I am pleased to share the thoughts of Jonathan Tisch, who’s new book “Chocolate on the Pillow Are Not Enough: Reinventing the Customer Experience” is a must-read for proponents of experience-based services. Enjoy.
1. If someone has had a bad customer experience, what’s the best way to be heard by the company?
It is important for customers with a complaint to speak up. It is similarly important for companies to acknowledge a customer’s complaint immediately.
There have been occasions at Loews Hotels when I, myself, have picked up the phone to call the guest with the grievance, to apologize on behalf of our company. The faster the response, the sooner the person will be able to turn their opinion of the company around.
Any complaints that come in at a Loews hotel go first to the General Manager of the property in question, with a copy also going to the Regional Vice President of Operations. In the first instance, we ask the person with direct responsibility for the hotel, the General Manager, to investigate the grievance and look to see how the situation can be addressed and how we might be able to change the guest’s attitude.
The reason we include the more senior managers is so that we can stay abreast of trends. If we get a number of similar complaints, we have a trend. Senior managers have the responsibility to spot trends, see what the solutions can and should be, and then implement solutions that can effectively eliminate them.
2. What has been your worst customer experience and why?
It’s hard for me to check into a hotel somewhat unnoticed, having now been in the business for 30 years. That said, I do not like indifferent service. I don’t like noise or rooms that have problems with climate control – I like to be cold! There have been times when I have had to change rooms several times to find a room that is both quiet and cold enough for me.
3. As a follow up, what has been your worst experience as a CEO and Chairman?
Certainly it’s particularly difficult as an individual, and as part of the senior management at Loews Hotels, to deal with traumatic situations at one of our properties. Sadly, things happen that are unpleasant and untimely. We have procedures in place to ensure the effective and private investigation of these situations. But, you never want to experience something that dramatically impacts the lives of people staying in one of your hotels or our wonderful team members at the hotel, but they do happen on occasion.
4. How has your marketing mix changed to reflect a more experience-based approach to your brand’s communication?
Our marketing has changed by putting specialty programs in place that reflect the needs and desires of our clientele. These programs are responsive to specific things that our guests want and that make their stay easier and more memorable. For example, Loews Loves Kids, which is a leader in the industry, encourages family travel and reflects the demographic change of many more people feeling comfortable enough to travel with their children. This is demographics at its roots. In today’s world, in most cases, if there are two adults in the home and both are holding jobs, it’s much more difficult to try and find time when the entire family can go away together.
Similarly, Loews Loves Pets, which was the first of its kind in its broad reach to encourage people to travel with their pets, was an acknowledgement of how important the family pet has become to our guests.
Additionally, through our Loews First guest reward program, we have tried to understand the needs of our guests, in addition to recognizing their loyalty and our pleasure to serve them. Also realizing that we are a fairly small player in the industry when you compare the number of properties we have against our competition, we do offer a recognition that we think is commensurate with someone’s desire to stay at a Loews Hotel on a fairly regular basis.
5. Does an experience-based approach work best for service-oriented companies, or does it apply to all spectra of business?
It’s very important – and indeed the theme of Chocolates on the Pillow Aren’t Enough – to try to turn a transaction in to an experience. That is true for business based in the service sector, as well as for businesses trying to sell a product.
Understanding that you have to break through the clutter, the noise and the sophisticated marketing that we’re all constantly bombarded with, the companies that have managed to turn customers in to life-long guests, or clients, are the ones doing well today. These companies understand that relationships are based on trust, on honesty and on a real respect for the customer.
6. I’m a Tufts alumni too (’94, IR major). Your book mentions how Tufts engages students and alumni for a deeper relationship. How can you apply your key learning from the hotel business to the business of higher education? (Hey, students are guests of the institution after all.) How can their experience be enhanced outside of the classroom in the same vein that guests at a Loews hotel can enjoy?
All institutions – businesses, not-for-profits and centers of higher education – must create partnerships with their customers, students, or guests and create partnerships with the people that work in the given environment. This is particularly important, and was the basis for my first book, The Power of We: Succeeding Through Partnerships. For any organization to thrive, grow and expand, it needs to understand how all of these constituencies come together to create success not only for the people who work in the organization, but also for the people around them.
A college and a college campus are no different than a business. The constituents are the students, faculty and administration. Senior members of the administration must work to create these partnerships with their various constituencies.
7. Obviously, training your staff on the nuance and imperative of a favorable guest experience is probably top-of-mind. What qualities in your staff – and field staff in general – are necessary or more desirable to have to deliver that experience?
We hope to have individuals on our team who have a passion for hospitality, who have a desire to assist others, and really have the whole notion of dealing with people one-on-one in their DNA.
We prescreen applicants to see if they do have that ability to understand hospitality at its core. This prescreening, done with tests that were developed specifically for Loews Hotels, really relates to the kinds of properties that we have, and also to the expectations that we have in terms of the level of service that we’re so proud of at Loews Hotels.
8. What do you foresee to be the next big thing in the travel industry?
America’s image is at an all time low, and we are in the midst of a travel crisis here in the United States as a result. The challenge that we face as a nation, in terms of welcoming international visitors, is very much tied to the continued profitability of our industry. But it is also tied, perhaps more importantly, to our ability to teach international visitors more about this country so that they go home with a better appreciation for America, Americans and American brands.
The travel industry needs to come together on this issue and work closely with our elected officials, with the State Department, and with the Department of Homeland Security to find ways to secure our borders but keep our doors open. We need to find better ways to welcome people in to the United States so that they leave with a better idea of who we are.
9. Last question. If I consider myself to be an influential, can you hook me up with some free Loews hotel stays for a lifetime of favorable coverage and WOM?
Sure, Max. I’ll make sure the doors of Loews Hotels are always open to you! Just send me your credit card number first …