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Exceeding the Hotel Guest Experience: Anticipating and Executing Desires Flawlessly

By James D. Roumeliotis with special contribution by Virginia Karaouza, MBA (tourism & hospitality professional)

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A place which wants to attract the most discerning souls, should be unique and embody a complete lifestyle concept which combines a relaxed, holistic approach amongst an elegant setting and decor with attention to detail. This includes, clean, updated and attractive guest rooms with no amenities spared. Pleasing food & beverage prepared and presented with pizzazz are complemented by soothing music which is also an integral part of the ambiance. The attractive, smiling and well-mannered staff is dressed stylishly. All of these elements combined will, undoubtedly, seduce the senses and generate good vibes along with positive memories created.

However, is all that adequate? Today, more than any other time in history, customers are the most sophisticated and increasingly demanding – whether they’re Boomers, GenXer’s or Millennials. The total customer experience in the high-end hospitality domain requires superlative attention to customer care from the moment a booking is made, during the guest’s stay and beyond. The use of an integrated approach is essential across various touch points with the purpose of engaging and retaining customers.

The sanctuary away from home

Astute guests consider hotels they choose to be an upgrade away from home in terms of comfort and services offered. One area of particular attention in the last few years has been the bed. It has been the focus of tremendous improvement. According to J. D. Power & Associates, a comfortable bed and pillow choices are must-haves ‒ especially for business travelers. In fact, 93% of luxury hotels offer a selection of pillows.

A high-end resort developer and operator, Kerzner International, renowned for its opulent One & Only luxury resorts brand has “Blow away the customer” as it core mantra. The company walks the talk by impressing its guests through grandiose entrances, facilities, overall ambiance and luxury amenities – then making absolutely certain that they are pampered throughout their stay. It’s all an integrated, well-orchestrated and flattering process. Nothing is left to chance although it does take a coordinated team effort to make it all happen flawlessly.

The wealthy cherish their time and know what they want. Even time is a luxury and limited resource for them, thus saving time greatly trumps saving money. This is part of the reason service is crucial for them. They can be generally described as:

– Seek a higher and exacting standard with a minimum set of expectations;
– Fussy in nature;
– Often require customized solutions to mirror their lifestyle – whether a product or service;
– Take pleasure on getting extra attention from the brands they pursue;
– Prefer the uncommon to the mundane;
– Expect to be offered unique choices and experiences;
– Synonymous with a taste for luxury with pedigree and craftsmanship which they’re able and willing to pay;
– Aspire an aura of exclusivity;
– Crave an experience heightened by exceptional service along with a personal relationship;
– Seek products which are different and more sophisticated – whether it’s apparel, electronics, food or insurance;
– Want to feel in command of their purchase decision without any pressure.

Boutique hotels vs. corporate chains

“Boutique hotel” is a term to describe hotels which often contain luxury facilities of varying size in unique or intimate settings with full service accommodations. Sometimes known as “design hotels” or “lifestyle hotels”, boutique hotels began appearing in the 1980s in major cities across North America and Europe – mainly in the U.K. These hospitality properties are characteristically furnished in a themed, stylish and unique manner. Boutique hotels generally are known to have less than 100 rooms. Their limited capacity enables them to enhance the customer experience through personalized service, as well as to customize their property and operations. An intimate atmosphere is usually regarded as a vital part of a “boutique” hotel. This includes cozier premises, quality amenities; conceptual dining outlets that become destinations in their own right, and an environment whereby the hotel staff recognize what your needs and desires are, rather than just responding to what you ask.

Customer-service is 2 of 2

Taking the personal touch to a higher level

Superb customer experience isn’t merely offering the customer what he/she asks for but rather what the discriminating customer truly desires to receive. This is accomplished by constantly exceeding of expectations through the delivery of remarkable tailored customer service with a series of personal touches.  Premium and luxury hotel guests expect surprise and delight along with unusual positive experiences.

Forrester, an independent technology and market research company, defines customer experience as: How customers perceive their interactions with your company. As with brands, customer experience is not what management thinks it should be – it’s what the customer perceives it to be. Thus, it should be understood that, because experience is a customer’s perception, management doesn’t control the customer experience, but it can certainly influence it.

The challenge for hospitality organizations is to ensure that their personnel always provide at least the level of service that their guests want and expect every time, perfectly. The purpose of quality management in the hospitality industry is to ensure that customer service is consistent and flawless. Providing it is intertwined with the overspill of the needs and expectations of guests and therefore their enthusiasm (delighted guests). The element of quality of service offered by the hotel industry should be apparent, be recognized and understood by the guest, as absolutely essential element in all the stages and processes during the service delivery.

The organization’s strategy, personnel and systems are aligned to meet or exceed the guest’s expectations regarding the following aspects of the guest experience: service product, service setting and service delivery. These aspects are carefully woven together to give guests what they desire and expect, plus the wow element. It all starts with the guest. Evidently, you can’t have a guest experience without a guest to experience it. That’s the main point, without the guest to initiate it, the components such as the carefully designed service product, the detailed and inviting setting, the highly trained and motivated servers and the finest back of the house people and facilities are just an experience waiting to happen.

The evaluation of service quality is a complex process, and the guest side is primarily subjective criteria, because each person can have their own opinion. But what is it really imparts excellence in quality of service to guests and causes only positive emotions and reactions of customers when they experience an unforgettable experience?

There are four key elements that make up the quality of the generated service and identify the outstanding quality of service (Service Excellence) which are as follows:

  • The Guest
  • The service setting – environment
  • The service delivery system
  • The processes

When these four elements, coexist and perform maximally, then the chances, the qualitative result to delight the guests, are significantly increased.

The service, as a product of person to person or a series of interactions between the guest and the person delivering the service is transformed into experience for the guest. The positive or negative aspect of the experience depends on the strategy applied by each company and sets the service delivery system. The guests, the service procedures and physical data sited so as to form a quality experience for the customer service they receive. Employees, who are also the brand ambassadors, play a crucial role in the process of service delivery. They are trained specifically for this purpose and supported by the organization itself along with the organizational culture. Technology and information flows like internal and external communication.Artificial and natural elements of the service along with the human factor, in this case, define the guest experience.

The service dimensions consist of reliability, responsiveness, assurance, empathy which characterize an emotionally intelligent and spirited staff with tangible elements in the ensuing way:

  • Reliability reflects the service provider’s ability to perform service dependably and accurately.
  • Responsiveness is a strong indicator in assisting guests and providing prompt service.
  • Reassurance reflects the courtesy and knowledge of employees and their ability to inspire trust and confidence.
  • Empathy involves the caring individualized attention the brand provides its guests.
  • Tangible elements include the facilities, amenities and ambiance felt by the guest directly or indirectly.

A company’s reputation for excellence in the services sector can be developed and supported, as long as the firm has a strong organizational culture oriented in high quality service, customer focus throughout the organization, as well as a dynamic set of employees. They are conscientious and committed to act within the quality standards which the company has established.

For a hospitality organization to achieve high levels of customer service and maintain constant satisfaction, it should develop and implement a structured service strategy, which covers all necessary actions on what measures and actions will be taken to:

  • Create a customer-centric culture.
  • Develop and install appropriate infrastructure service delivery system.
  • Identify the necessary procedures to recognize and meet the needs and expectations of guests.
  • Refine and encourage staff to speak with the right attitudes, skills and behaviors to internal and external environment of the company and towards the guests.
  • Measure – evaluate the degree of guest satisfaction.
  • Continuously implement practices to improve internal operations and procedures relating to excellent guest service.

An experience is created when a company uses the services and goods, in such a way as to create a memorable event and to stimulate the emotional world of the guests.The more intense is the intensity of emotion, the more strongly imprinted in memory and then only is it created as a memorable experience.

Guest experience is an integral part of service excellence and absolute customer satisfaction, all of which are subject to evaluation and performance measurement of an organization. With modern techniques and methods identified and assessed the degree of customer satisfaction and the recorded positive or negative experience. The collection of information, both during the service and the configuration of the customer experience provides useful information and enables the company to rectify and remedy any failure or deviation from the quality standards prescribed.

Customer service centric hospitality businesses train staff to utilize the so calledsixth sense:” It’s the innate ability to perceive what is not seen or immediately apparent. That perception will undoubtedly offer hotels, as well as other customer driven businesses, to delight their customers. According to an article authored by Mike Metcalfe, founder of Hoteliyo, a resource and blog for hotel professionals, he suggests to define your hotel service culture. Start by creating the ‘Guest Journey’. Map out every interaction or ‘touch point’ guests will experience as the following image depicts.

Hotel guest touch points according to Mike Metcalfe of Hoteliyo

Hotel guest touch points according to Mike Metcalfe of Hoteliyo

At Ritz-Carlton hotels, employees with direct contact with guests, such as the bellmen, are authorized to spend as much as $3000 to help solve a customer’s problem. At some other luxury hotels a wake-up call from the employee is not a typical, “This is your wake-up call ‒ wish you a great day”, but it also includes an offer to send up a complementary cup of coffee to get the guest’s day started.

At a Four Seasons Boston hotel video, an employee describes with pride and exhilaration how she went out of her way to personally get a guest’s luggage to the airport at the nick of time. The luggage was locked in the trunk of the customer’s rental car parked at the hotel and had lost his keys. Meantime, he had to rush to the airport without them so as not to miss his international flight.

Utilizing IT and social media to enhance the personal touch

Nowadays, luxury hotels should not neglect utilizing the benefits of IT and the internet to keep a two-way flow of continuous communication with its prospective, as well as existing clientele. This includes a fully integrated CRM system which connects sales, marketing and the administration including reservations, monitoring and respond­ing to review sites and reaching out to social networking sites. Customer preferences are also kept on record to keep in consideration and deliver upon during the guest’s future stays.

Hotel IT Image

Digital think tank L2 reported 78% of the affluent participate in social networking sites, with more than half using social media to connect with a brand, while 65% of wealthy consumers believe that brands that have no such presence are considered out of touch.

Luxury hotel chain Four Seasons, only a couple of years ago, unveiled a new website that reportedly cost a whopping $18 million to develop. It uses a holistic digital media strategy to enhance the total online experience and give a visual taste of what can be anticipated at their properties. Extensive research around digital consumption of luxury consumers, both in the travel sector and across other categories, was conducted for the development of the new website. The result of the investment is a fancy, colorful website, with a new booking process, social media integration and personal profile technology that allows users to set preferences and create a more targeted online experience. It is also optimized for mobile, which provides access to a reduced size version of the site, and includes videos, room rates and booking capabilities. In addition, locations and experiences are showcased through photo-rich, informative property and destination pages.

Upscale hotels, particularly, must offer WiFi access throughout the property at no charge. This is becoming part of the standard package that guests expect and demand. The cost, reliability and performance of WiFi in hotels worldwide has been a subject of frequent contention amongst hotel patrons.

The most notable high-tech innovation since a few years ago has been the mobile revolution. From the tablet with the iPad to the smartphone before it, they have become ubiquitous to everyday life. According to the Luxury Institute, one-third of wealthy consumers own a tablet or e-Reader such as the Kindle or Sony.

OneandOnly Resort Life 3 of 3

The takeaway

Any organization obsessed with customer service and the total customer experience, let alone the hospitality domain, should forgo routine and avoid unpleasant surprises. Complacency is a comfort zone which yields marginal performance. It can cause deficiencies, stifle growth and progress. This syndrome should be replaced with drive and consistent improvement. The culture of the organization, along with its structure, play a major role with the challenges it faces and how it deals with them.

As in every service sector, with an upscale hotel, every guest contact point should offer a unique and pleasant experience. Hotel brands need to use an integrated approach across their various touch points to engage their customers – commencing from the ease of their online (website) procedure or phone reservations center, during the guest’s stay, at check-out and beyond.

Placing emphasis on employee attitude/personality, empowerment, constant training, offering effortless accessibility for clients, flexibility when solving issues and presentations with style, as well as finesse. Each and every customer should be treated with personal care – a sign of individuality;

Sufficient resources and proper procedures should be implemented in hiring and training individuals with the right attitude over skills. The organization’s culture ought to support and inspire its staff to impressive achievement. An environment of mutual trust between leaders, employees, and customers should be created, along with proper rewards and incentives. This is what it takes for a human and personalized touch that retains its brand promise.

The best managed organizations have one factor in common: They are constant achievers, exude managerial excellence and possess a well-targeted CRM. The payoff will be a higher level of repeat business, referrals and profitability. Their financial performance is reflected in those results.

Ultimately, everyone in a service organization should live and breathe the brand.

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Empirical fact references:

–       Robert C. Ford, Michael C. Sturman, Cherrill P. Heaton (2011) Managing Quality Service in Hospitality.

–       Parasuraman, A., Zeithaml, V., and Berry, L. (1994a). Alternative scales for measuring service quality: A comparative assessment based on psychometric and diagnostic criteria. Journal of Retailing, 70 (3), 201-230.

–       Armstrong (2009). Armstrong’s Handbook of Management and Leadership. A guide to managing for results.

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An interview with author, lecturer and business catalyst James D. Roumeliotis

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Author, lecturer and business catalyst, James D. Roumeliotis, describes his book, “Entrepreneurial Essentials: Unconventional Business Wisdom & Bold Tactics” along with his overall business philosophy with some practical and refreshing ideas.

You may order the book here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008QYVO2U/

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March 29, 2013 · 3:35 pm

Yachting Industry’s Sea Change Amid the Credit Crisis

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis, founder and former president of East Med Yachting Partners (Greece | Turkey)

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From the looks of today’s new mega yacht order book and the high attendance numbers at last September’s Monaco Super-yacht Show, one would immediately dismiss the notion that the upper social classes have been spared by the global economic crisis. In fact, the ultra rich have also been vulnerable and begun to reduce spending as they fret over their shrinking investment portfolios. Not immune in the luxury domain are other categories such as premium cars, supreme watches and the like. Yet for boat yards, they appear to be somewhat affected compared to a year ago.

A recent survey in the U.S. shows that Americans are cutting off purchases of luxury goods, and this is true especially for the ultra affluent. For instance, the owner of the 14 guest, six stateroom “Alibella”, a 50 meters (164 feet) luxury yacht, is keen enough to offer a discount of ten million Euros to a buyer ready to do the transaction in less than a month. “Alibella” is considered a modern day yacht in a class of its own with high-end finishing and a helicopter landing pad. The discount reduces the cost of the yacht to 24.5 million Euros. It is one of the many mega yachts that have seen their price decrease following the explosion of the U.S. mortgage sub-prime’s crisis which has rapidly spread beyond its borders, including the start of the economic recession. The situation is such that there are also an unusual number of second-hand yachts available these days at substantial discounts.

Of oligarchs and petrodollars
Not surprisingly, in recent times, the major clients who have contracted the significant number of new custom made behemoth water crafts have been Russia’s oligarchs and Arabs from the oil producing Gulf states. The former have accounted for about 18 percent of new mega yacht purchases. At present, the signs are proving that both the American and European upper classes, in addition to their Indian and Asian counterparts, have taken a more conservative view and have restrained themselves from elaborate purchases at least until the world economy regains vital momentum.

Size matters
The size of the yacht seems to have an impact with regards to the categories that have been hit the most during these recessionary times. Vendors say they expect sales to continue to shrink at the lower end of the market as many small and midsized boat owners bought them with borrowed money and some secured on residential property. In many cases the value of these loans now exceeds the value of the assets. But the super-yacht industry, which is not dependent on financing, is stronger than it has ever been before. Figures released by Camper & Nicholson, an international yacht brokerage firm, showed that new orders for super-yachts had grown 18 percent in 2008. Today the average super-yacht category is pushing 190 feet (60 meters), with some as long as 450 feet (137 meters).

Modesty replacing ostentation – for now
Nowadays it is considered impolite to boast your excesses and that includes your floating toys. It seems distasteful at a time when most are struggling to cope with the economic meltdown. Splurging, which may be viewed today as synonymous to greed, coupled with fear of the unknown in the world financial markets, has simmered making a “look at me/mine” statement a current taboo.

Anticipating the comeback of the high flying seas
When the dust eventually settles the yachting industry should be returning to its allure, though, in a more sedate mode. The “nouveau riche” will resume purchasing but to a lesser extent than ever before and possibly consider the fractional ownership or charter route as options. We can’t dismiss the fact that yachting is what it is: a product and activity reserved for the well heeled. There will always be a new crop of willing and able buyers who will have the desire to own a floating asset. Be as it may, boat builders and dealers are understandably nervous but are determined to weather the turbulence. In this case, patience and tenacity will warrant being meaningful beyond a doubt.

CAN ALSO BE READ IN THE MAGAZINE WHERE IT WAS PUBLISHED AT:  www.cremedelacremeoman.com/jan-issue.pdf

YOUR VIEWS ARE WELCOME

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Branding Strategies for a Fundamental Differentiation

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Most businesses have an opinion on what branding constitutes, though how do you go about standing-out apart from similar product or service categories? Let us begin the thought process on this issue by first looking at what the word “Branding” is defined as in the Cambridge English dictionary. “Branding” is “the act of giving a company a particular design or symbol in order to advertise its products and services.” Sounds very simplistic. However, we know that it takes plenty of thought, creativity and flawless execution to truly define a brand which radiates externally to produce notable customer experiences. A brand is essentially an intangible asset which is injected with personality – values that consumers like and can relate to. Moreover, a cleverly created and executed branding strategy develops an intangible association with consumers

Defining the Brand
We start with the idea of what we want the product, service and its respective company to be perceived as. What do you want it to represent? Specifically what category does it belong to that will be in the consumers’ mind? Defining your target market too will help to strengthen the brand’s effectiveness. Explain what your brand stands for and why it is better than the competition. This is where you execute your brand communications. Commonly used methods of brand communications include advertising, events, sponsorships, promotions, direct marketing, customer relationship management programs and public relations. In defining who your brand and your audience is, you create the foundation for all other components to build on. This requires a distinctive brand vision, positioning, personality and affiliation for the product/service. Those are crucial factors that will make it truly unique. Proper branding can also get you out of the commodity trap and attract value in terms of higher pricing.

Customer Experiences
This is what truly creates differentiation from mass and from competing brands. The key objective is to create a relationship of trust. The world’s powerful brands establish trust and friendship with their customers. They develop emotional capital, and gain passion. This is what makes them great. A brand’s image is how consumers perceive it and this may not be the same as how the owner wants it to be seen. It is important to note that without a premium product or service quality, a strong brand image is difficult to create.

Every customer contact (“touch points”) should be handled with the utmost care to ensure that the total brand experience a person has is consistent. This involves properly training and occasionally evaluating employee performance and when necessary, changing strategy, systems, technology, methods, services, products and even physical premises to produce a positive customer experience. Complacency should be replaced with continuous improvement.

Standing-out from the Crowd
Brands can’t stand out by blending in. They need to be distinctive, compelling, create buzz and call for action. Advertising in almost every industry appears to look the same. Visually distinctive brand features enhance customer recall and positively influence intent to purchase. “Advertising” creates attention and promotes an image and the brand. On the other hand, “Marketing” compels someone to buy. Since we’re constantly bombarded with advertising, it’s important to cut through the clutter. You only have one or two seconds to grab the attention of your intended audience. Compared to your competition, take an unusual approach by being first, different and bold in the way you create and deliver your message.
Marketing campaigns should have elements of:
 Imagination
 Mystery
 Memory

Whether a product or service is a luxury brand or falls into another category, it is how you stand out from the crowd that distinguishes you. Know your target audience, get inside their heads and understand how they think and feel. What are their fears, emotions and anxieties? It’s not just about demographics, it’s about neuro-psychology. Once you have this down pat, you then manage the brand consistently.

YOUR COMMENTS/OPINIONS ARE WELCOME.

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THE SEVEN KEY PRINCIPLES FOR BUSINESS SUCCESS – A Personal Belief Through Years of Practical Experience

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

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7 Key Principles of Biz Success

Forget the cynicism. Businesses exist solely to make money while serving a need. Profitability is everything and cash is king. In public companies, shareholder return is considered essential. Operating from this mindset determines and measures whether the business in question is a success. If an entrepreneur is to increase the chances of triumph from the outset, he/she should consider seven key principles. These keys have been forged in the fire of my personal experience based on long-term practice and common sense seasoned with a touch of academia.

1) A VIABLE PRODUCT OR SERVICE WITH THE RIGHT BUSINESS MODEL AND A PASSIONATE PERSON BEHIND IT
It should fulfill a need, offer a benefit, be innovative and differentiate itself. It’s also imperative that the entrepreneur is passionate about the product/service, empowers his/her staff, as well as practices/conveys business ethics. To excel in the business, the entrepreneur must have the right mindset and attitude. This includes drive, perseverance, tenacity, and an undying belief in himself/herself and the value he/she adds. Must also be willing to embrace the concept that he/she takes complete ownership for his/her results. He/She can’t blame the marketplace, the economy or the employees for failure. In the end, it’s the entrepreneur making the decisions.

2) CAPITAL
Critical and can vary depending on the size of the undertaking. Start your capital search with a good business plan that shows investors and lenders your company’s potential.   Furthermore, Take advantage of any government loan program created for start-ups.
Expect to realistically invest about 30% of your own money based on the total value of the project. Last but not least, cash-flow is the lifeblood of your business if you’re going to sustain the operation financially.

3) MARKETING & SALES
Advertise, publicize, be first, different, daring and memorable. Deliver on those promises and constantly remain customer focused.

Sales, on the other hand, is part of the marketing function.  It includes business development and account  management. Sales is crucial to business because it is the bottom line, whereas marketing is about getting a product known. However, at the end of the day, it’s about the need for a constant stream of new business which brings in the necessary cash flow.

4) PEOPLE
Don’t simply HIRE well educated and experienced people but most importantly MOTIVATED, dedicated, coachable and with interpersonal skills. Moreover, make certain that the people you hire fit-in with your corporate culture. Your organization should also foster an atmosphere of Innovation and creativity through leadership. Work for staff should be meaningful rather  than a chore. These conditions can’t help but breed success. Implement an orientation workshop for new recruits and an occasional training program – invest in your key employees.

5) SYSTEMS – STRUCTURE
Consider publishing an “Operations Manual” and continuously enforce its procedures.  Without any structure, the chances of failure increases. Everyone should be on the same page and embrace best practices for quality results with consistency.

6) STRICT INTERNAL FINANCIAL CONTROLS & CASH FLOW
Watch them closely, borrow wisely and don’t overspend. It doesn’t matter how much you have coming in if most of it is going out. Watch your financial ratios and yields (where applicable). The success of your business is, in many ways, measured by the bottom line. Even if you hired a full-time accountant, you would still need to have a fundamental knowledge of accounting, how it works, and how to apply its basic principles in order to run a flourishing business.

7) CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT,  INNOVATION AND SUSTAINED GROWTH
This is by no means a one-time event but rather an on-going process.

Innovation encompasses offering distinguished and improved solutions which meet or exceed market requirements and expectations from your customers ‒ whether offering a desirable product or upgrading a service experience.

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CONTACT ME to request for the FREE slide presentation on “The Seven Key Principles for Business Success.”

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