Give Consumers a Reason to Feel

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Photo Source: Waldorf Astoria Park City
Photo Source: Waldorf Astoria Park City

There's a reason that luxury hotels come with more than luxurious price tags. The comfy beds, jaw-dropping lobbies, exquisite room details, and “jump-to-it” service can make anyone feel like king for a day. But at some point, the pampered experience feels the same across chains—unless you're staying at Waldorf Astoria Park City in Utah. Under the leadership of award-winning hotel manager Kerry Hing, the Waldorf Astoria Park City has turned into one of the fastest-growing hotels in the company in just two years.

What sets Waldorf Astoria Park City apart from other luxury hotels isn't its 300-year-old fireplace from an Italian castle or the lobby's Baccarat Fine Crystal chandeliers. It's what Hing describes as “the power of observation” followed by the “power of surprise.”

Whether you're a luxury hotel or a fast food franchise, the survival of any business depends on making customers feel special and appreciated. We expect to be called by name, served quickly, and rewarded for our business. What we don't expect are highly individualized experiences based on what someone “observes” about us that have nothing to do with our recent transactions.

Case in point: HingKerry Hing's top priority is to walk the floors of his boutique-like hotel at Park City's Canyons Ski Resort to observe how guests feel while relaxing in his impeccable lobby or his Green Bamboo–scented spa. On one occasion, he encountered a disheveled guest in ski attire sighing about needing a beer after a tough day on the slopes. Hing quickly looked for clues, like the initials on his rental skis, to help his front desk attendants identify the guest. Once identified, Hing sent a complimentary, chilled six-pack of beer to the guest's room and a note cheering him on for a better day.

On another occasion, a guest was peering in the hotel gift shop well after it had closed. After observing the guest's disappointment that the shop was closed, a front desk agent on duty surprised the hotel guest by escorting her  to the shop for a private shopping spree.

This kind of service goes well beyond what customers expect at any five-star resort. It goes beyond that feeling of being pampered, for which many of us are willing to pay. It creates a feeling of dignity, individual worth, pride, recognition, and even a sense of chivalry from eras past when ladies were treated like princesses and gentlemen like knights. This type of experience also satisfies our survival instinct. Having our needs met makes us feel privileged and protected. It also gives us a sense of status and achievement that defines much of our individual psyche.

While our generation doesn't necessarily want to go back to a time as formal and class-oriented as the early 1900s, unconsciously, we do want to feel like “princesses and knights.” And when we do, we reciprocate with loyalty, something many global brands are losing rapidly.

Reports from the Consumer Council and other groups show that high customer loyalty has slipped dramatically for many consumer brands in recent years, in some cases by 50% or more. Yet, when we feel privileged, or that our time and needs matter, we still assign loyalty—sometimes quite fiercely.

Consider Mac versus PC owners. When is the last time you met someone that switched from a Mac computer to a PC? Personally, I'm the only person I know who did this, and I immediately switched back. While my PC worked fine for my basic needs, I missed the level of service at Apple's Genius Bar. With the Genius Bar, I always got much more than 15 minutes with an expert, and I often walked away with surprises like a free $200 battery or software programs. I missed talking with people giddy to show me technologies to simplify my life and make me “feel” cool. I missed feeling like I was part of a forward-thinking environment.

That type of engagement is what Hing's approach creates, as well. Observation and surprise are the foundations of the training that all of Hing's staff members receive at Waldorf Astoria Park City. These two elements create experiences that have generated a high repeat-customer rate and have earned Hing coveted industry awards at every place he's managed.

What do you do to delight your customers? Good customer service simply doesn't cut it. Moments that surprise customers and make them feel like they matter do.

Regardless of your product or service, you can find affordable ways to observe and surprise and make your brand five-star in any industry. I suspect that the six-pack of beer was more than paid for by referrals and repeat visits from an over-the-top happy guest. Point made.

Jeanette McMurtry, principal of e4marketing, is an authority on psychology-based marketing, speaking at business events worldwide. She is a Back by Popular Demand trainer, speaker, and course instructor for the DMA.
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