Below is a response from the co-founder of Mr and Mrs Smith, on a subject we at Innfinite are particularly interested in as many of our clients know, and on which we contribute to many forums and discussion groups. This should be compulsory reading for all hoteliers, it is possibly the most frank and insightful short article I have ever read on the subject.
There is a new comment on the post “Is there anyone out there who really loves the customer?”.
Author: Tamara Lohan
As cofounder of a travel company, putting ourselves forward here as a customer-focused organisation could be setting us up for a fall, but I’ll stick my neck out and say that from the very beginning, Mr & Mrs Smith has set out to be responsive, transparent and friendly in all our dealings with customers.
In fact, we set Smith up precisely because we felt that other guides weren’t being honest with us as customers – you could say that Smith is a reaction to what we felt was a lack of customer focus in the hotel guide industry.
Obviously we’re a lot bigger these days, we’ve gone beyond hotel guides to become a booking service too, and we have a lot more customers to focus on, but we’ve strived to keep customer satisfaction at the heart of everything we do.
I can’t see how we couldn’t. I can’t understand how any company could seriously believe, as Tim puts it, that ‘the customer owes me a living’, when the reverse is always true: the company owes their living to the customer.
Any company that doesn’t deal fairly with its customers is living on borrowed time. And now that the user-generated web and (searchable) social media are here to wash everyone’s corporate linen in public, there’s less time to borrow than ever. People talk about bad service all the time; they talk about good service some of the time, and they don’t talk about mediocre service at all. You really do have to go the extra mile – your reputation (and consequently your revenue) depends on it.
Of course, the bigger you are as a company (and Smith is pretty big now, comparatively), the harder this is. Taking us a case study, the more hotels we have in our collection, the more customers we have, the more chance there is of someone being disappointed or something going wrong. We mitigate this by curating our collection fastidiously, personally visiting and revisiting all our hotels, and sending our reviewers anonymously, to experience the hotel as a customer would. We care about our own service, because our job involves constantly assessing other people’s.
We do get complaints – when you’re sending thousands of people away for experiences they’re looking forward to, every month, it’s pretty much inevitable – but those are far outweighed by positive testimonials. When we do get negative feedback, whether that’s connected to a hotel we represent or our own service, we do our best to address the issue quickly and fairly. It’s in our own interest that everyone we deal with hangs up happy.
Complaints are great. Seriously. They tell you that the customer expected more; they trusted you and you let them down. They’re absolutely vital in telling you how to improve your service, how to train your team, and they help us ensure that only the best hotels remain in our collection. Complaints are a step-by-step guide to how to make your company better. What business owner wouldn’t want that?
The customer isn’t always right – it’s time we admitted that. They can be unreasonable, unsympathetic, unrealistically demanding or just downright unpleasant, but even if you can’t fix their problem (and, in travel, some problems are unfixable), you can always be fair, human and friendly in your response: listen, understand, sympathise, explain.
Finally, I think part of the problem Tim identifies is to do with the language of the travel industry in general. As travel insiders, we talk about ‘brands’ and product’, ‘rate parity’, ‘BAR’ and ‘consumers’. We surround ourselves with a bubble of jargon which doesn’t really speak to people and separates industry from customer. Everyone in travel – hotel manager, pilot, tour operator, booking agent – should remember what all service businesses boil down to: a bunch of people doing things for another bunch of people. The whole process is much easier when both sides of the equation talk the same language.
Sorry for the long comment but it’s a topic close to my heart.