Friday, March 9, 2012

Getting a customer to say Wow!

Make place for the necessary along with the exotic and the luxurious. - Photo: SATISH H.

Brands should not forget customers' basic needs in their zeal to delight with unique services.

As marketers we are always wondering how to give our customers an experience they will not forget. More critically, if we can get our customers to talk to their friends about their experience, or better still, go online and tell the whole world about the brand, then we can certainly reward ourselves with a drink! The reality, however, is that either because customers are getting more demanding by the day (or minute) or because we are constantly struggling to get our service act right, experiences like this seem to be a rarity. The road to customer delight seems to be as arduous as the quest for the Holy Grail. Is it really so difficult to meet customer expectations? How do we exceed them? Why are customers so difficult to please? And yet, the situation is not without hope because as a customer, I am often impressed with the efforts that marketers are putting in place to understand customers and their expectations. But I really had an astounding customer experience last week at the ITC Grand Chola in Chennai that I wish to share with you.

Floored in the room

I was a guest of Deloitte Partners and was slated to speak to their group on ‘Branding' at their annual event. I was treated like a prince by the company and really made to feel at home with efficient ticket-booking and airport transfers, which are relatively easy, but what floored me was my experience at the hotel. They had organised the event at the ITC Grand Chola, a new hotel coming up on the Anna Salai, very close to the airport. Although the hotel was not officially open, the conference was being held there as an exclusive affair.

A traditional welcome with a shawl and rose petals was followed by a careful escorting to the room. Clearly work was still going on at a feverish pace to get the hotel ready for the launch. While the room was all that you would expect of one in a top five-star hotel, there were a few features that were definitely pleasant surprises, at least for a person like me. When you got up from the bed in the night, there were small lights that went up near the foot of the bed making it easier for you to see without the bother of looking for lights to switch on. A thoughtful feature. But there was another innovation that completely floored me. Every room had an iPad with controls to the TV, free videos that came on your TV screen, controls to the lights in the room and the bathroom. Given the fact that the iPad itself is just starting to make waves in India, to have one in each of the rooms for the convenience of individual guests was delightful, because more than anything else it was completely unexpected from the guest's point of view. Nor was I alone in this surprise. The next day during my session, when I brought it up, even the people who had come from abroad commented on this and admired the fact that you could even see who was knocking at your door through the iPad.

Routine vs non-routine

Clearly the ITC Grand Chola has acquired a few admirers. I must tell you that my overall experience was extremely positive, including the visit to the gym where the instructor helped me through some stretching exercises which he carefully administered quickly realising the feeble state of my physical condition! This leads me to a fairly important point. While experiences such as these that knock the customer's socks off are laudable, they will be quickly drowned under ill-will if the routine, hygiene factors that you expect from a five-star hotel are not delivered. What use of the iPad experience if the hotel does not give me a wake-up call to catch my flight? This is an important learning for marketers that while designing exotic services for their customers, they should not lose sight of basic deliverables which bring customers to their doors. This reminds me of the Tamil proverb of the lady who forsakes her trusted, boring husband for a romantic and yet unreliable king!

So here are a few quick questions for you:

How well do you know your customers?

How frequently are you monitoring them?

How well are you taking care of your customers' basic needs?

What have you done recently to surprise them?

Customers are promiscuous and constantly looking for variety and change. (Sometimes they remind me of husbands!) They make unreasonable and unrealistic comparisons. I was at Sivakasi a few days later to speak to some entrepreneurs, and I was constantly comparing the hotel (which was the best in that town) to the ITC at Chennai and was finding it wanting. Now how unreasonable was that!

But then, that's me, a customer! Just be ready to serve me.

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