the question of just who is in charge of your guest's experience. Who is its champion? Who leads it? It is no secret that today's guests are more sophisticated, more experienced, and certainly more demanding than ever before. They expect the best overall experience, which is why the American Marketing Association revised its definition to: "Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large." While your promotional strategies make the brand promise, it is how you keep the promise - i.e. how you deliver - that matters most. With the proliferation of all things social media, how you deliver the experience is more important than ever before. No longer is it word-of-mouth, but it is now world-of-mouth.

This leads to two other questions. First, how do you define an experience? Because it is an elusive and indistinct notion, experience is difficult to define, let alone measure, because of its multiple elements and individualized, personal nature. People don't even agree on the definition of the term. However different their perspectives are, there are two common threads that run throughout. First, experiences require involvement or participation by a person. A prospective guest cannot truly experience the breath-taking awe of the Hawaiian shore by sitting in his or her living room looking at a video or a brochure. How often have we tried to describe our rock climbing adventure, the smile on our children's faces when they first saw Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, or the exquisite service given us at the Ritz-Carlton? No matter how we try to visualize our experience for others, we end up by saying, "You should have been there." Second, experiences are internal in nature, and therefore individualized. This is what makes experience marketing and management so difficult. Think about the last time you went to a movie with someone. You both sat in the same theater, ate the same popcorn, and saw the same film, yet you each walked out with a totally different experience. This is because each of us -each guest - is unique. We each bring a different background, set of values, attitudes and beliefs to the situation; we experience it through our individualized rose colored glasses.

This brings us to the second question. Who in your hotel's organization should be responsible for your guest's experience? When I ask managers this question, the standard response is, "We all are." That is true. Everyone in the property has a vital role to play in delivering a top-notch experience to each guest in your hotel. But who is the experience cheerleader? Who is the chief architect for the totality of that experience? Just as how the definition of experience varies, so does the person responsible for leading the guest strategy.

A report from Prophet highlighted the fact that this vital responsibility differs from business to business. The most common choice, however, is the Chief Marketing Officer because the "[guest] experience is increasingly the primary way in which a brand is made real…across the entire [guest] journey." The report further points out that delivering on a brand's promise is really about alignment. The vision may come from the top, but it has to be delivered by everyone in the organization across all segments and throughout every layer. So your hotel's experience cheerleader has to:

  1. Make sure that he/she has a clear vision of both the brand and the guest's value proposition.

  2. Be able to identify all the important touch points that the guests have throughout their customer journey.

  3. Have the skills to influence others within the hotel - either formally or informally - so that everyone and everything is aligned to deliver the brand promise.

  4. Be responsible for collecting and analyzing all guest experience metrics and then connecting them to the overall brand strategy.

Forrester's Customer Experience Index found that 73% of businesses say that improving the customer experience is a priority, yet only 1% are actually giving that excellent experience. Talk about a disconnect! If this were your hotel, where would you start improving? The answer is simply begin by measuring key guest experience metrics. For as Peter Drucker is quoted as saying, you can't manage what you can't measure. It is here, where managing the guest experience can get tricky. There are so much data available, what metrics will give you the biggest bang for your buck? While the answer to this question will surely vary depending on the size and complexity of operating your hotel, there are several basic measures that will give you a good overview of your guests' experience level. The first is what I call your Ambassador Score. - how many of your guests will recommend your property to friend or family vs. how many wouldn't.

Second is an Effort Score which measures how easy or difficult it is for the guest to connect with your hotel. This score is becoming is gaining in importance because convenience is growing as a major factor in purchase behavior. Third is the infamous CSAT (Customer Satisfaction) Score, which measure satisfaction with individual experiences, such as housekeeping, online reservations, or even event planning. But this score is only a snapshot in time. It assesses one encounter by one guest at one time. What you are most interested in, however, is the overall Guest Satisfaction Score, because that is a cumulative measure that evolves over many experiences with your hotel. While there are a host of metrics that you can have, these four will start you well on your way down Peter Drucker's path of managing what you can measure.

President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that read,"The buck stops here." It is the same with your hotel. The buck for monitoring and managing the guest's experience has to stop on someone's desk. While it is true that ensuring that your guest has a great experience is everyone's business, it still takes a cheerleader to make sure every employee in every level is trained and empowered to make sure each guest touchpoint is guest-centric.

It is no surprise that businesses that invest in consistently delivering a great experience enjoy greater loyalty, higher revenues, better brand equity/value, more growth, and lower employee turnover. And measuring is the first step to achieving this goal.

Bonnie J. Knutson is a professor in The School of Hospitality Business in the Broad College of Business at Michigan State University. She is an authority on emerging lifestyle trends and innovative marketing. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and on PBS and CNN. She has had numerous articles in industry, business, and academic publications. Bonnie is a frequent speaker for executive education as well as business and industry meetings, workshops, and seminars. Dr. Knutson is also editor of the Journal of Hospitality & Leisure Marketing. Ms. Knutson can be contacted at 517-353-9211 or drbonnie@msu.edu Extended Bio...

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