Today I am the honored co-host of the first stop on the Blog Book Tour for Jonathan Tisch, CEO of Loews Hotels and author of the book Chocolates on the Pillow Aren’t Enough: Reinventing the Customer Experience. Today’s other co-host is David Polinchock at Brand Experience Lab’s blog Experience Manifesto; be sure to check out his Q&A. There will be other Blog Book Tour stops throughout the week, as follows:
Monday: Experience Manifesto and Customers Rock! (me!)
Tuesday: The Engaging Brand (both Q&A as well as podcast)
Wednesday: Conversion Rate Marketing Blog – GrokDotCom by Future Now, Inc, Vacant Ready (hotel industry blog)
Thursday: LipSticking(podcast), Experience the Message
Friday: Customer Experience Crossroads, Experienceology(podcast)
Thank you to all of the readers here at Customers Rock! (and there were many of you!) who sent me questions for Jonathan Tisch. They were all excellent. For our Blog Book Tour today, Jonathan has graciously responded to my original questions along with questions chosen from those submitted by readers. He will be responding to the rest of your reader questions soon, and I will post those responses in a future post. Thank you so much for your time, Jonathan!!
In the meantime, sit back and enjoy these honest, thoughtful responses to our questions in my interview with author Jonathan Tisch!
1. How critical is it to an organization’s success to reimagine the customer experience?
In today’s frenetic and complicated world, the customer has many choices in purchasing a product or in using a service. It becomes incumbent upon the business to understand that they can’t just offer a transaction but that they need to offer an experience. Because of the consumers’ ability to differentiate one company from another, one product from another and one service from another, they have the ability to switch on a dime and use another resource if they’re not happy. This is why customer service is more critical today than it has ever been.
2. How much of this reimagining do you feel can be accomplished from within the organization itself, and how much do you feel needs a “fresh set of eyes” from outside involvement?
Hopefully if the company has enlightened management, the direction that comes from senior management is the prioritization of customer service. Ideally, there should be individuals on the team that constantly revisit the company’s touchpoints to make sure that they’re offering the kinds of services a customer wants. Those touchpoints in today’s world include bricks and mortar, clicks and mortar if you translate on to the Web and 800-numbers; the organization should be constantly monitoring these and other touchpoints they have with customers.It is always valuable to bring in advisors and consultants who can help you, but once again, all companies should be placing a high priority on experiences and trying to find the kind of individuals on their management teams who can add to that discussion – from mid-level right up to the CEO’s office.A CEO needs to understand his/her company, but since they cannot witness every touchpoint, there also have to be individuals at every level of management who believe in the same philosophy and believe that, by working together, the entire organization can get to the place they need to be in terms of offering great customer experiences.
3. It has been said you should inspect what you expect. How do you measure the success of the customer experience at Loews Hotels?
I like to do it on a very personal, face-level engaging both my co-workers and our guests. We routinely ask guests to articulate how their visit was – Did they have any difficulty making the reservation? Were they greeted with a smile when they checked in? – which helps me know, first hand, where we stand. The competition in my industry is so intense that it really comes down to the individuals in the front line positions – the ones with the first and direct contact with guests. There has to be a real understanding that your co-workers are the ones who make the real difference, especially in a service industry. . In today’s world, all hotels have nice lobbies, flat screen TVs, and upgraded bedding products. The real differentiation from one company to another – from one product to another – comes from customer service. It is incumbent upon us, as senior management, to educate our co-workers and have an open dialogue about what they expect from us and what we expect from them. I try to engage in those kinds of conversations on a regular basis. When people within my company say, “Well, I don’t want to bother you,” my immediate and prompt response is always, “Please, bother me!”
4. READER QUESTION – It’s easy to say, “Focus on the Customer,” but what are some practical ways we can actually inspire and motivate employees (on all levels) to do this in practice?
Education and training is key. At Loews Hotels, we are committed to giving all our employees the education and tools they need to do their jobs better. We also articulate, on a regular basis, the many opportunities available within the company for advancement. By doing a job well they’re creating success not only for themselves, but for others around them. We also have financial rewards for great service and an awards program – Loews Legends program – to recognized employees who exemplify the Loews philosophy of service. Once a quarter we recognize a Loews Legend from each property in our system. Once a year I host a banquet where the Loews Legend of the Year is chosen. Not only is that Legend recognized in front of all his or her colleagues at the banquet, but that person is also rewarded with an extra week of vacation. At Loews Hotels we fully understand that, with only 18 hotels, we are not the largest player in the lodging industry. But we are anxious to grow and we depend on all our employees to help get us there. The programs that we have in place really work for us and work for our culture.
5. Please share more about the transparency concept used in Chapter 7 of your book, especially as it relates to the blogosphere. Can organizations engage customers through blogs yet still retain some element of control?
The customer today is highly sophisticated. They have large amounts of information at their fingertips never available before. If you look at customers’ ability to go to the large travel Web sites, or search the blogosphere, you realize that customers can almost immediately find out if others enjoyed your hotel, if they like your restaurant and if they think they got value for the service. It becomes incumbent upon the provider of any service and product to really be on top of their game in every single transaction and every single experience. There is so much information out there. The combination of an infinite number of choices and the sophistication of today’s consumers mean every transaction must go well or else you risk the potential of losing a customer.
6. Speaking of the blogosphere, which blogs do you follow on a regular basis?
Bill Marriott’s Marriott on the Move Blog – http://www.blogs.marriott.com/
Peter Greenberg’s Blog – http://www.petergreenberg.com/
Howie Klein’s Progressive Politics Blog – http://downwithtyranny.blogspot.com/
Seth Godin’s Blog – http://sethgodin.typepad.com/
GM’s Fast Lane Blog – http://fastlane.gmblogs.com/
7. Please share both a triumph and a challenge you have faced as you have reimagined the customer experience at Loews.
A triumph I’ve faced came from my experience of being on the television program, Now Who’s Boss?, on TLC. A few years back, I had the opportunity to be a front line worker in nine different positions at Loews Miami Beach Hotel. I was re-educated to the very important notion of how critical these individuals are to the success of our company. Having the chance to be a housekeeper, a banquet waiter, a pool attendant and a front desk clerk – all jobs that I had done much earlier in my career, but not ones that I had experienced recently – was a remarkable experience for me and afforded the opportunity to re-familiarize myself not only with these jobs, but with the impact that these jobs and these employees, have on our success. That experience was a triumph for me because it changed how we do things at Loews Hotels. A challenge – As a small company, we constantly face the challenge of how to operate in competition with some of the biggest names in American business. With 18 hotels, we are up against the Marriotts, the Starwoods, the Hiltons and the InterContinentals of the world, and the challenge is how do we compete on a daily basis and at the same time also remain true to our roots as Loews Hotels. We challenge ourselves to be profitable – all the while trying to ensure that our constituencies – our customers and co-workers – are well looked after.
8. READER QUESTION - Mistakes happen. Especially in business. Do you have any personal examples of a time you had to address, correct, and learn from a major mistake? Did your customers forgive you?
Like any company, we’ve made our share of mistakes. The first six months after we opened the Loews Miami Beach Hotel in 1998 were a challenging experience because we did not yet have the tools in place to ensure a smooth opening for our customers. As such, there were many apologies. We learned from those mistakes though and it has changed how we open hotels that we’ve either just built or just acquired. The Miami experience was an incredibly difficult lesson, but I’m happy to say that Loews Miami Beach Hotel is now the most profitable property in the Loews portfolio. We overcame the initial roadblocks and clearly our customers have forgiven us. In every business, mistakes will be made but it’s all about the recovery. Responding to a mistake well can actually go a long way to winning long-term loyalty from a customer.
9. What is the best customer experience you have ever had?
For me, attentive and unpretentious service offered with a sense of humor makes all the difference. A few years back, during a stay at the Four Season Chicago, I put my shoes outside my room to be shined overnight. To show my appreciation to the person who was going to be shining my shoes at 2 a.m., I placed a few dollars in one of the shoes. When I opened my door the next morning, I was greeted by clean, spiffy shoes and a note, neatly tucked inside one of them, saying, “Dear Mr. Tisch – Thank you very much and may your feet have a happy day.” That note impressed me tremendously, and I’ve certainly told the story many times over. It just goes to show that even some of the smallest acts of customer service really do help set a brand apart.
10. READER QUESTION - What are some “secrets” that you could let us in on that your hotels do which other companies could learn from?
Be honest. Treat people fairly and with respect. Always listen.