Monday, April 16, 2007

Customer service is key to success

IF you were the CEO of Loews Hotels in the United States, the temptation to maximise mention of the chain of hotels would have been tremendous in writing a book on customer service. Yet in Chocolates on the Pillow Aren’t Enough: Reinventing the Customer Experience (John Wiley & Sons), Jonathan Tischt has kept it to a minimum.

In his latest book, Tischt, who oversees the operations of hotels in 15 cities, puts across the message that the key to success can be found in the customer experience.

Of course, we have all heard about customer service, lip service and all, but what is interesting in Tisch's second book is that he points out the trends in customer service and the critical need for companies to connect with consumers in order to set themselves apart from the competition.

Today’s consumer, he says, is looking for more than a simple transaction.

“They don’t want to just hand over their credit card, hand over their cash. They want an experience,” Tischt says.

“There are smart companies that know what the consumer wants and they’ve changed their product line to get that consumer. As we say, it’s turning customers into guests.”

In a personal style, Tischt, with the help of business writer Karl Weber, shows you how to improve every customer touch point, understand what customers really want and need, and design organisational structures to meet those needs.

These ideas are brought to life through stories of triumphs achieved and challenges faced by organisations ranging from In-N-Out Burger (must read, as an alternative to some burger brands), Commerce Bank, and Urban Outfitters to the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, Santa Fe’s Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (some museums might gain some insights), and New York City’s 311 system (taking the strain out of calling 911, the emergency phone system).

Tisch also mentions Sephora (fragrance and cosmetics), Best Buy (electronics), Build-a-Bear and Lands’ End (direct clothing retailer) as examples of companies that have translated more effective customer service into commercial success.

The part that stands out in this book is how we can use existing technology to create intimate connections with customers without losing the human touch. I mean, have you ever been put on hold by voice mail software?

One would also appreciate his take on hospitals. His mention of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York offering 21 room-service style meals with special plate-warming systems is memorable. This would be what Tischt calls the “aha” moment, when a consumer bonds with a product.

“When the consumer can see that the company that they’re going to do business with can break through the clutter, that’s an aha moment,” he says.

Rude people, rude immigration officials and unwelcoming ports of entry are all part of a problem that can be fixed if the US government would view international travellers as “customers,” Tischt says.

Perhaps, the book could have gone on about building loyalty in the hotel business, such as efforts that staffers at the Loews Hotel in New Orleans made to help guests during Hurricane Katrina. They were shuttled to safety in two SUVs that had been stored in the hotel garage as prizes for a “Wheel of Fortune” segment taped in the city.

Of course, books like this run the risk of having outdated examples of marketing success. The book cites Gap Inc’s new Forth & Towne clothing stores, aimed at female baby boomers, as an example of a strategy for creating “an alluring, intriguing place for shopping.”

Gap has pulled the plug, saying Forth & Towne didn’t seem like a promising long-term investment.

Readers probably would have wanted to know how the Loews Regency Hotel in New York inspires loyalty from Hollywood guests, many of whom have stayed there for decades. Perhaps Tischt is saving such best stories for the next book.

This is not a book about hotel guest service. It’s a book about building brands, strengthening relationships, customising the client experience, leveraging technology, and achieving both security and transparency for clients in today’s world.

Jonathan M. Tischt is chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels. Karl Weber is a freelance writer specialising in business and current affairs.

Source : STAR
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