Tourism & Customer Service

We are not as good as we think we are as World Cup looms…

Within the next three years, millions of dollars will be poured into securing the best possible All Blacks for the Rugby World Cup, the best available coach, sports psychologist, doctor – you name it.

But will the same abundant resources be ploughed into ensuring that tourism is match fit? This is a sector, which is already struggling to deliver on its 100% pure marketing campaign promise. An industry that sees minimal return from the money it throws at customer service training.

Surely it’s about time for the tourism industry to question why its visitor satisfaction rating has not improved at all. A National Benchmark Report published by the Ministry of Tourism in May shows that there was no improvement in visitor satisfaction (domestic and international) between September 2006 and March 2008.

There are compelling reasons for visitors not to find New Zealand a desirable destination right now- global warming, an international recession and higher fuel prices.

So it’s all the more vital we provide world–class experiences right across all businesses that tourists interact with. At the moment, we’re not doing that and we need to address this quickly.

My worry is that companies and organizations are going to wait til the eleventh hour to think about lifting their game but it takes time – these sorts of things don’t happen overnight.

Tourism operators need to understand the power of word of mouth. Visitors take less notice of marketing hype. Today is not so much about the brochure and more about customer blogs, chartrooms and other internet networks. The internet has changed everything.”

It’s time the industry developed an up to date comprehensive customer experience strategy. Sending front line staff to customer service training workshops does not work in the long-term.

Visitors will only receive a consistently high quality experience from businesses that have a leadership, which is totally committed and focused on the customer. Talking the talk doesn’t cut it; employees take more note of what their bosses actually do than what they say.

A great visitor experience is a blend of an organisation’s physical performance and how visitors react to them – did the experience measure up to expectations?

Organisations which don’t have their products and service fully developed, including visitor friendly processes and systems, will not be able to develop a customer experience strategy.

A consistently great customer experience is the key. Passengers may enjoy a top experience getting here on Air New Zealand but that’s cancelled out if the service they get checking into their hotel is poor. Customers evaluate service as a total experience.

The tourism industry needs to unite and commit to a business strategy that has a 100% focus on:

• The people with the responsibility of delivering the visitor experience
• The visitor

Now, the great thing about this business strategy, from a competitive perspective, is that not all businesses are capable of committing to it and those businesses that don’t must not be allowed to survive in such an important industry. On the flip side those that do make a long term commitment to their people and customers must receive all the support that we can possibly give them.

This should be a priority focus for all businesses, especially in a struggling economy. Providing better value, taking the time to better understand your customers and building stronger relationships are all part of this long-term strategy.

So, what does a customer focused business strategy look like and how to you go about developing and implementing one?

1. Committed Leadership. Leaders create business cultures not by what they say but what they do. The single biggest reason customer experience initiatives fail is that staff do not believe management is fully committed to the concept.

2. A Strategic Vision. Every organisation must have a clear view of where it is heading and how it intends to get there. And that vision must be communicated to all stakeholders all the time

3. Customer Experience Statement. You need to define the experience you will deliver to customers. This includes both physical exchanges and the emotional experience you want to convey to those who support your business.

4. Identify Touch Points. A touch point is any instance that a customer (or prospective customer) comes in contact with and forms opinions about your business. You must identify those touch points and manage the impressions they create. Along with direct interaction, touch points are as varied as advertising, sponsorships, your delivery van, or a phone call.

5. Writing Service Standards. Create measurable service standards for each of your touch points. You can use these standards to determine how you are performing. With the right service standards, you will create a system you can use to continuously improve your customers’ experiences. This ensures consistency of service.

6. Measurement. Remember the principle ‘what gets measured gets done’. It makes no sense to put in place service standards unless you determine whether they are being met.

7. Continuous Improvement. Today’s “wow!” is tomorrow’s ordinary. Continuous improvement will ensure the wows keep coming and the competition keeps scratching its head. To maintain your competitive advantage you must continue to meet and exceed your customers’ expectations.

Chris Bell is managing director of Customer Experiences; a company that specialises in helping businesses improve the way in which they interact with customers and clients. Click here to contact us.